|Location||Dartmouth, County of Devon, England (Google Maps)|
|Open for Visitors||Yes|
|Owned by||English Heritage|
|Rooms Available||Yes (Weddings)|
Dartmouth Castle is a beautiful fortress, protecting the Dartmouth harbour for 600 years. The castle offers stunning views of the estuary, presenting the opportunity for a great family day out, irrespective of the weather.
The first construction of the castle began in 1388 during the Hundred Years War, which was England’s interminable war with France. Dartmouth was an important port and a centre for the wine and cloth trade. Richard II was unwilling to spend royal funds on the defence of Dartmouth, but he urged John Hawley, the town’s mayor, to strengthen Dartmouth’s defences from attack. Hawley’s response was to begin constructing a fortalice, a small castle at the head of River Dart. The fortalice was the first step in the development of Dartmouth Castle. Hawley played a crucial role in protecting Dartmouth and strengthening national security against foreign invasions. This small fort was Dartmouth’s first castle and was only used in times of danger. It had a few permanent buildings, including a circular corner tower and an adjoining length of stone wall, which survives even today.
After almost a century of building the fortalice, in 1462, Edward IV urged the wealthy merchants of Dartmouth to strengthen their defences. They considered strengthening the river defences with a new tower containing guns. It was during the time when England was still at war with France, and gunpowder was all the rage. Edward IV awarded the townspeople £30 annually for 20 years to cover the cost of Dartmouth’s defences. It included laying a massive iron chain across the River Dart to stop marauding ships from getting through. The defences were finally completed around 1493, and the gun tower became the heart of the Dartmouth Castle. The result was a complex of linked buildings built over a century, with gun positions, magazines, and watchtowers linked by underground passages.
Dartmouth Castle was built and owned by the town of Dartmouth, but that changed in 1552. The Carew family held the manor of Stoke Fleming, and the castle was built on their land. Lord Peter Carew became the Lord of the Borough of Dartmouth and MP for the town in 1547. Carew used his power and position to seize Dartmouth Castle. He expelled the garrison and installed his own men in their place. Carew administered the castle as his own property until he died in 1575.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, the town repaired and handled its defences in support of Parliament. However, in September 1643, a Royalist force under the command of Prince Maurice, Count Palatine of the Rhine, and Charles I’s nephew, attempted to capture the town. The townspeople were forced to surrender after a month even though they bravely resisted. The Royalist forces held the town for two and a half years before Sir Thomas Fairfax’s Parliamentarian forces stormed the town at night in January 1646 and took hold of it. After 1646, Dartmouth Castle’s defences were usually controlled by the Government rather than the town. After two years of Charles II’s Restoration in 1660, Dartmouth Castle had a new complement of the king’s guard and garrisons, which comprised 23 men and a governor.
In the mid-eighteenth century, the war with France again prompted the Government to strengthen the defences at Dartmouth. The defences of Dartmouth Castle were reviewed as part of the Royal Commission of 1859-60, which assessed coastal defences across the realm. The castle was found wanting and was rebuilt in 1861 with enclosed casemated gun positions augmented by lighter guns on the roof.
Dartmouth Castle was decommissioned as a coastal defence site in 1955 and handed over to the Ministry of Works. Dartmouth, however, retains its military links and is home to Britannia Royal Navy College, the training facility for all Naval Officers.
Today, Dartmouth Castle’s defensive role is symbolic, but this military stronghold saw active service in the late 14th and mid-20th centuries. The range of architectural styles it encloses is varied and glorious. From the remains of the medieval fortalice to the 1940s gun house disguised as a tower, it reflects the development of weaponry and warfare over hundreds of years. The castle is further distinguished by the existence of one of Dartmouth’s oldest places of worship, St Petrox Church, dating back to at least 1192. The Grade I listed church represents serenity and strength, which was probably a welcome refuge for men defending the town during wars.
Inside Dartmouth Castle, you can explore the lighting passage and magazine rooms, where ammunition was stored. You can also see casemates, enclosed chambers with positions for four guns. Two more heavy firearms are placed on the upper floor. You can try on Tudor artillery helmets and see a 17th-century Swedish gun. After exploring the castle, you can visit Dartmouth Castle tea rooms for light lunches and snacks.
Frequently Asked Questions
How to get to Dartmouth Castle?
Dartmouth Castle is located 1 mile southeast of Dartmouth, off the B3205. The easiest route to Dartmouth Castle is by a pedestrian-only ferry from the Dartmouth Embankment, which can be availed from Easter until October end.
Is there parking at Dartmouth Castle?
Yes, parking is available just outside Dartmouth Castle. The car park is small and fills up fast on sunny days. However, you can find parking along Castle Road if you find the car park full.
Who owns Dartmouth Castle?
Today, Dartmouth Castle is owned and managed by English Heritage and is home to Britannia Royal Navy College, the training facility for all Naval Officers.
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