From The Neolithic To The Sea: A Journey From The Past To The Present

Bayard's Cove Fort

50° 20′ 53″ N 3° 34′ 38″ W

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Bayard's Cove Fort is a 16th-century artillery blockhouse, located along the quay side of the river dart, in Dartmouth, Devon.

The fort was built to defend the harbour entrance and was constructed in the early part of the century, it had eleven gunports for heavy artillery. It was positioned at one end of a new quay built along the harbour, near the entrance to the estuary, and was intended to engage any hostile ships that evaded the guns of Dartmouth and Kingswear castles.

The fort comprises a stone blockhouse, probably built in at least two phases, with the original, circular design altered at a later date to form a more irregular shape. The exterior of the blockhouse is approximately 18 by 21 metres, with a limestone rubble wall enclosing an area cut out of the cliff face behind it. The exterior eastern wall is now 1.8 metres thick and 4.6 metres high. Eleven gunports for heavy artillery surround the ground floor close to sea level. It would originally have had a wall-walk and parapet to protect musketeers. The original lean-to accommodation for the garrison lay on the west hand side of the fortification but this, and the internal modifications from its later use as a storage facility, have since been destroyed.

In the medieval period, the town's harbour, located in the estuary of the River Dart, was an important trading and fishing port, able to hold up to 600 vessels; it continued to prosper in the 15th century on the proceeds of the wool trade. Fears of a French invasion, combined with the hope of retaining a valuable royal subsidy, led the town to develop Dartmouth Castle, on the west side of the estuary, into an artillery fort after 1486, with another fortification, Kingswear, being constructed the east side from 1491 onwards.

It is uncertain precisely when Bayard's Cove Fort was built, although it could have been started in 1509–10 at the beginning of Henry VIII's reign, following a royal instruction to the water bailiff of Dartmouth, or in 1529 by the town in response to fears of a French and Spanish attack. The fort was certainly complete by 1537

At the outbreak of the English Civil War in 1642 , Dartmouth initially sided with Parliament but in 1643, Prince Maurice besieged and took the town, whose defences proved vulnerable to a landward attack. In January 1646, Sir Thomas Fairfax led a Parliamentary army to retake Dartmouth, seizing Bayard's Cove Fort and the five iron artillery guns stationed there by the Royalists to protect the estuary.

After the civil war, Governor Sir John Fowell, was appointed by Parliament to run the defences of Dartmouth and to prevent smuggling. In 1650 Bayard's Cove Fort was repaired and brought back into full service. Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660 and initially granted the Dartmouth defences to the control of town once again. By 1662, however, the fortifications in Dartmouth were garrisoned by a royal force of 23 men and overseen by Sir John, who continued in his post as captain and governor until 1677.

In the 18th century, the fort was used for storage and fell into decline, until tourists began to come to Dartmouth in the second half of the 19th century and it was restored.

During the Second World War, it was used as a machine-gun post. Today, it is managed by English Heritage and open to visitors, it is a Grade I listed building.