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South West Dartmouth


Across the River Dart from Kingswear, this is a delightful setting with timber frame and multicoloured houses spreading up the steep valley sides. On top of the hill overlooking the town is the splendid building of the Britannia Royal Naval College, which has been training naval officers since 1863.


The River Dart forms a natural deep water harbour, sheltered in a steep valley. Its importance was recognised soon after the Norman Conquest. Hidden by a bluff at the mouth of the River, and safe from raiding ships, a town grew up around the port.

The town was used as an assembly point for a fleet of 146 ships setting out on the Second Crusade 1147, and again in 1190, when more than 100 vessels left for the Third Crusade. Hence the name Warfleet Creek, just inside the river mouth.


The town was originally made up of two small settlements separated by a tidal creek, that has since been reclaimed. In the 13th Century the two settlements were joined by a dam (on the line of the modern Foss Street) that utilised the power of the tide to drive the wheel of a flour mill. This continued to be used until 1815.


St Clement’s Church was built at the top of the town around 1190. St Saviour’s Church in the lower town was built in response to parishioners no longer wanting to struggle 400’ up the hill to reach the parish church of St Clement.

By 1231, the town had been given the right to hold a weekly market and annual fare. In 1341, the town was granted a Royal Charter, which allowed for the election of a mayor. The borough was required to provide two ships for forty days per year.

Not only had Dartmouth grown rapidly, it was also extremely wealthy from its thriving wine trade with south-west France.

During the Hundred Years War with France (1337-1453), there was an increasing danger of attacks from across the Channel. Dartmouth contributed many ships to defend England and also destroyed many French ships and seizing their cargo. John Hawley, a wealthy merchant and landowner as well as Mayor of Dartmouth, was responsible for the construction of Dartmouth Castle at the mouth of the river. Along with Kingswear Castle on the other side of the river, these were designed as artillery defences and also had a moveable chain between the two to prevent ships attacking the town.

Despite the loss of the wine trade at this time, Dartmouth continued to prosper from the cloth trade and also the export of Cornish tin.

At the time of the Spanish Armada in 1588, Dartmouth sent 11 ships to join the English fleet. The captured Spanish flagship, the Nestra Señora del Rosario, was anchored in the Dart for over a year while its crew worked as labourers on the Greenway Estate.

In the C17th fishing became increasingly, especially trade with Newfoundland and Devon fishermen travelled to Newfoundland every summer for its plentiful supplies of cod. Ships would return via Spain and Portugal, trading salted cod for wine. Other ships returned via the West Indies using the salted cod to buy cotton and tobacco.

Unlike many places in England, the Industrial Revolution didn’t bring immediate prosperity to the area as Dartmouth was virtually inaccessible by road and the railway was late to arrive. Steam ships replaced sail and little coal was available until the arrival of the railway. There was a collapse in the Newfoundland trade. Hand weavers were also replaced by machines elsewhere. By the mid C19th, the town faced a serious economic downturn.

The economy began to recover when the Royal Navy decided in 1863 to train naval cadets on the Dart. The splendid building above the town was built at the start of the C20th and the Britannia Royal Naval College still in use today.

During WW2 it was used as a base for planning and preparing for the the D-Day landings Nearly 500 ships left here for Utah beach.

Many of the town’s traditional industries like ship building, have disappeared and there is little fishing apart from crab. The local economy relies on the thriving tourism industry, with a heavy emphasis on yachting and the sea. The estuary is always busy with boats. Ferries run regular services across the river to Kingswear as well as to Totnes and Dartmouth Castle. The town is always busy with visitors and there is a lot of money here.

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Dartmouth cont...

Dartmouth is a place to explore on foot with its narrow streets and alleyways. It looks to the river for its prosperity. The Boat Float, the small tidal harbour in the centre of town is used for mooring small boats. Larger boats are either moored in the river or in the marina in Kingswear.


The river is always busy with ferries between Dartmouth and Kingswear, as well as trips up the river to Totnes or to Dartmouth Castle.


Dartmouth Station, once the only station in England not to have a railway line, is now a cafe, apprpriately named Platform 1.


The oldest houses are along the river side and quay area. Many are late C16th or C17th timber frame houses, originally the homes of wealthy merchants with elaborately carved and painted woodwork.




Some are beginning to look a bit lopsided.


The Butterwalk supported by its granite pillars, was built on reclaimed land between 1635-40 and is one of the finest rows of merchant’s houses in the country.



The narrow Foss Street has an eclectic mixture of art galleries, shops and cafes.



The old market hall on Victoria Road was built in 1828 on reclaimed land, after the mill pool was declared unsanitary and a danger to public health. It was originally built as a pannier market selling eggs, poultry and fresh produce from local farms which arrived in baskets slung on the back of ponies. It now houses a mix of shops and cafes.


Further from the town centre are more recent buildings.


Many of the smaller terraced houses plaster painted in many different shades of pastel colours




Dartmouth Castle, Bayard's Cove Fort and St Petrox Church are covered in a separate travel article.
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Royal Avenue Gardens

These are lovely gardens in the centre of Dartmouth, complete with bandstand, small pond, palm trees and flower beds.

The park was created by the Town Council, opening in 1887 and was named Royal Avenue Gardens after Queen Victoria's visit to the town a few years earlier.

The fountain was added later to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee.

With its seats, it is popular with both locals and visitors and is a lovely space to drop out.






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St Saviours’ Church, Anzac Street

In the C13th, Dartmouth was growing rapidly with a lot of new development along the foreshore. Parishioners were no longer happy to travel the mile across a ford and climb the 400’ to the top of the town to worship at St Clement’s.


When Edward I visited in 1286, he granted the request from the townsfolk for a new church. However, he failed to consult the Bishop of Exeter and Abbot of Torre at Torquay, who refused on financial grounds. The townsfolk became increasingly frustrated and one of the prominent citizens, William Bacon gave land to two Augustinian friars to build an oratory in 1335. The Bishop of Exeter refused to consecrate the building and excommunicated William Bacon. This was later lifted and the friars were allowed to use the chapel, but not hear confession or say mass. The legal status of the chapel was disputed for many years and the friar’s appealed to the Pope for help.

The story became even more convoluted by the arrival of someone described as Bishop Hugo of Damascus (a title of a dioceses that is no longer functional) who claimed to have been sent from the Pope. He consecrated the friary church and grounds, heard confessions absolved those who had been excommunicated and granted indulgences.

The consecration was not officially recognised and the legal battles continued. It wasn't until 1372, the Bishop of Exeter and Abbot of Torre finally granted permission to build a church.

The tower can be seen above the roof tops and the church is surrounded by narrow streets.



St Saviour's has been described as one of the best churches in Dartmouth and has a lot of interesting features and plenty to admire.



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St Saviour's Church cont...

Entry is through the south porch and the carving on the south door shows two leopards, symbols of the Plantagent Kings. It is thought to be C13th although was remounted on the present woodwork in 1631, when the church was extensively rebuilt. The rear legs of the leopards form the door hinges. In the background is the tree of life.


Inside is it a big church with arcaded nave and the original Rood screen running across the width of the Nave. The brass chandeliers are thought to be C17th.


Across the west end is a galley, with the royal coat of arms of Charles II, along with panels from ships from the Spanish Armada and coats of arms.



The octagonal font is at the back of the nave and is C14th.


Some of the pews have highly carved C17th door panels.



On either side of the side aisles are the Corporation pews that were used by the Mayor and other members of the town council.


The amazing pulpit dates from 1490 and is carved and painted stone.




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St Saviour's Church cont...

The beautiful rood screen dates from 1496.


The base panels were painted with saints and prophets but were badly defaced during the Reformation.



The doors panels are painted with stars.


The rood above with the crucifixion and the Virgin Mary and St John is later.


The altar is C19th but the four carved evangelists date from 1588 and formed the legs of the communion table.


Above is the large stained glass east window.


On the south wall is a three seater sedilia with a painted canopy.


On the chancel floor are two brasses. This picture is taken from the Benefice of Dartmouth and Dittisham website.

St Saviours - brasses.jpg

The large brass shows John Hawley. Although he was never knighted, he is represented as a medieval knight with his two wives. As well as being a merchant, he also became rich from plunder of French ships during the Hundred Years War. He was Mayor of Dartmouth fourteen times as well as a Member of Parliament and King’s Commissioner. He died in 1408 and paid for the rebuilding of the chancel and also the building of Dartmouth Castle.


The smaller brass commemorates Gilbert Staplehill who died in 1617.





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St Saviour's Church cont...

On the south side of the chancel, behind the parclose screen is the vestry.


In the south transept is the Lady Chapel. The altar dates from 1895 and was given to the church by children. The lovely reredos dates from 1923 and is a combination of gold coloured mosaic and glazed tiles.



In the north transept is the St Nicholas Chapel, with a piscina and double aumbry cupboard next to the altar. On the reredos is a figure of St Nicholas, patron saint of sailors, standing in a boat.



The naval chest dates from Armada.


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