Dartmouth, England, is a lovely resort town on the western side of the south coast of the English Channel, at the mouth of the River Dart (which gave the town its name), in South Devon. We anchored offshore, just beyond where the River Dart flows past the old fortified Dartmouth Castle as the River meets the English Channel. With three days in port, we had the opportunity to explore the resort town and journey by boat up the River Dart to Totnes, at the mouth of the River, and by bus to the eastern fishing and resort town of Brixham, source of much of London’s seafood (especially local crab in season) – see our forthcoming blog posts.
With a population of only about 5,000, Dartmouth was easily explored by walking and a local three-minute ferry took us across the River to the neighboring town of Kingswear where the buses to the coast and the steam train, heading north to Paignton, originated. We hiked to the historic Dartmouth Castle that was the fortified protection for the city against pirates trying to sail up river from the English Channel. Agatha Christie’s home on the River Dart, Greenway National Trust Holiday Home, is only a short bus ride north – we passed by it on our boat trip to Totnes and could see it from the River.
The town of Dartmouth has a long tradition of strategic importance for sailing ships. We were a year ahead of the town’s upcoming celebration of the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s sailing in 1620 from Plymouth, England (just to the west), its layover for the week-plus repairs to its sister ship, Speedwell (which was declared unfit and did not make the Atlantic Ocean crossing with the Mayflower) on the River Dart in Dartmouth prior to its crossing the Atlantic and landing the Pilgrims in Massachusetts at Cape Harbor (now known as Provincetown Harbor) – it was the next month (in December 1620) that the Pilgrims relocated to Plymouth Bay, Massachusetts.
“A ferry has plied between Dartmouth and Kingswear since at least 1365. This view spot is a great place to watch the two quirky car ferries that have developed here. The Lower Ferry below you consists of a pair of platforms pulled and pushed by little tugboats. Half a mile upstream is the Higher Ferry or Floating Bridge. It was first opened in 1831 as a platform attached to either bank with two chains and operated by steam – and later by horses on a treadmill. These days two cables provide power and direction.” – sign at the view spot in Dartmouth, England
Thomas Newcomen, who was born in Dartmouth in 1663, designed the world’s first successful atmospheric steam engine in 1712. His invention – which pumped water using a vacuum created by condensed steam – enabled mines to be drained to greater depths than had been economically possible. Dartmouth’s Newcomen Memorial Engine (pictured above) is believed to date from 1725, when it was initially installed at the Griff Collery near Coventry. Three hundred years after Newcomen’s birth, it was re-erected in his home town. Newcomen worked in Dartmouth about ten years to perfect his engine. His fundamental innovation was to use a piston moving up and down in a cylinder (mounted directly on top of the boiler) to produce a reciprocating engine – which could be coupled up to do useful work.
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