Dartmoor Explorations

A collection of walks, discoveries, insights and pictures of exploring Dartmoor National Park

Napoleonic War – The Honour Oak Tree and Parole Stone (Milestone) between Tavistock & Whitchurch

Captured French army and navy officers from the wars with France (1809 to 1815), were sent to the then ‘Dartmoor Depot’ war prison at Princetown, which at that time was named, Princes Town. Some of these officers lived freely on parole in Tavistock provided they adhered to certain conditions, which they agreed to “honour”. As with other towns the limit of the officers excursions was believed to have been one mile. The main route out of Tavistock to Plymouth at that time was on what is now known as Whitchurch Road. The limit is thought to have coincided with the last oak in a row of trees on Whitchurch road. This oak tree became known as the ‘Honour Oak Tree”, and before 1935 marked the boundary between Tavistock and Whitchurch parishes. The tree, however, appears to be within a mile distance from Tavistock as there is a milestone depicting this a few hundred yards further down the road in the direction of Plymouth. The milestone has been recorded as a parole stone.

Sketch map showing the relative locations of the Honour Oak Tree and the Milestone.
1. Honour Tree a
The Honour Oak Tree plaque has been estimated to date from around 1930s, although some observers think it is more like 1960s. The plaque can be found close to a bus stop on the Whitchurch Road at SX48348 73353
Marked boundary of French prisoners on parole
in Tavistock from Princetown
during the Napoleonic war (1803-14)
also where money was deposited
in exchange for food
during a cholera outbreak in 1832’.
1. Honour Tree b
In January 2014,  the accuracy of plaque was questioned by a Ron Joy (Former principal officer at Dartmoor Prison and historian) writing to the Tavistock Gazette. Mr Joy suggested that the plaque should be amended to reflect more accurately the dates of the Napoleonic wars (1809-16). That said, the parole system had been established from 18th century conflicts, when French and Spanish prisoners were paroled in Tavistock from prisons in Plymouth and prison ships on the Tamar. Mr Joy’s proposal, recorded in the Tavistock Gazette for a new honour oak plaque was: ‘This Honour Oak tree marked the boundary for French Prisoners of War at Tavistock whilst on parole from the Dartmoor Depot war prisons at Princes Town, during the Napoleonic Wars, 1809 to 1816. Also where money was deposited in exchange for food during a cholera outbreak in 1832.’ The article can be read here: https://www.tavistock-today.co.uk/news/plaque-controversy-403840
2. Milestone a
This milestone on the Whitchurch Road which is possible to have been used as a parole stone for prisoners of the Napoleonic War. The stone would have marked the boundary (1 mile) that French Prisoners were allowed out of Tavistock. (Ref: Tim Jenkinson – Dartmoor HER)
2. Milestone b
The milestone is built into the hedge which bounds the Whitchurch road on the north side and is situated near the entrance to Chollacott Lane. It bears the following incised description showing miles to Tavistock, Plymouth and Dock (Devonport):
2. Milestone c
The ‘XIII’ part of the inscription is buried amongst the leaf litter. The stone can be found at SX48521 73086

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