DARTMOUTH is an ancient borough, market town, and sea-port, picturesquely seated on the western side of the estuary of the Dart, opposite Kingswear, which projects nearly midway into the river, about a mile from its confluence with the English Channel; thus narrowing the entrance, and protecting the spacious harbour above, where there is room for an immense concourse of shipping in the broad waters of the Dart and its creeks. A steam packet plies daily up the Dart to Totnes, about ten miles above, where the valley is crossed by the South Devon Railway. The town has now about 5000 inhabitants, and is distant five miles S.W. by S. of Brixham, 28 miles E. of Plymouth, 30 miles S. by W. of Exeter, and 202 miles W.S.W. of London. The stranger accustomed to the straight, monotonous fronts of modern streets, will be much struck with the projecting fronts, carved brackets, and antique gables of Dartmouth, where many of the houses are of the Elizabethan and earlier ages. The town is built close along the edge of the large basin formed by the estuary, and up the sides of the steep hill rising directly from it. So abrupt is the acclivity of the hill, that from the level of the houses in the upper street, people may almost look down the chimneys of those in the lower street. The two lines of streets, one above the other, are remarkably narrow, and communicate with each other by steps, or very steep openings, at various distances. The entrance to the harbour is guarded on either side by the fortifications called Dartmouth and Kingswear Castles, between which a chain was formerly drawn across the water every night, to keep out hostile vessels. Almost the only improvements that have been made in the town during the last twenty years are the new road from Tunstal to the north end of the town; the large floating bridge, which is there impelled across the river upon chains, and was opened in 1831; the introduction of gas; and the erection of the new Market House, in 1828-9, at the cost of about £1200. A wider and more direct road from the middle of the town to the floating bridge is much wanted, and it is hoped that this and other improvements will be effected in a few years. An island of about four acres, called the “New Ground” was warped up from the haven in front of the town about a century ago, and is connected with the lower street by a small bridge, which is was widened in 1825. The fairs are held on this island, which has a fine avenue of trees, and forms a pleasant promenade for the inhabitants. The borough is called Clifton – Dartmouth – Hardness, from the three ancient hamlets now forming the town, and it comprises the two parishes of St. Petrox and St. Saviour, and most of Townstal parish. These three parishes had 4595 inhabitants in 1841, of whom 929 were in St. Petrox, 2345 in St. Saviour’s, and in Townstal, but 178 of the latter were beyond the limits of the borough. The population of the three parishes was 2398 in 1801, 4597 in 1831, and 4595 in 1841. The two first-named parishes comprise only about 100 acres, but TOWNSTAL extends north-west beyond the borough, and comprises the hamlets of Norton, Oldmill, Ford, and Warfleet, and 1688A. 3R. 34P. of land, mostly the property of Sir Henry Paul Seale, Bart., lord of the manors of Townstal and Norton-Dawney; who has a large castellated mansion here, called Mount Boon, situated on a commanding eminence, west of the town, and formerly a seat of the Boone and Harris families, the latter of whom sold the estate to the Seales about 1700. The late Sir John Henry Seale was created a baronet in 1838, and died in 1844. Sir H. P. Seale is also lord of the manor of South Town, comprising the parish of St. Petrox, and formerly belonging to the Fitzstephen, Fleming, Mohun, Carew, and Southcote families. The manor of Dartmouth passed as a parcel of the barony of Totnes till the reign of Edward I., after which it was conveyed by succeeding monarchs to various families. Queen Elizabeth granted the manor and borough to persons named Downing, Ashton, and Peter, by whom they were conveyed to the Corporation, to whom they still belong, together with the tolls and dues of the market, fairs, and harbour, and the tithes of Townstal, and various houses, quays, &c., from which they derive about £900 per annum; out of which they support the harbour lights, the town water pipes and cisterns, the police, the fire engines, &c. One item of their expenditure in 1848 was 21s., for the boatmen in attendance during her Majesty’s passing visit in the Channel.
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A charter for a market and fair at Dartmouth was granted to Richard de Gloucester, son of Wm. Fitzstephen, in 1226; and another charter was granted in 1301 for a market and fair at Clifton-super-Dartmouth. Here is now a weekly market for provisions every Friday, and also cattle markets on the Monday before the third Wednesday of every month. The old fairs are disused, but here are two pleasure fairs in March and October, and a regatta in August. Leland says King John granted the “privilege of Mairalte to Dertmuth,” but this must be a mistake, as a charter, granted by Edward III., in 1342, expressly invests the burgesses with the power of choosing a mayor every year. Under this charter, the Corporation consisted of a mayor, recorder, two bailiffs, and twelve common councilmen. Under the Municipal Reform Act of 1835, it now consists of a mayor, recorder, four aldermen, and twelve councillors; and the borough has a commission of the peace, and a court of quarter sessions. The present CORPORATION and OFFICERS are, – Sir H. P. Seale, Bart., mayor ; A. B. Harris, Noah Clift, Chas. Hutchings, and Sir. H. P. Seale, aldermen; J. Puddicombe, J. Polybank, J. Webber, J. Coaker, H. Follett, J. Bulley, H. M. Baker, R. Coombe, J. Greaves, R. F. Burrough, Wm. Follett and T. Fogwill, councillors ; Chas. Dacres Bevan, Esq., recorder ; Chas. Hutchings, A. B. E. Holdsworth, A. H. Holdsworth, A.B. Harris, Rt. Harris, D. Codner, Col. Carlyon, and the Mayor, Ex-Mayor, and the Recorder, borough magistrates; George Bridgeman, clerk of the peace ; F. B. Cumming, town clerk ; Sol. Pentecosts, treasurer ; J. M. Puddicombe, coroner ; Wm. Hearn and Jas. Phillips, sergeants-at-mace ; and Rd. Backwell, jailor. The borough sent representatives to one of the Parliaments in the reign of Edward I., and regularly sent two members from the 14th of Edward III. till 1832, when it was classed by the Parliamentary Reform Act, among the boroughs entitled only to send one member each. The right of election was formerly in the freemen, who were about forty in number, but there are now about 340 voters, of whom about twenty are freemen, and the rest occupiers of houses, &c., of the yearly value of £10 or upwards. Geo. Moffat, Esq., is their present representative. The late Col. Sir J. H. Seale represented the borough from 1832 till his death in 1844, and so anxious were the householders for his return, and for reform in Parliament, that 119 voted for him at the election in 1830, though their votes were disallowed, and two successful candidates were returned by the votes of only 21 freemen.
In 1347, Dartmouth stood third in the list of 84 sea-ports, which furnished Edward III. with 700 ships for the siege of Calais; its quota being 31 ships and 757 seamen. It was nearly destroyed in 1377 by a powerful army from France ; but in 1403, when another French army commanded by M. du Chastel, again burnt and destroyed Plymouth, it was in a condition to send many well-armed vessels to the fleet, which destroyed 40 of he enemy’s ships, captured as many more, and returned laden with booty, after landing at Penmark, in Bretagne. To avenge himself for this loss, M. du Chastel, in the following year, made a descent upon Dartmouth, with a considerable force; but they met with such determined resistance, that the commander and 400 men were killed, 200 taken prisoners, and the rest were glad to fly to their ships, and leave the harbour with all speed. At this period, John Hawley, a rich merchant here, had so many ships that it was said, “Blow the wind high, or blow it low, It bloweth fair to Hawley’s Hoe.” Leyland says that in his time the great ruins of Hawley’s Hall were to be seen in that part of the town called Hardness. Chaucer, in his “Canterbury Tales”, written about this time, says, “A Shipman was ther, woned fer by west ; For ought I wote he was of Dertemouth.” Having a deep and capacious harbour, where 500 sail of large ships can ride in safety, Dartmouth has from very early times been a place of trade and maritime importance. The fleet destined for the Holy Land assembled here in 1190. Wool, wine, and iron constituted its principal commerce in the reign of Edward I. Until the beginning of the present century, a large Newfoundland trade was carried on here, but has declined of late years. The coasting trade of the port is still rather extensive. The import consists of coal, timber, and general merchandise, and the exports of cider, barley, potatoes, stone, slate, &c. The number of vessels registered here is 463, amounting together to 34,041 tons. The Port extends along the coast from Babbicombe to the river Yealm, and includes Totnes, Brixham, Torquay, Salcombe, and Kingsbridge, so that only about a fifth of the registered shipping belongs to Dartmouth. The harbour is much frequented by steamers and homeward-bound Dutch vessels, and those of other northern nations, which remain during the time the continental rivers are frozen. It is also a safe port of refuge for ships during adverse gales in the channel. The Commissioners appointed by Government, a few years ago, to enquire into the eligibility of the different ports in the English Channel for a foreign mail packet station, gave a decided preference to Dartmouth, but Southampton still retains that privilege. The CUSTOM HOUSE is a convenient building, and the following are the officers :- Alex. More, Esq., collector; Mr. Jph. H. Sparke, comptroller ; W.H.E.Godfrey and G.N. Puddicombe, clerks ; and W.R. Creed, tide surveyor. The gross receipt of customs in 1838 was £4100, and in 1839, £4629. Here are bonded warehouses for all goods except tobacco and East India goods.
In the latter part of the 15th century, means were taken for the better protection of the town and harbour, Edward IV. having then convenanted to pay the burgesses £30 a year for ever, out of the customs, on condition of their erecting “a strong and mighty and defensive tower,” adjoining the castle, properly furnished with arms and artillery, and with a chain to be drawn across the river to the tower at Kingswear. Dartmouth Castle has still its governor (A.H.Holdsworth, Esq.,) fort major, and master gunner, and is mounted with six 12 and four 18 pounders. Near it is an older castellated fort, also mounted with cannon, and rising immediately above the water. Dartmouth was garrisoned by Parliament in the early part of the civil wars of the 17th century. After the capture of Exeter in 1643, Prince Maurice marched to Dartmouth, which he expected to find an easy conquest, but the town did not yield till after a month’s siege. The royalists, esteeming it an important place, repaired its fortifications, and strongly garrisoned the castles on both sides of the harbour, and the forts called Gallant’s Bower, Paradise, and Mount Flaggon, as well as the West-gate, Townstal Church, and the mansion of Mount Boon; but in January, 1646, it was stormed and taken by the army of Sir Thos. Fairfax. In 1675, Charles Fitzcharles, natural son of Charles II., was created Baron Dartmouth, Viscount Totnes, and Earl of Plymouth, but these titles became extinct on his death in 1680. George Legge was created Baron Dartmouth in 1682, and his son William was created Viscount Lewisham and Earl of Dartmouth in 1750. His descendant, the present Earl, resides at Sandwell Park, Staffordshire. Mr. Newcomen, one of early improvers of the steam-engine, was a native of Dartmouth ; and in the 16th century Sir Humphrey Gilbert sailed from this port to establish a settlement in Newfoundland; and Capt. Davis in search of the north-west passage to India. The town and neighbourhood have long been celebrated for “white ale”, said to have been first brewed here. The ale taster is an officer appointed by the corporation, and formerly he tasted every brewing of the publicans, and proclaimed at their doors with a loud voice and “uplifted leg and arm,” whether the ale was good or not! The last ale taster died at the age of 91, and shortly before his death he met, at a “tasting,” four others of the respective ages of 88, 87, 79, and 76. There are Assemby Rooms, &c., at the castle, London, and Commercial Inns, and another over the British Schools. Here is a Literary and Scientific Institution, which has a museum and occasional lectures. The Mechanics’ Instituition was established in 1846, and the Dartmouth United Shipping Association in 1812. There are four churches and three chapels in the three parishes, and various charities belonging to the parishes separately and to the borough at large.
In 1599, Wm. Ley left £40 for building an almshouse for poor people of this borough. About 1810, the corporation gave in exchange for this old almshouse, a more modern building, now occupied by eight or ten poor persons. As many poor widows occupy the Widow’s Houses, built by a Mr. Street, about 1630. Adjoining the latter are some apartments let for as much as is required for keeping the whole building in repair. In 1633, Richard Kelly left two yearly rent-charges of 20s. for the inmates of Ley’s and Street’s almshouses. The small Almshouse, given by John Lovering, in 1671, for poor sailors or their widows, was burnt down in 1794, and the site is now let for about £2 per annum.
Those vested with the corporation are now under the management of trustees appointed under the powers of the Municipal Reform Act. The poor of the borough have £3. 0s.4d. yearly, in several small rent-charges left by Alex. Awdyan, in 1548. For a weekly distribution of 1s. worth of bread they have £2. 12s. yearly from Sir John Acland’s Charity. (see Exeter.) In 1627, John Shapleigh left £100 for the poor, in trust with the corporation, but they have not paid the interest since 1694. They pay £2. 8s. yearly as the interest of £40 left to the poor by Thos. Paige, about 1630. John Plumleigh, in 1641, gave the Town Close (1A.) as a place for the inhabitants to dry and bleach their clothes in, and the herbage for the poor. The herbage is let for about £6 a year. Adjoining this close is half an acre called Ford Meadow, in which the inhabitants have the right of washing clothes, for which purpose there are wells and tables. The interest of £50, left by ,George Prestwood, in 1671, is distributed among the poor in bread and meat.The poor of the three parishes have a yearly rent-charge of £10, left by Thomas Boone, in 1677, out of an estate at Townstal; and also £6. 6s., as the rent of a house and garden left by Richard Langdon, in 1707. The yearly sum of £7.10s. is distributed in shifts among poor women, as the interest of £125 benefaction money, vested with the corporation.
THE FORDER ESTATE CHARITY consists of a farm 55A. 1R. 12p., at Blackauton, worth £50 a year, but let for only £18, in consideration of the fines paid on every renewal of the lease for lives. This estate was purchased with £600 trust money in 1673, and vested with the corporation, in trust that they should apply the clear yearly profits in five equal portions as follows:- One-fifth towards the maintenance of the minister of St. Petrox’ church; one-fifth towards the maintenance of a Latin schoolmaster, (but there is not one now) one-fifth towards the support of an English schoolmaster; one-fifth for distribution among the poor of St.Saviour’s parish; and the other fifth for the poor of St. Petrox and Townstal parishes.
THE PARISH OF ST. SAVIOUR has the following charities, in addition to its share of the foregoing. For schooling poor children, Wm. Wotton, in 1629, left a yearly rent-charge of £5 out of South Whimple farm, at Broadclist. For a weekly distribution of 1s. worth of bread the poor have an annuity of 52s., left by Lawrence Wheeler, in 1662, out of land in Townstal. They have also two other annuities, viz., 20s. out of the great tithes of Cornworthy, left by John Peter; and 12s. paid by the corporation as interest of £10 left by Joan Rounsevall. For preaching a weekly sermon on a working day, the curate has about £20 a year from Kelly’s Charity. (See Brixham.)
ST. PETROX PARISH. – For maintaining the watercourses, and for other public uses, Robt. Code, in the 1st of Henry 7th, vested with trustees certain property which now consists of eleven houses, with gardens, &c., worth £120 a year, but let for only about £8, in consideration of fines paid on the renewal of the leases. The fines and rents are all expended in the works which supply South Town with water. The industrious poor parishioners have the dividends of £100 navy five per cent. stock, given by the Rev. Jno. Charter, in 1821.
TOWNSTAL PARISH. – The Church Lands, &c., have been vested in trust from an early period for the repairs of the church, and now comprise eight houses and garden and a field of 1A. 24P., worth about £100 per annum, but let for only about £5, in consideration of fines paid by the lessees. The poor parishioners have 20s. a year, left by John Peter, out of Cornworthy tithes.
Townstal Church (St. Clement,) on a bold eminence about half a mile north of the town, is an ancient structure, of early English architecture, with a lofty tower, containing four bells. The interior has several neat mural tablets, and the living is a vicarage, valued in 1831 at £135, with the curacy of St. Saviour’s annexed to it, in the patronage of Sir H. P. Seale, and the incumbency of the Rev. John Tracey, B.A., who has a good residence, and two yearly stipends, viz., £105 out of the tithes of Sherford, and about £18 out of the tithes of Townstal parish, which were commuted in 1840 for £294. 17s. 6d. per annum. The latter formerly belonged to Tor Abbey, but have been in the appropriation of the corporation of Dartmouth since the Reformation; and they had also the advowson till they sold it a few years ago. St. Saviour’s Churchis an ancient and spacious structure, said to have been consecrated in 1372. It has a plain embattled tower, and the interior has a splendid screen, and several handsome monuments. In the chancel is the tomb of the before-named John Hawley, with effegies of himself and his two wives on brass plates. The altar-piece is a fine large painting of “Christ raising the widow’s son”, by Brockedon, a native artist, who presented it to the church. The door within the porch is covered with curious iron ornaments, and seems to be coeval with the building. St. Petrox Parish Church stands south of the town, immediately behind the castle, and is a very ancient structure, which has undergone many repairs and alterations. It has a low tower, containing five bells, and crowned by a very short spire. It had formerly a chantry, founded in the reign of Edward III., and the ancient manor house of Clifton stood near it. The living is a perpetual curacy, which has been augmented with Queen Anne’s Bounty, and was valued in 1831 at £120. It is in the patronage of the rector of Stoke Fleming, and the incumbency of the Rev.F. M. Walter, B.D. St Petrox’ Chapel of Ease stands in the Higher street, and was built by subscription in 1831, at the cost of about £2000. It is a plain Gothic structure, and many of the pews are free. The Independent Chapel is a large and handsome building, erected at the cost of £1200, on the site of the old Presbyterian Meeting-house, which belonged to a congregation of nonconformists established by the Rev. John Flavel, who was ejected in 1662 from St. Saviour’s, and was author of some popular Calvinistic works. The Wesleyan Chapel was erected in 1826, at the cost of £1300; and here is also a Baptist Chapel. At South town are large and handsome National Schools, erected in 1823, and attended by about 100 children of either sex; and in the New road are British Schools, built in 1848, in the Tudor style, at the cost of about £1000, and attended by about 130 boys and girls.