Dartmouth is a town and civil parish located on the mouth of River Dart in Devon. The town is a tourist destination set on the western bank of the estuary of the River Dart, which is a long narrow tidal ria that runs inland as far as Totnes.
The Domesday Book, compiled in 1086, lists Dunestal as the only settlement in the area of Dartmouth. Walter of Doua, who owned the land, rebelled against William II, his lands were confiscated and added to the honour of Marshwood, Dorset.
Dartmouth began to grow as a port, it was of strategic importance as a deep-water port. The port was used as the sailing point for the Crusades of 1147 and 1190, and Warfleet Creek, close to Dartmouth Castle is thought to be named for the vast fleets which assembled there. Dartmouth was a home of the Royal Navy from the reign of Edward III and was twice surprised and sacked during the Hundred Years' War, after which the mouth of the estuary was closed every night with a great chain. The narrow mouth of the Dart is protected by two fortified castles, Dartmouth Castle and Kingswear Castle. Originally Dartmouth's only wharf was Bayard's Cove, a relatively small area protected by a fort at the southern end of the town.
In 1592, the Madre de Deus, a Portuguese treasure ship was captured by the English in the Azores. It docked at Dartmouth Harbour. and attracted all manner of traders, dealers, cutpurses and thieves. By the time Sir Walter Raleigh arrived to reclaim the Crown's share of the loot, a cargo estimated at half a million pounds had been reduced to £140,000. Ten freighters were needed to carry the treasure to London.
The town contains many medieval and Elizabethan streets capes and is a patchwork of narrow lanes and stone stairways. A significant number of the historic buildings are listed. One of the most obvious is the Butterwalk, built 1635 to 1640. Its intricately carved wooden fascia is supported on granite columns. Charles II held court in the Butterwalk whilst sheltering from storms in 1671, in a room which now forms part of Dartmouth Museum.
Dartmouth sent numerous ships to join the English fleet that attacked the Spanish Armada, including the Roebuck, Crescent and Hart.
The remains of a fort at Gallants Bower just outside the town are some of the best preserved remains of a Civil War defensive structure. The fort was built by Royalist occupation forces in c. 1643 to the south east of the town, with a similar fort at Mount Ridley on the opposite slopes of what is now Kingswear. The Parliamentarian General Fairfax attacked from the north in 1646, taking the town and forcing the Royalists to surrender, after which Gallants Bower was demolished.
Second World War the town was a base for American forces and one of the departure points for Utah Beach in the D Day landings.
The Royal National Lifeboat Institution opened the Dart Lifeboat Station at the Sand Quay in 1878, but it was closed in 1896. In all this time only one effective rescue was made by the lifeboat. Dart Lifeboat Station was reopened in 2007, the first time that a lifeboat had been stationed in the town since 1896.
In 2010, a fire seriously damaged numerous historical properties in Fairfax Place and Higher Street. Several were Tudor and Grade I or Grade II listed buildings.