Dartmouth

    Dartmouth is a seaport on the South Devon coast and is a famous centre for yachting it has a first-class deepwater natural harbour, with its narrow streets, half timbered houses make it a haven for yachtsmen and visiting tourists alike.


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    HARBOUR by Richard Ellis
     

    Dartmouth is set in a picture book location, on the picturesque River Dart, with steep wooded hillsides on either side. Dartmouth's main Embankment runs along the length of the town, from the New Quay - built on reclaimed land towards the historic Bayard's Cove
    The history of the area can be traced to Prehistoric times and the town's rich maritime past has been well documented for more than 800 years. 
    Dartmouth is an ancient borough with a history of settlement going back to prehistoric times. In early times, when marauders of all sorts ravaged the coast, towns were placed some distance inland, safe from raids, and so it was that the first occupancy was at Townstal, at the top of the hill.
    As trade grew and the danger from attack lessened, towns were built at the mouths of rivers; thus in the 11th century, two fishing hamlets sprang up at the mouth of the River Dart. One called Hardness, and the other called Clifton-Dartmouth. These were the humble beginnings of the Dartmouth of today.
    Since that time inlets have been dammed, ground re-claimed and wharves and warehouses built to accommodate the exotic goods imported by the town’s wealthy fleet of merchant ships from Europe and across the Atlantic. 
    Dartmouth became a haunt for privateers with our very own pirate Thomas Norton and a family of pirate Lords, the Hawleys who stole from the French and Spanish whilst cheerfully acting as the towns M.P.s and Mayors!  Chaucer immortalised his friend John Hawley in his Canterbury Tales as the Schipman of Dertemouthe -  a thief, fighter and murderer of enemy sailors but an expert in seamanship!  The town itself was kept safe from marauding invaders with the building of Dartmouth Castle when chains were run across the river to Godmerock.
    As early as the 14th century the town was already a busy trading port, so important it supplied Edward III with 31 vessels for the Siege of Calais during the Hundred Years War.
    Sir Humphrey Gilbert and John Davis left on their perilous voyages of discovery from Dartmouth whilst Sir Walter Raleigh brought his captured Spanish treasure ships back here! 
    The majority of Dartmouth's half timbered houses date from Elizabethan times. One such, now the towns' Museum is a merchant’s house dating from 1640; it contains a comprehensive collection of material covering the town’s maritime history.
    One of the oldest remaining half timbered houses is the Cherub. The Cherub dates from 1380 and still retains many of its original features, including some old ships' timbers, and its original use is thought to have been as a Merchant's House. It is the oldest building in Dartmouth – possibly the oldest "town house" in the South Hams– and is a Grade 2* Listed Building, a category reserved for the most interesting of smaller buildings. It is one of several delightful half-timbered buildings on Higher Street.


    The Butterwalk
    The Butter walk, with its timber framed arcade was built in 1635-40 with its intricate wooden carvings and a frontage supported on granite columns forming an arcade. This impressive façade was damaged by bombs during 1943, but it has now been fully restored.
    Massive dividing walls and intricate wood carvings of cherubs, horses and grotesques reflect the style in use in Brittany and the extensive trade with that region at the time.
    According to deeds in the Devon Records Office in Exeter, the Butterwalk is built on land reclaimed from the river in 1628. Mark Hawkins, a local fish merchant took a lease on the site in 1629 and in 1635 “built there several dwelling houses”. Hawkins took a mortgage of £2,500 to pay for this and let the houses to tenants in what was in effect a 17th Century ‘buy to let’. Hawkins’ trading activities collapsed when the English Civil War interrupted trade after 1642 and he was unable to pay the interest on the loan. The property was repossessed and the building passed to John Plumleigh in 1653. In 1657 it was sold to John Barnes, who lived there himself.

     


    Hawkins and his tenants would have been responsible for the plasterwork and internal decoration in their own houses although the similarity of style between the plasterwork in all the houses does suggest it was completed by the same workmen at roughly the same time. There is a wonderful example of 17th Century puritan plaster ceiling in the room above our shop which can be viewed by prior arrangement with the Town Council.
    Charles II held court in the Butterwalk whilst sheltering from a storm in 1671 and much of the interior survives intact along with a ghost or two!

    Historic River Bank and Bayard's Cove

    For nearly 1000 years, sailors have set out all over the world from this ancient harbour. The Norman's used Dartmouth as a trading port with their homeland across the English Channel - and the Crusaders, led by Richard the Lionheart, set sail from Dartmouth. Both the second and Third crusades assembled and departed from Dartmouth's riverside quays.
    The cobbled The Embankment provides visitors with a pleasant and relaxing promenade to stroll down - admiring the sights of the busy estuary or to select from the many boat trips that depart from the waters edge.
     Bayards Cove has changed little since 1539. The Cove featured regularly in the Television series The Onedin Line. At the southern end of Bayard's Cove is a small fortification. The artillery fort was built by Dartmouth Corporation in 1510 to provide additional protection to the harbour.
    The Pilgrim Fathers put into Dartmouth's Bayard's Cove, en-route from Southampton to the New World. The pilgrims rested for a time and then set off on their epic journey in the ships - The Mayflower and The Speedwell, on the 20 August 1620. When they were some 300 miles west of Land's End, they realized that The Speedwell was not seaworthy and both ships returned to Plymouth - the Mayflower then departed alone to complete the crossing to Cape Cod.
    The passenger ferry disembarks from Dartmouth's quay over to Kingswear. The lower ferry carries cars and passengers straight to the village. The higher ferry carries cars to and from Dartmouth avoiding Kingswear.
    The climate is mild, being close to the southernmost point of the county. Grapes flourish in the warm climate and are commercially grown in the area
    Dartmouth has an attractive, compact shopping centre. During the summer months the Park and Ride initiative (situated at Norton) provides an efficient and effective means of parking for shopping, sightseeing etc. while at the same time reducing town centre congestion.
    Nowadays Dartmouth offers fine restaurants, cafes, galleries, antique shops and fine places to stay.
    The town is served by two primary schools and a thriving Community College providing education for all.

    Dartmouth Castle

    Dartmouth Castle, about a mile out of town overlooking the Dart, is a fortress constructed specially for artillery and for six centuries protected the town and its wealthy merchants from marauders - gaze down from its walls and you can see why this is a superb natural harbour. (for more Info, see our listing on Dartmouth Castle).

    Britannia Royal Navy College

    High on a hill above the town is the Britannia Royal Naval College it has been training Royal Naval officers on this site since 1905. In fact, naval officers' training in Dartmouth goes back to 1863, when the old wooden wall HMS BRITANNIA was first moored in the River Dart.
    In the Second World War, over four hundred ships were assembled in the port in readiness for the D-Day landings in 1944.
    You can take a guided tour of the magnificent building with its museum, sculptures and artefacts, by booking at the Tourist Information Centre.

    More recently the town sheltered every type of naval craft during the Second World War before the invasion and 480 vessels sailed for the beaches of Normandy in 1944.

    CHURCH`S

    St Saviours Church
    Gazing across the River Dart from Kingswear, one can see the ancient Church of Saint Saviour. St. Saviour's, except for its tower, is almost hidden by the Victorian development of the Quay. (for more info please click here).

    St Petrox Church
    The earliest written record, predating the Norman Conquest, is a reference in a title deed of Little Dartmouth Farm describing land 'situate between Stoke Fleming and the Minster'. Then in 1192 a deed was drawn by William, son of Stephen of Tunstal, restoring to Richard the Fleming 'all the land of Dertmeta which is above the Wyke and between the monastery of St. Peter and the land of Stoke'. The land referred to is clearly the settlement of Little Dartmouth, but the 'monastery of St. Peter' must surely refer to the religious settlement called St. Petrox. (for more info please click here).

    Saint Clement Townstal
    The mother church of Dartmouth is the church of Saint Clement Townstal; and stands some 350ft above the main town, on the narrow tract which, since ancient times, has been a right-of-way from the coast through Longcross to the River Dart crossing at Hardnesse. (for more info please click here).


         


                        Views across the Dart to Kingswear by Richard Ellis
                           

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