Dartmouth from the River Dart
Dartmouth was of strategic importance as a deep-water port for sailing vessels. The port was used as the sailing point for the Crusades of 1147 and 1190, and a creek close to Dartmouth Castle is supposed by some to be named for the vast fleets which assembled there (Warfleet Creek). It was a home of the Royal Navy since the reign of Edward III and was twice surprised and sacked during the Hundred Years' War, after which the mouth of the estuary was closed every night with a great chain. The narrow mouth of the Dart is protected by two fortified castles, Dartmouth Castle and Kingswear Castle.
In 1373 Geoffrey Chaucer visited and among the pilgrims in his Canterbury Tales
A schipman was ther, wonyng fer by weste;
For ought I wost, he was of Dertemouthe.
Notwithstanding Dartmouth's connections with the crown and respectable society, it was a major base for privateering (state sanctioned or licensed piracy) in medieval times. (Pictured right: Kingswear seen from Dartmouth).
The town is dominated by the Royal Navy's officer training college (Britannia Royal Naval College) and all officers of the Royal Navy, as well as many foreign navies, are trained there.
The The Port of Dartmouth Royal Regatta takes place annually over three days at the end of August.
Originally Dartmouth's only wharf was Bayard's Cove, a relatively small but picturesque area protected by a fort at the southern end of the town. Bayard's Cove has been used in several television productions, because of its 18th century buildings; photographs are on show in the Dartmouth Arms public house.
The made up embankment which today extends the whole length of the town's riverbank is the result of 19th century land reclamation, started in earnest when the town played host to a large number of prisoners of war from the Napoleonic Wars which formed a captive workforce. Prior to this, what is now the town centre was almost entirely tidal mud flats.
Henry Hudson put into Dartmouth on his return from America, and was arrested for sailing under a foreign flag. The Pilgrim Fathers put into Dartmouth's Bayard's Cove, en-route from Southampton to America. They rested a while before setting off on their journey in the Mayflower and the Speedwell on 20 August 1620. About 300 miles west of Land's End, they realised that the Speedwell was unseaworthy and returned to Plymouth. The Mayflower departed alone to complete the crossing to Cape Cod.
The town contains historic buildings, the most obvious of which is the Butterwalk, (Pictured left), built 1635 to 1640. Its intricately carved wooden fascia is supported on granite columns. Charles II held court in the Butterwalk whilst sheltering from storms in 1671 in a room which now forms part of Dartmouth Museum. Much of the interior survives from that time, as does at least one ghost. The Royal Castle Hotel was built in 1639 on the then new quay. The building was refronted in the 19th century, and as the new frontage is itself listed, it is not possible to see the original which lies beneath. A claimant for the oldest building is a former merchant's house in Higher Street, now a Good Beer Guide listed public house called the Cherub, built circa 1380. Agincourt House (next to the Lower Ferry) is also 14th century.
The Royal Avenue Gardens
The remains of a fort at Gallants Bower just outside the town are some of the best preserved remains of a Civil War defensive structure. The fort was built by Royalist occupation forces in c. 1643 to the south east of the town, with a similar fort at Mount Ridley on the opposite slopes of what is now Kingswear. The Paliamentarian General Fairfax attacked from the north in 1646, taking the town and forcing the Royalists to surrender, after which Gallants Bower was demolished.
In the latter part of World War II the town was a base for American forces and one of the departure points for Utah Beach in the D Day Landings. Much of the surrounding countryside was closed to the public while it was used by US troops for practise landings and manoeuvres.
The Onedin Line, a popular BBC television drama series that ran from 1971 to 1980, was filmed here.
The town was an ancient borough, incorporated by Edward III, known formally as Clifton-Dartmouth-Hardness, and consisting of the three parishes of St Petrox, St Saviour and Townstall, and incorporating the hamlets of Ford, Old Mill and Norton. It was reformed under the Municipal Corporations Act 1835. The town returned two members of parliament from the 13th century until 1835, after which one MP was elected until the town was disenfranchised in 1868. It remained a municipal borough until 1974, when it was merged into the South Hams district, and became a successor parish of Dartmouth with a town council.
Dartmouth Town Council is the lowest of three tiers of local government. It consists of 16 councillors representing the two wards of Clifton and Townstal. At the second tier, Dartmouth forms part of the Dartmouth and Kingswear ward of South Hams District Council, which returns one councillor. At the upper tier of local government Dartmouth and Kingswear Electoral Division elects one member to Devon County Council.