HMP The Verne, Portland, Dorset

The Verne Citadel is an incredible piece of architecture. Built in to the hillside atop the highest point of Portland and surrounded by an enormous moat, it’s Victorian grandeur in every sense. Built in the mid-late 18th century it became HMP The Verne – a category C prison in 1949.

One of many derelict buildings at The Verne Prison – © Copyright Oliver Mills

Growing up on the island, The Verne had always been a place of mystery. Gazing down in to the moat and seeing arches leading in to darkness, walking around the perimeter and visitors car park looking through the old battlements & tunnels. There had always been a couple of abandoned buildings in the grounds too – extremely unsafe and weather-beaten, but interesting nonetheless.

In 2013 the prison was closed and plans put in place to turn it in to an immigration centre which would work as a kind of “holding pen” for around 600 illegal immigrants awaiting deportation. Some parts of the citadel were never converted from its military beginnings, and these antiquated, original parts are really interesting.

The huge moat surrounding HMP The Verne
The huge moat surrounding HMP The Verne

Walking across the bridge, easily 100ft over the moat there’s a distinct feeling of, “you ain’t getting out of here, son!” but over the prison’s 64 year period, there were in fact several escapees! HMP The Verne actually holds the record for the world’s most successful prison fugitive, notching up 60 years after escaping using knotted bedsheets!

Passing over the bridge you walk through a winding entrance tunnel, the kink in the tunnel presumably there to make would-be invaders life difficult if they ever managed to traverse the moat.

Once inside, there’s a lower level to your left, accessed via a set of stairs at the far end. It’s on this level where the old mortuary exists. Next to the mortuary is a room with a spiral staircase, it’s here where you descend in to the depths of the citadel towards the moat.

A property for sale within the prison walls, complete with Victorian tunnels
A property for sale within the prison walls, complete with Victorian tunnels & casemates – a bargain at £575,000

The next levels down are dark, stone passageways branching out to large rooms where infantry would defend the citadel through the slits in the thick stonework. Back to the spiral staircase you head down again and a large double-door exits in to the impressive ditch. And there’s really no easy way out of here! The moat walls surrounding you are dizzying and the thought of being a prisoner, seeing daylight thinking you’ve escaped to be confronted with this would be demoralising to say the least!

The moat has two doors around the base, the second door leads to a much more dormant, abandoned section of the citadel with passageways to the interior all blocked off. Graffiti on the walls suggest that this has been a local hang-out for kids over the decades. In fact, ask any Portlander who grew up in Fortuneswell and the surrounding areas and they’ll tell you that they often played in the prison grounds & tunnels.

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51 responses to “HMP The Verne, Portland, Dorset”

  1. Lee thynne says:

    Hi, can you still get in this place?

  2. dan marino says:

    Used to live there when I was small. We had two of the flats, one was mid floor in the right hand building, then lower corner on the left. After that we went to a house over by the Govs house near the bottom end.

    Have some fond memories of the place, wandering around freely with the dog. Always foggy/low cloud, but strangely beautiful on a sunny day. We used to play around the prison – as already said by Guard, you couldn’t get anywhere near the prison area. That’s not to say you didn’t meet the prisoners. Low risk would work the farm, paint the railings and so on, so would be around. You would chat with them and they were nice enough. This was the 70’s, it wasn’t so strict as it is today, and people had respect for each other.

    Last time I set foot on the place was in the late eighties, the houses weren’t lived in then. We had left in probably mid to late 70’s. Maybe one day I’ll go back and have a nose around.

  3. David William Self says:

    Did a stay here in 1948 with the Newbury Army Cadets AW. Trying to write a story of that week, eek camp

  4. nicola hoos says:

    I have been in most of all the places known as secret on Portland like this place under the Verne prison from the moat access tunnels, also there is an underground bunker in the car park which I’ve been in. Down on Portland Port, there is Forbidden City and the underground hospital which was a scary place. I have been in the old buildings on the Verne only yesterday lol. Okay, my best place was a 65-foot ladder down a nuke bunker in which I got arrested on the way out still it was worth it for all the effort it took to get to these places. I have a Facebook page with all the images on if you would like to see them contact me.

  5. Newy says:

    I was at the Verne for 6 years. I had constant incitement, severe psychological interrogation. A dentist that left me in pain and then said he’d see me again in 4 weeks. Anthony Bansil. Before that I was in pain with toothache for 10 months. They wouldn’t let me see a dentist. Come the end I had to take my own tooth out. Oh and I had 2 weeks of White Noise.

  6. Harley says:

    Within regards to the prison, do they still do open days? We have been looking into the forbidden city (we were there we just just lost light) I would love to see what’s there especially the Victorian tunnel…

  7. Steve Tribe says:

    Dear moderators,

    I have video of excursion into officers mess at Verne, Also we’ve videoed the house on top of page where Malc Ellery on this page lived, lots of 60s wallpaper.

    Steve & Zach

  8. steve says:

    The VERNE officers mess entered

    We’ve just got back from wild camping on top of Portland in the car park adjacent to the South entrance of Verne prison. The parking is not enforced and a happy bunch of campers there during Sunday to Thursday. Locals told me the undesirables (doggers) take it over during weekends. We drove straight into the prison via main entrance. Followed directions to the cafe. The cafe was shut, got chatting to a couple of orderlys with big keys having a smoke. No one battered an eye that we were in the prison or asked what we were doing. I asked one of the wardens about the dereliction opposite his office. “Those buildings have been unoccupied for over 20 yrs., Wander round the back of the cafe” he added, Beautiful views and place for dogs to run”…

    We disappeared into the cafe garden which has a pair of life-size usable stocks for photo opps. Quietly we proceeded to walk around the eerie Victorian buildings and sneak in by twisting a gate and slipping through. Ceilings are on floors, feet go through floors. Got upstairs on stone staircase but near fell through ceiling and had to walk back over floor on piece of wood. I left my boy downstairs in safer area. A good place but very, very dangerous.

    • James says:

      Hi I’m new to urban exploring and find it very interesting. I am looking to explore this place, do you have directions on how to get there please? Is it anywhere near the battery by Fancys Farm? Many Thanks

    • Guard says:

      I hate to break it to you buddy, but you weren’t even close to being inside the prison. Those buildings that you entered? Not even owned by the prison service anymore, they’re owned by a construction firm and are only fenced off for peoples safety as – like you said – it is incredibly unsafe in there and liable to collapse at any moment. The actual prison is the interior of the 25 foot tall barbed wire metal wall that you would have had to walk past. The rest of the grounds of the Verne (through the big stone tunnel) are still technically no public access and there is a sign at the entrance of it to say as much, but everyone is granted automatic right of way. This however can be revoked if people act suspiciously around the perimeter wall or put themselves and others at risk by entering the condemned buildings.
      To anyone thinking of going into these buildings, please don’t. There is nothing of interest in there and you could lose your life, they are falling to pieces bit by bit every day.

  9. Amy says:

    Is this still accessible? I’m somewhat new at urban exploring but I’d love to get into here with a friend!

  10. Sean says:

    I ventured here about a year ago with my boy (kinda thought if caught trying to get to the shooting range or old mock village I could blame him) so we parked up near the main prison and followed a gap in the bushes running level to the sea, we eventually came to 7 foot spiked railings with a devotion missing with a huge keep out sign. We slipped through and came to some buildings that looked like a machine gun post, I could see the way in to the old fort some 39m down the slope, there was a rope to drop down 12 feet or so but couldn’t see it being easy for my lad to get back up.

    So taking the bull by the horns we followed a footpath that twisted around the hill and straight to the fort. It was going well until I noticed a very sophisticated CCTV camera locked on to us, we were so close but thinking a bit sensible much annoying my teenager I bottled it and made our way the way we had come. I’m thinking of going back and nailing it, has anyone been recently? What happened when you went? Thanks

  11. Lewis Lucas-Plowman says:

    How do you get into the abandoned part and do you know if the CCTV works and if you can get in that way.

  12. Beth says:

    Is there any chance you could please email me with details how to get to here/get into here please Urban Explorer as I would really love to take a group of my friends who I go exploring with here?

  13. Ian says:

    I used to live in a Hawksley prefabricated bungalow just opposite the derelict house in the first photo. Was there from 1957 to 1963 when the family moved down to Verne Common Road. A great place to grow up and explore but rather isolated from the rest of the islands community.

    • Malc Ellery says:

      Interesting, never knew they were called “Hawksley” bungalows. I was there from 63-72 in number 23, a bit farther down the road towards the Gov’s house to the left of the picture.

  14. Anne says:

    I am so surprised that these vacant places you shoot have not become home to shooting galleries for heroin or meth addicts. Did you happen upon anyone like that anywhere you’ve been? Usually these types of places become home to all sorts. I’d LOVE to do an art installation in one of them.

  15. Jim says:

    Went down there but the bridge has CCTV and metal guards preventing you from climbing/walking over it. The immigration centre is still there and up & running… we went inside and up to the top and even had lunch in the Prison Cafe. We couldn’t get in to the actual tunnels/prisons/photos shown here sadly. We did find the gun range and lost city close by though…

  16. Joanna says:

    Can pics, has the whole thing been converted to an immigration centre or are the bits pictured still unused?

  17. Becki says:

    Looks amazing, can’t wait to pay it a visit in the near future!

    According to the MOJ page, it’s still in use as an immigration removal centre?

  18. Claire Allsopp says:

    Wonderful pics. Love the fact the plastic bag is there!

  19. Danny Kelly says:

    What a fantastic place and still in very good nick! Well done and thanks.
    Always look forward to seeing your escapades!

  20. David Crooks says:

    Nice one! I wondered when I might be seeing this place on your website, great photos and feed as always mate

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