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A Topographical Dictionary of England


 Samuel Lewis (1831)

Transcript copyright Mel Lockie (Sep 2016)

DARTMOUTH, a borough and sea-port and market-town, having separate jurisdiction, locally in the hundred of Coleridge, county of DEVON, 30¾ miles (S. by W.) from Exeter, and 204 W. S. W.) from London, containing 4485 inhabitants. This place, which derives its name from being situated at the mouth of the river Dart, appears to have been distinguished at a very early period for the convenience of its harbour, which, in 1190, was the rendezvous of the fleet destined for the Holy Land. In the reign of Richard I. the French effected a landing on this coast, and, after setting fire to the town, retreated with inconsiderable loss. It is stated by Leland to have received a charter of incorporation from King John, but no authentic document exists of a date prior to Edward III.: if not incorporated, it enjoyed many privileges, and, in 1226, the inhabitants obtained the grant of a weekly market and an annual fair. In the reign of Edward I. the town sent members to parliament, and had become a considerable staple for wool, wine, and iron; and in that of Edward III. the port contributed thirty-one ships, and nearly eight hundred men, to the naval armament for the invasion of France. In this reign the town, together with the adjacent villages of Clifton and Hardness, received a regular charter of incorporation, and was exempted from tolls. By act of parliament in the reign of Richard II., the exportation of tin was exclusively restricted to the port of Dartmouth, but the restriction was soon after abolished. In 1404, the French pirates having burnt Plymouth, sailed to this town, but were gallantly repulsed by the male and female inhabitants; De Chastell, their commander, and several of his men were killed, and twenty of the crew taken prisoners. The castle is supposed to have been erected in the reign of Henry VII. During the parliamentary war, Dartmouth was regarded as a very important post, and eagerly contended for by both parties: in 1643, it was taken, after a siege of four weeks, by Prince Maurice, who garrisoned it for the king; and, in 1646, it was taken by storm by General Fairfax, who commanded the assault in person.

The town is beautifully situated on the western shore of the bay formed by the river Dart, near its influx with the sea. The houses are built on the acclivity of an eminence sloping gently from the margin of the water, and ranged in streets rising above each other at different elevations: they are in general ancient, and some of them are ornamented with grotesque carvings; the governor's house, which occupies a higher site, is a modern adaptation of the ancient style of building which prevails in the town, and forms the front to a naval museum. The streets, though inconveniently narrow, are partially paved by the commissioners, and the inhabitants are supplied with water brought by pipes from springs in the neighbourhood, at the expense of the corporation. A subscription reading-room has been established, and an annual regatta is celebrated, generally in July. The surrounding scenery is strikingly beautiful: the view of the town from the bay is truly picturesque; and the rocks, which are of a purple-coloured slate, are finely contrasted with the verdant foliage of the trees in which the houses are embosomed, extending for nearly a mile along the coast, and interspersed with a rich variety of plants and shrubs. The bay, in several points of view, from which the town and the sea are excluded by projecting rocks, has the appearance of an inland lake, noted for its romantic beauty. The harbour is sufficiently capacious for the reception of five hundred sail of vessels, and is remarkable for its security, and for the depth and tranquillity of its water, the surface of which is undisturbed, while the sea, at the distance only of a quarter of a mile, is in a state of strong agitation. The entrance is on the south, between the ruins of Kingswear castle and the fort and church of St. Petrock, where a battery has been erected for its defence. The port extends from the river Teign to the river Erme, including a range of coast forty miles in length, and is under the superintendence of a governor appointed by the corporation, and paid by the crown. The number of vessels belonging to the port in 1823 was three hundred and forty-eight, averaging seventy-two tons burden. The trade is principally with Newfoundland, the English coast, and the collieries; in the year ending January 5th, 1827, one hundred and two British and fourteen foreign vessels entered inward from foreign parts; and one hundred and forty-three British and one foreign vessel cleared outward. An artificial quay has been constructed, projecting into the harbour; and there is a custom-house, with requisite offices for the despatch of business. The river Dart is navigable to Totness, ten miles distant; and the passage is highly interesting from the beautiful scenery with which its banks abound throughout. A considerable trade is carried on in ship-building: there are commodious dock-yards, in which nineteen vessels were built in the year 1826; but the inhabitants are chiefly engaged in the Newfoundland and other fisheries, in which three thousand persons are employed, of whom a certain number is by law required to be landsmen. The market is on Fridays: there are no fairs of any importance. The government, by charter of Edward III., confirmed by succeeding monarchs, and extended by James II., is vested in a mayor, recorder, and twelve aldermen, assisted by a town clerk, coroner, two bailiffs, a receiver, and other officers. The mayor, the late mayor, and recorder, are justices of the peace for the borough, and hold a court of session quarterly, for the trial of all offenders not accused of capital crimes; and a court of record, under a charter of Edward III., for the recovery of debts to any amount, on the Monday in every week, but no writ has issued from it since 1823. The manorial courts for the borough, and also for the parish of Townstall, of which the corporation are lords of the manor, are also held here. The borough prison is a small building, containing two wards, with accommodation for four prisoners. The borough has continued to return two members to parliament since its incorporation in the 24th of Edward III.: the right of election is vested in the freemen generally; the mayor is the returning officer.

Dartmouth comprises the parishes of St. Petrock, St. Saviour, and Townstall, all in the archdeaconry of Totness, and diocese of Exeter. The living of St. Petrock's is a perpetual curacy, endowed with £1000 royal bounty, and £1200 parliamentary grant, and in the patronage of the Rector of Stoke-Fleming: the church is beautifully situated near the entrance to the harbour. The living of St. Saviour's is a perpetual curapy annexed to the vicarage of Townstall, endowed with £200 private benefaction, and £300 parliamentary grant, and in the patronage of the Mayor and Corporation; the church, commonly called the mayor's chapel, is a spacious cruciform structure, possessing little external, but considerable internal, beauty; it is principally in the decorated style of English architecture: the pulpit is of stone, richly sculptured and gilt; the wooden screen is an elaborate and highly enriched specimen of carving, in the decorated style; and the stalls of the corporation are of good modern workmanship: the original ceiling of oak is still preserved. The living of the parish of Townstall is a discharged vicarage, with the perpetual curacy of St. Saviour's, rated in the king's books at £12. 15. 4½., endowed with £15 per annum and £200 private benefaction, £200 royal bounty, and £300 parliamentary grant, and in the patronage of the Mayor and Corporation. The church is dedicated to St. Clement. There are places of worship for Baptists, Independents, and Wesleyan Methodists. Sunday schools in each parish are supported by subscription; and there are some small charitable bequests for the benefit of the poor and the instruction of poor children. Newcomen, the inventor of the steam-engine, was a native of this place. Dartmouth gives the title of earl to the family of Legge.