Want to explore the darker side of social history? These 12 prisons in the UK have opened their doors to visitors and put their grisly pasts on display. You can learn about the most notorious of criminals, the wrongfully imprisonned, the executed and the terrible conditions many of them lived and died in. Several of these prisons offer events such as ghost tours or even sleepovers in the cells. Read on to find out more.

Dartmoor Prison, Princetown, Devon

The gates to Dartmoor Prison

Photograph © Brian Henley

One of England's most famous prisons, Dartmoor has been a prison for over 200 years, situated on the windswept and foggy moors.

It was built to hold prisoners of the Napoleonic War, who started arriving in 1809. By 1813 they were joined by American prisoners, and the prison soon became overcrowded, leading to outbreaks of contagious diseases and thousands of deaths. In the Victorian Era it held convicts who were considered the worst criminals in the land, although it now houses only Category C prisoners - those who are preparing for release.

The prison museum is not your typical modern museum with stark lighting, gleaming surfaces and sterile out-of-context exhibits. It is a quirky, slightly ramshackle place which makes it all the more appealing. Exhibits include objects made by the prisoners out of bone, prisoner and guard uniforms, cells, items with secret compartments for keeping contraband hidden, handmade weapons such as knuckle dusters, shivs and shanks made from toothbrushes.