A Brief History of Dartmouth
Before 1066 no town existed on the site of modern Dartmouth, only the small village of Townstal at the top of the hill. After the Normans arrived they soon realised the value of this safe harbour for cross-Channel voyages, and by the l2th century it had become a port well enough known for supplying ships to become the assembly point for the European fleet setting off for both the 2nd and 3rd Crusades.
The town was granted a royal charter in 1341 and in 1372 a fort at the mouth of the river was built to defend the town from attacks from across the Channel during the wars with France. A moveable chain could be slung between the castles at the river entrance to prevent attacks and the fort was one of the first in the country to use gunpowder artillery. In 1404 at the Battle of Slapton Sands an army of untrained locals defeated the well-armed knights of the 2000-strong Breton force that landed at Slapton. In 1588, when Dartmouth was under threat from the Spanish Armada, the town sent eleven ships to join the English fleet and captured the Spanish flagship that was anchored off the Dart.
By the 14th century the town’s merchants were growing rich through the Bordeaux wine trade. Another reason for the growing prosperity of the town was the rich fishing from the Newfoundland cod banks, the results of this prosperous
trading are seen today in the 17th century Butterwalk, Quay and many 18th century houses around the town. Locally
made goods were traded with Newfoundland by the 18th century and much of the salted cod was sold to Spain and
Portugal in exchange for wine and port, and some present day Dartmouth families still have connections with the
Portuguese port wine trade. In the mid 19th century the town faced a serious economic crisis when the Newfoundland
trade collapsed, but it gradually recovered in the second half of the 19th century. Dartmouth’s importance as a naval port declined as Plymouth’s grew, but in 1863 the Royal Navy stationed two training ships in the river, later replacing them with the naval college in 1905, and in 1864 the railway arrived in Kingswear, both these events helping to raise the town’s economic prospects. Today most of the local economy is based on the leisure and tourist industries.