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The History of Dartmouth

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The ancient sea port of Dartmouth is positioned on the western bank, close to the mouth of the River Dart in the county of Devon in south west England. It has a rich maritime history that has played a vital role across the ages.

From its humble beginnings on top of the hill, it grew, settlers were here as far back as prehistoric times, Saxon Invaders arrived in the 7th Century, followed by marauding Vikings in the 9th Century. A couple of hundred years later two fishing hamlets had emerged at the mouth of the river and its importance grew.

The onset of the 12th Century saw the industry of ship building coming to the fore, where the town provided both ships and fighting power for the Crusades , 146 ships set sail from Dartmouth in 1147 and again in 1190 starting a trend which would last for centuries. After the Normans landed on England's shores and the bloody battle had been won, William the Conqueror marched across the land changing it forever. When they arrived in Dartmouth their building expertise came to the fore with the building of a Dam which joined the two villages of Clifton and Hardness together which forms the town known today. Trade flourished between England's shores and, the strategic importance of the location was realised.

The heightened status of the town emerged when King John visited in 1205, together with the granting of a Market Charter allowing a weekly market and an annual fair. The increased population led to the building of houses some of which survive today. During the 100 Years War it was deemed necessary to build a castle together with a large chain which stretched across the river to protect from the invading French, and although the castle has been altered over the years it has stood the test of time and was last used during the Second World War. Chaucer visited the town in 1373 on official business, as Customs Officer to Edward III . As he was delving into the seizure of a ship's cargo, it is said that his meeting with John Hawley - a successful Merchant and Mayor of 14 times - influenced and inspired the tale of "Shipman of Dartmouth", one of the Pilgrims in the Canterbury Tales.

The 14th and 15th centuries saw trade links flourish with France, the building of St Saviours Church which remains today, and the growth of the town. Peace reigned until 1588 when the threat of attack from the Spanish Armada encouraged Dartmouth to set sail eleven ships which joined the Fleet and successfully snared the Flag Ship which was held, together with its crew on the River Dart for nearly a year. Trade continued to flourish and saw the building of the Butterwalk in 1635, where King Charles II held court in 1671 whilst sheltering from raging storms, and The Pilgrim Fathers lowered anchor close by in Bayard's Cove in 1620 on their renowned journey to America. Battles would commence again with the Civil War which broke out between Charles I and Parliament which spread across the land, Dartmouth was a Royalist stronghold which saw a siege take place in 1643 where the fortification of the castle played an important part.

The town was to hold its first Regatta in 1822, which was declared a Royal Regatta in 1856 after Queen Victoria and Prince Albert arrived in Dartmouth unplanned due to a storm. The twentieth century saw soldiers who had fought in the Napoleonic War held captive, their forced labour helped reclaim the land, the transfer from ship to land for the Royal Navy Officer Training College in 1905, and, later during the Second World War the arrival of American military who were based in Dartmouth and departed from here for the heroic D Day Landings and Utah Beach in 1944 when over four hundred ships set sail.

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Captain Kidd Hanged for Piracy - 1701, Whipsnade Zoo Opened - 1931
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