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The Verne Citadel and Prison

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The area is centred on the Verne Citadel which is located on the highest point of Portland at a height of 145 metres (475 feet).

The citadel was designed by Captain Crossman of the Royal Engineers in 1857 and was built using convict labour from HM Prison Portland (The Grove) and contractors between 1857 and 1881.

It became HM Prison The Verne in 1949 after the Army left it.

The prison closed in 2013 and work was carried out until the Immigration Detention Centre opened in February 2014. The ‘Jailhouse Cafe’ remains open however.

In November 2011 the prison service opened ‘The Jailhouse Cafe’ offering public service contact and experience to prisoners in an attempt to reduce re-offending.

For many old pictures of the Verne as an army garrison please click here.

Official information on the Verne Prison can be found here.

Please click here for a detailed street map. Click the BACK button on your browser to return to this page.

Please click here to visit the satellite image of this area on Google Maps. Click the BACK button on your browser to return to this page.

Please click here to see a large scale late Victorian map of this area. Click the BACK button on your browser to return to this page.

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BUILDING THE CITADEL [1]

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ARMY OCCUPATION [1]

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THE VERNE PRISON [1]

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THE VERNE PRISON NORTH ENTRANCE [2]

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THE VERNE PRISON SOUTH ENTRANCE [3]

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THE VERNE PRISON DITCH [4]

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THE JAILHOUSE CAFE AND ABANDONED HOUSES [5]

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ANOTHER OF MY HOBBIES

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BUILDING THE CITADEL [1]

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Building the ramparts in the 1870s.

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The western ramparts under construction.

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The building of the southern ramparts and entrance.

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ARMY OCCUPATION [1]

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Over a century separates the picture above from the modern one below.

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Above and below - the 1st Battalion Green Howards’ trooping the regimental colours in 1935.

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THE VERNE PRISON [1]

For obvious reasons I have not been able to take photographs inside the secure area of the prison. In September 2014 an arts festival called the ‘B-Side’ held an event within the Verne Prison where the public are not usually allowed.

Tim Lane has kindly given me permission to include some of his photographs taken on that occasion.

I have included below a selection of his pictures

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Copyright Tim Lane

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Copyright Tim Lane

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Copyright Tim Lane

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Copyright Tim Lane

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Copyright Tim Lane

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Copyright Tim Lane

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THE VERNE PRISON NORTH ENTRANCE [2]

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Note the grassy slope on the left of the above picture. This is the slope on the left of the Victorian picture below.

 

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The northern flank and ramparts soon after the completion of building. The following three pictures were taken when I explored this ramp in 2012.

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Looking down the grassy ramp towards the Northern Entrance portal.

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These fortified windows can be seen on the previous Victorian picture.

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At the top of the ramp looking north over the vertiginous view down onto the Portland Port.

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The view after passing through the main Northern Entrance.

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THE VERNE PRISON SOUTH ENTRANCE [3]

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THE VERNE CITADEL DITCH [4]

The prison is surrounded on the west and south sides by a huge ‘ditch’ measuring approximately 20 metres (70 feet) in depth and 38 metres (120 feet) width.

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The ditch on the west side of the ramparts viewed from the bridge.

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The ditch is spanned by this bridge which, in Victorian times, could be removed to create a strong barrier to any invading troops.

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This panoramic picture shows the western part of the ditch.

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The doorway at the bottom of the ditch shows the scale of this enormous excavation.

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The Eastern side of the Verne ramparts.

A railway was built halfway down the ramparts in the mid-1800s to transport stone from the Nicodemus Knob area to build The Verne Citadel and also to supply stone for the building of the breakwaters.

This track was a public path much used by Portlanders. However, when the Royal Navy took over land in this area the path was blocked in two places by a steel security gate.

This current line of the path can be seen on the map here.

There have been several attempts to have this path reopened but the current owners of the land seem not inclined to open it up.

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The above picture was taken when the track was clear in 2011 and it was possible to walk easily to the Portland Port security fence. However by 2015 the track was totally impassable due to brambles growing over the track as shown below.

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The path runs for about 230 metres from this point near Nicodemus Knob.

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In June 2015 I made an attempt to start clearing this path but it was very hard work and I only cleared about 50 metres before having to give up wounded and exhausted.

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OUCH!

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In the days when this path was clear it was possible to walk all the way to the steel security fence.

 

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Within the southern wall of the Verne Ditch is this hole which leads to a 60 metre long tight squeeze of tunnels - or so I have read in caving magazines. I have not personally tried entering this challenging cave system.

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After walking about 200 metres on the track there is a high mound of earth on the left. Climbing to the top gives a view into the Verne Southern Ditch as shown above.

The concrete slab in the foreground is the roof of a ventilator associated with the 1950s ROTOR RADAR station at RAF PORTLAND which is beneath where Fancy’s Community Farm now stands. This ventilator is so far from Fancy’s Farm that we get a good impression of how large the ROTOR tunnels were and how far they extended under Portland.

Pictures of this vast underground network of tunnels and rooms can be seen here.

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This picture taken in 2012 before the track became impassable shows the earth bank over which you need to climb to reach the Verne Ditch.

The brick structure is an inspection hatch for a pipeline that runs from the water reservoir just north of St Peter’s Church to Portland Port. 

The ramparts in the above picture protected the Verne Citadel from land attack in Victorian times.

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This picture shows the Portland Port security fence with the World War 2 pillbox on the right. This picture was taken before the path became impenetrable due to bramble growth.

There are reports that the pillbox has been demolished by Portland Port.

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THE JAILHOUSE CAFE AND ABANDONED LIVING QUARTERS [5]

The ‘Jailhouse Cafe’ is a restaurant open to the public which is staffed by prisoners as part of their rehabilitation into society towards the end of their sentence - click here for details.

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The cafe not only has a high reputation for its food - please see reviews here - but the coastal views from the outside eating area must be the best for any cafe in the United Kingdom.

To the first time visitor it is daunting to drive up the zig-zag Verne Common Road and arrive at the intimidating northern entrance. However, carry on through the forbidding Victorian citadel portal and there is a large area around which the public can roam outside the main internal security wall.

The ‘Jailhouse Cafe’ lies in this large unsecured area along with many abandoned prison buildings from the days when many army and then prison staff lived on the site.

The following three pictures show the magnificent view from the ‘Jailhouse Cafe’ outside dining area. Half the UNESCO designated ‘Jurassic Coastline’ can be seen stretching from St Alhelm’s Head near Swanage right round to Weymouth Bay.

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Adjacent to the outside dining area is the huge RADAR dome which is a landmark on the top of Portland and which can be seen for long distances from the mainland.

Below we see some of the old accommodation buildings now standing forlornly abandoned.

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ANOTHER OF MY HOBBIES

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In 2014 at the age of 75 I started a new hobby - writing books. These are available as paperbacks and free ebooks. 

Please click here for details. All have been very well received; so far gathering all ‘five star’ reviews apart from one ‘four star’ review.

I also have many other websites covering a wide range of interesting topics. These can be visited by clicking here.

 

Keywords Verne Prison Verne Citadel Immigration Detention Centre Portland Dorset