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Dartmouth, Devon facts for kids

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Dartmouth from the River Dart
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Population 5,064 (2011)
OS grid reference SX877514
Civil parish
  • Dartmouth
Shire county
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Postcode district TQ6
Dialling code 01803
Police Devon and Cornwall
Fire Devon and Somerset
Ambulance South Western
EU Parliament South West England
UK Parliament
  • Totnes
List of places
50°21′04″N 3°34′44″W / 50.351°N 3.579°W / 50.351; -3.579

Dartmouth is a town and civil parish in the English county of Devon. It is a tourist destination set on the western bank of the estuary of the River Dart, which is a long narrow tidal ria that runs inland as far as Totnes. It lies within the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and South Hams district, and had a population of 5,512 in 2001, reducing to 5,064 at the 2011 census. There are two electoral wards in the Dartmouth area (Townstal & Kingswear). Their combined population at the above census was 6,822.


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 Warfleet Creek, close to Dartmouth Castle is supposed by some to be named for the vast fleets which assembled there. Dartmouth was a home of the Royal Navy from 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. Originally Dartmouth's only wharf was Bayard's Cove, a relatively small area protected by a fort at the southern end of the town.

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 in medieval times. John Hawley or Hauley, a licensed privateer and sometime mayor of Dartmouth is reputed to be a model for Chaucer's "schipman".

The earliest street in Dartmouth to be recorded by name (in the 13th century) is Smith Street. Several of the houses on the street are originally late 16th century or early 17th century and probably rebuilt on the site of earlier medieval dwellings. The street name undoubtedly derives from the smiths and shipwrights who built and repaired ships here when the tidal waters reached as far as this point. Smith Street was also the site of the town pillory in medieval times.

Medieval church door of St Saviour's

St Saviour's Church was constructed in 1335 and consecrated in 1372. It contains a pre-Reformation oak rood screen built in 1480 and several monuments including the tomb of John Hawley (d. 1408) and his two wives, covered with a large brass plate effigy of all three. A large medieval ironwork door is decorated with two leopards of the Plantagenets and is possibly the original portal. Although it is dated "1631", this is thought to be the date of a subsequent refurbishment coincidental with major renovations of the church in the 17th century. The gallery of the church is decorated with the heraldic crests of prominent local families and is reputed to be constructed of timbers from ships captured during the defeat of the Spanish Armada, although this has not been categorically substantiated.

In 1592 the Madre de Deus, a Portuguese treasure ship captured by the English in the Azores, docked at Dartmouth Harbour. It attracted all manner of traders, dealers, cutpurses and thieves and by the time Sir Walter Raleigh arrived to reclaim the Crown's share of the loot, a cargo estimated at half a million pounds had been reduced to £140,000. Still, ten freighters were needed to carry the treasure to London.

Henry Hudson put in to Dartmouth on his return from North America, and was arrested for sailing under a foreign flag. The Pilgrim Fathers put in to 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, upon realising that the Speedwell was unseaworthy, it returned to Plymouth. The Mayflower departed alone to complete the crossing to Cape Cod. Dartmouth's sister city is Dartmouth, Massachusetts.

Butterwalk hdr
The Butterwalk

The town contains many medieval and Elizabethan streetscapes and is a patchwork of narrow lanes and stone stairways. A significant number of the historic buildings are listed. One of the most obvious is the Butterwalk, 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.

The Royal Castle Hotel was built in 1639 on the then new quay. The building was re-fronted 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.

Dartmouth sent numerous ships to join the English fleet that attacked the Spanish Armada, including the Roebuck, Crescent and Hart. The Nuestra Señora del Rosario, the Spanish Armada's "payship" commanded by Admiral Pedro de Valdés, was captured along with all its crew by Sir Francis Drake. It was reportedly anchored in the River Dart for more than a year and the crew were used as labourers on the nearby Greenway Estate which was the home of Sir Humphrey Gilbert and his half-brother Sir Walter Raleigh. Greenway was later the home of Dame Agatha Christie.

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 Parliamentarian General Fairfax attacked from the north in 1646, taking the town and forcing the Royalists to surrender, after which Gallants Bower was demolished.

19th century

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. Before this, what is now the town centre was almost entirely tidal mud flats.

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution opened the Dart Lifeboat Station at the Sand Quay in 1878, but it was closed in 1896. In all this time only one effective rescue was made by the lifeboat.

20th century

Smith Street circa 1930

In the latter part of the Second World War the town was a base for American forces and one of the departure points for Utah Beach in the D Day landings. Slipways and harbour improvements were also constructed. Much of the surrounding countryside and notably Slapton Sands was closed to the public while it was used by US troops for practise landings and manoeuvres.

21st century

Dart Lifeboat Station was reopened in 2007, the first time that a lifeboat had been stationed in the town since 1896. It has initially been kept in a temporary building in Coronation Park.

In 2010, a fire seriously damaged numerous historical properties in Fairfax Place and Higher Street. Several were Tudor and Grade I or Grade II listed buildings.

Culture and tourism

Dartmouth map
Map of Dartmouth

The Port of Dartmouth Royal Regatta takes place annually over three days at the end of August. The event sees the traditional regatta boat races along with markets, fun fairs, community games, air displays including the Red Arrows and fireworks. A Royal Navy guard ship is present at the event.

Bayard's Cove has been used in several television productions, including The Onedin Line a popular BBC television drama series that ran from 1971 to 1980. Many of the scenes from the BBC's popular series 'Down to Earth', starring Ricky Tomlinson, were filmed at various locations around the town.

Notable tourist attractions include the Dartmouth Royal Naval College, Dartmouth Castle and the Dartmouth Steam Railway which terminates at Kingswear on the opposite bank of the river.

Boat cruises to nearby places along the coast (such as Torbay and Salcombe) and up the river (to Totnes, Dittisham and the Greenway Estate) are provided by several companies. The paddlesteamer PS Kingswear Castle returned to the town in 2013.


The nearest Met Office weather station is Slapton, about 5 miles south-south west of Dartmouth and a similar distance from the coast. As with the rest of the British Isles and South West England, the area experiences a maritime climate with warm summers and mild winters - this is particularly pronounced due to its position near the coast - extremes range from a record low of just −8.0 °C (17.6 °F) in January 1987 up to a record high of 30.5 °C (86.9 °F) during June 1976.

Climate data for Slapton, 1981-2010, Extremes 1960-
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 14.6
Average high °C (°F) 9.2
Average low °C (°F) 3.8
Record low °C (°F) -8.0
Precipitation mm (inches) 124
Sunshine hours 58 76 119 181 211 214 216 198 155 102 75 48 1,653
Source: Met Office [1]


Dartmouth is linked to Kingswear, on the other side of the River Dart, by three ferries. The Higher Ferry and the Lower Ferry are both vehicular ferries. The Passenger Ferry, as its name suggests, carries only passengers, principally to connect with the Dartmouth Steam Railway at Kingswear railway station. The nearest bridge across the Dart is in Totnes, some 11 miles (18 km) away by road.

Dartmouth station building
Dartmouth station building, now a restaurant.

The A379 road runs through Dartmouth, linking the town to Slapton and Kingsbridge to the southwest and to Torbay to the east across the Higher Ferry. The A3122 connects Dartmouth to a junction with the A381, and hence to both Totnes and a more direct route to Kingsbridge. Stagecoach South West provides local town bus services and links to Plymouth, Totnes and Exeter, and Kingsbridge. In addition it provides links to the Torbay resorts of Brixham, Paignton and Torquay from Kingswear via the ferry.

No railway has ever run to Dartmouth, but the town does have a railway station, opened on 31 March 1890 to replace the original facility on the pontoon, although it is now a restaurant. In fact Dartmouth Railway Station was built while the line from Paignton to the River Dart was still being built, anticipating a bridge across the river being built near the present Greenway Halt. The railway line to Kingswear was opened in 1864. As a result of shortage of capital, a deviation from the original scheme to run the line from Churston to Greenway with a steamer service to Dartmouth was proposed, but defeated in Parliament. It had been suggested that this could, at a later date, be used as a jumping off point for a bridge to the west bank of the Dart and a line direct to Dartmouth. In 1900, a Light Railway scheme was proposed for a crossing of the Dart near Maypool to join another line from Totnes and then proceed to Kingsbridge and Yealmpton, with a branch to Salcombe. This was also defeated by lack of funds. The railway terminated at a station called "Kingswear for Dartmouth" (now on the Dartmouth Steam Railway) and a ferry took passengers across the river to the station at Dartmouth railway station, which had a dedicated pontoon. British Railways formally closed the line to mainline passenger trains in 1973, but it immediately re-opened as a heritage line and has run as one ever since.
Kingswear seen from Dartmouth

Sport and leisure

Dartmouth has a Non-League football club Dartmouth A.F.C. who play at Long Cross.

Dartmouth also hosts the annual "World Indoor Rally Championship", based on slot car racing in the late summer.

At the end of August and early September there is the annual Port of Dartmouth Royal Regatta.

Since 1905 Dartmouth has had a greenhouse as part of the Royal Avenue Gardens. In May 2013 this building, used for the previous 10 years by Dartmouth in Bloom, a not-for-profit organisation affiliated with Britain in Bloom, was closed as structurally unsound. There are proposals to restore the greenhouse to its prior Edwardian style.


Britannia Royal Naval College

The town is home to the Royal Navy's officer training college (Britannia Royal Naval College), where all officers of the Royal Navy and many foreign naval officers are trained.


Dartmouth has one primary school—St John the Baptist R.C. Primary School, and one all-through school—Dartmouth Academy—for those aged 3–16. Dartmouth also has a pre-school in the centre of town, established for over 40 years and based in the old Victorian school rooms at South Ford Road. It provides care for 2- to 5-year-olds and is run as a charitable organisation.

Notable residents

  • George Parker Bidder (1806–1878), the civil engineer and calculating prodigy, notable for his work on railways over much of the world, as well as the docks of the East End in the Port of London. Bidder served on the town council, and his expertise was instrumental in draining the area which is now the centre of the town. He also undertook pioneering work with Samuel Lake on steam trawling whilst living in the town. Bidder died at his home at Paradise Point near Warfleet Creek and is buried at nearby Stoke Fleming.
  • Simon Drew (b.1952), a commercially successful cartoonist and illustrator, lives in Dartmouth and runs a shop on Fosse Street.
  • Gordon Onslow Ford (1912–2003), a leading British surrealist painter, attended the Royal Naval College.
  • Sir John Harvey Jones (1924–2008), businessman and television presenter, attended the Royal Naval College.
  • Thomas Newcomen, the inventor of the atmospheric engine—the first successful steam-powered pumping engine—was born in Dartmouth in 1663. The location of his house in Lower Street is marked with a plaque, although the building itself was demolished (and elements incorporated into local architect Thomas Lidstone's house on Ridge Hill) in the 19th century to make way for a new road which was named after Newcomen. An 18th-century working Newcomen steam engine is on display in the town.
  • Mary Nightingale, ITV newscaster, lived in Dartmouth for much of her childhood.
  • Flora Thompson lived in Above Town between 1928 and 1940, writing Lark Rise and Over to Candleford during this time. The books were later combined into a single volume with Candleford Green and published as Lark Rise to Candleford. She is buried at Longcross Cemetery.
  • John L. Wimbush, landscape and portrait painter.
  • John Flavel, Puritan preacher and writer.

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