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A very potted history of Dartmouth’s seafaring past

In bygone times, Dartmouth’s harbour wall, set on the western bank of the estuary of the River Dart, was a place alive with the sounds of fishing vessels, naval ships, merchants and ship building.

The town’s prosperity all centred on the River Dart and the trade that stemmed from its deep shipping port. 

Indeed in 1373 Chaucer visited the area and later wrote of a “Shipman of Dartmouth, one of the pilgrims in the Canterbury Tales.

In the 13th century wine came to Dartmouth from Bordeaux and from the 15th there were important trade routes and seasonal migration between the South West and the Canadian coast which lasted for four centuries with ships returning via Spain and Portugal with more wine and tobacco. It was a lucrative triangle of trade.

Some ships would fish, others would prepare the catch and salt the cod, collecting other goods like oils and soap for sale back in Britain.

The men of Dartmouth would make their journeys to the icy and dangerous waters of Newfoundland year after year, some eventually settling there.

Shipments were sold to visitors and locals who would buy beautiful cloths skins and wood, alongside the wine!

This brought much wealth to Dartmouth to the benefit of the merchants in the town, including those who lived in Bayards Cove Inn, which was once called Merchants House.

The cod trade eventually collapsed, steam ships replaced the tall ships, and with Dartmouth’s relative inaccessibility –  you all know how steep Townstall Hill is – Dartmouth’s heyday seemed complete.

However, in the 1800s, the Royal Navy built Royal Britannia College which proved a huge bonus for the town and the railway meant coal could arrive at Kingswear for the steam ships

Today, its tourism that keeps the cogs turning of our beautiful town, and while crab fishing still flourishes and there are a few commercial fishing ships, its yachting and the sea that are major pulls for visitors as well as the myriad of things to keep you occupied in this beautiful part of Devon like walks along the past paths, days on the beaches, and hours spent exploring the town and its shops.

Our seven boutique rooms are a nod to Dartmouth’s bond with the sea and each is named after an ocean going warrior who made his mark on Great Britain’s seafaring past.

We’ll post more about them in our next blog!

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