About us

About the Dartmouth History Research Group

The Dartmouth History Research Group began in 1991 when Ray Freeman, a local history teacher and author, first brought together people interested in exploring local history. Sadly Ray died on 19 September 2023. A page dedicated to her memory, giving an account of her life and work, can be found here.

Although Ray’s published works had contributed a great deal to the understanding and appreciation of our local history, there was still a lot left to discover. The group agreed to concentrate on research and making historical information about Dartmouth and the surrounding area available to everyone – that remains our focus today.

Under Ray’s leadership, progress was rapid – by the end of 1993 there were ten books in print. To help the growing number of people interested in local and family history, the Group began collecting and transcribing documents such as parish registers and census returns. In 2003, under new Chairman Irene O’Shea, and led by Wally Fleet, longstanding member and later the Group’s third Chairman, the Group began a new project, the development of a website, “The Dartmouth Archives”, bringing together an extensive collection of information and resources, and funded by a generous grant from the Local Heritage Initiative of the Heritage Lottery Fund (and others). The website went live in 2007, enabling people all over the world to discover the history of Dartmouth and the surrounding area. The present website aims to build on that very considerable and remarkable achievement.

Over the years we have made available much family history information including parish registers, census records and burial records. Other activities include transcribing and summarising original records such as property deeds which are a rich source of information on the history of the town. Oral history has also been an important theme and we have taped the memories of older residents and anyone with stories to tell about the past. We have produced many books and articles and contributed to many collaborative projects, working with Dartmouth Museum, Dartmouth Town Council, and other local groups and organisations. Our contribution to Dartmouth’s Mayflower 400 project in 2020 is one recent example.

Perhaps you have memories of life in this part of Devon locked in your head, or longstanding family links to the local area, or other local knowledge? If so, come and join us and help make history! We’re always delighted to welcome new members and value all skills and experience. You can learn as you go along and you don’t need any research qualifications – just enthusiasm, perseverance and an enquiring mind! Members pursue whatever aspects of local history they are interested in, support other members in their research, or get involved in wider DHRG projects. Everyone works in their own way and contributes in whatever way suits them best.

To find out more, come to one of our meetings (see the home page for details) or email us at enquiries@dartmouth-history.org.uk

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In the General Election this Thursday Dartmouth forms part of a new “South Devon” constituency, following a name change and a small boundary adjustment. Dartmouth has a long parliamentary history. In 1298 two of the town’s leading men, John le Bakere and William atte Vosse, were summoned to Edward I’s Parliament in York, demonstrating the town’s growing importance. From 1351 Dartmouth sent representatives to Parliament continuously for over five hundred years - two until the Great Reform Act of 1832, and then one.In 1868 the constituency of Dartmouth was abolished altogether. Seven English boroughs with populations under 5000 were disenfranchised to give more seats to Scotland without creating more MPs. Dartmouth became part of the "South Devon" constituency – as it once more is today (though "South Devon" in 1868 was bigger than in 2024).But electoral reform still had a long way to go. In 1868 there was no secret ballot and universal suffrage for adult men and women (age 21 and over) was not achieved for another sixty years. The right to vote was extended to everyone over 18 in 1969.#dartmouth #LocalHistory #southdevon #votingmatters. 🗳The map shows Dartmouth's parliamentary boundaries in 1868, just before the constituency was abolished. From the archives on our website: dartmouth-history.org.uk ... See MoreSee Less
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Though an extraordinary achievement, D-day itself was only the beginning of fierce fighting in the Normandy campaign. The road to liberation in France and eventual victory in Europe was long and hard. Many men who landed safely did not survive. Two of those who landed on Gold beach, but were killed in action soon afterwards, are commemorated on Dartmouth's War Memorial. On 8 June 1944, Trooper Sydney Hearnah of the 24th Lancers died in fighting around the village of Putot-en-Bessin. On 10 June 1944, Private William Chase of the 1st Dorsets was killed defending the village of Audrieu against counter attack by 12 SS Panzerdivision.Meanwhile, Naval forces defending the D-day supply routes also sustained losses. On 15 June 1944, Petty Officer Norman Corby of Dartmouth was killed when the frigate HMS Mourne was torpedoed in the Western Approaches, and her forward magazine exploded. RN Coastal Forces based in Dartmouth were involved in intensive attacks on German shipping around the Channel Islands. On 26/27 June 1944, the 52nd MTB Flotilla sustained casualties in an attack on German minesweepers. Able Seaman James Hindley of MTB 673 died of his wounds later that day in Dartmouth and was buried in Longcross Cemet#DDay80D#DDay##localhistorys#dartmouthmouthThis concludes our series of posts marking D-day 80 years on. If you're interested in finding out more about Dartmouth during the Second World War, we have several publications which cover this period in our history. Details are on our websitedartmouth-history.org.uk/group-books/ ... See MoreSee Less
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The D-day convoys leaving Dartmouth carried Force U, the American troops due to land on Utah beach. H-hour on 6 June 1944 on Utah was 0630. As Major Norbonne Gatling, US Army, remembered: "As dawn broke slowly we could see the extensive activity of dozens of vessels ... The troops in the leading waves had already gone in for the landing ... troops on the later waves were already being loaded on to smaller landing craft and artillery, tanks, jeeps and trucks were being loaded onto Rhinos and other smaller vessels."The swell made things difficult and mines took their toll (despite a huge minesweeping effort). But by 1230 around 8000 men were ashore. At about 1330 Major Gatling landed himself, using a Rhino ferry. Despite the beach being shelled, he and his men got off safely and by 1730 had reached their planned position at a farmhouse one mile inland. By 1800, over 20,000 troops, 1700 vehicles and nearly 1700 tons of stores had been landed on Utah beach. #DDay80 #DDay #Dartmouth #localhistoryPhotograph shows troops transferring from landing craft to Rhino ferry during training for D-Day; from US Naval History and Heritage Command. ... See MoreSee Less
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On 5 June 1944, after a postponement of 24 hours caused by bad weather, the last two invasion convoys left Dartmouth. Meanwhile, at 0415, General Eisenhower and Admiral Ramsey met the weather forecasters again. This time, as Admiral Ramsey put it in his diary, "the prophets came in smiling." The invasion would go ahead - though conditions were not good and "Forces will have an uncomfortable initial journey", the storm was forecast to moderate. The fleets in their temporary harbours had been told to get ready and there would be no last minute recall.In Dartmouth, people remembered the eerie silence and the empty harbour after all the ships had gone. The D-day memorial on the Embankment records that 485 ships of the US Navy and the Royal Navy left the port to join the largest amphibious force in history.#DDay80 #DDay #Dartmouth #localhistory ... See MoreSee Less
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80 years ago today, the weather was on everyone's mind. The D-day landings were planned for 5 June, but early on 4 June the weather had begun to change, with high winds, heavy swells and low cloud. At 0515, General Eisenhower postponed the landings for 24 hours. Fortunately Admiral Ramsay, in charge of naval operations, had already planned for this contingency. Most of the convoys which had left Dartmouth the day before found anchorage in Weymouth, but one, convoy U2A, did not receive the postponement order. Two destroyers were sent at top speed to prevent them attempting to land on their own! They barely got back to Weymouth in time to refuel. Meanwhile, in the Dart, ships still loading and due to depart were held in harbour overnight. As Captain James E Arnold, USNR, remembered, "each sixty minutes of those delayed hours was an eternity ..."#DDay80 #dartmouth #localhistory #DDayPhotograph from US Naval History and Heritage Command shows vehicles reversing into US landing craft being loaded on Dartmouth Embankment. ... See MoreSee Less
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