BAYARD’S COVE FORT
Bayards Cove, Dartmouth, Devon, TQ6 9AX
It was here in the estuary that the English contingent assembled in 1147 and again in 1190 to depart on crusade. Originally, the major port on the River Dart was Totnes, higher upriver, but from the 13th century the name Dartmouth was being used for the harbour town that was gradually expanding south along the waterside.
The town became the main base for the wine trade with south-west France, and despite the loss of this source of wealth following the start of the Hundred Years’ War (1337–1453), Dartmouth continued to prosper with the growth of the cloth trade.
BUILDING THE FORT
The fort may have been built as early as 1509–10 according to contemporary documents, and was certainly in existence by 1537, when it is mentioned as the ‘New Castle’ in a corporation lease. On the southern edge of the town, it stands at the end of a stone quay which was also constructed early in the 16th century.
Nearer the harbour mouth, Dartmouth Castle and its companion fort across the estuary, Kingswear Castle, had already been built in the late 15th century to guard the port.
Fearful of attack, the people of Dartmouth decided to built Bayard’s Cove Fort as a second line of defence, in case an enemy succeeded in evading the guns of Dartmouth and Kingswear.
The fort is irregular in plan but simple in design. It consists of a high, thick wall enclosing a roughly rectangular space with rounded corners, some 10 metres (33 feet) across. The original entrance was on the north side and survives as a much damaged pointed archway with a drip moulding above. Access to a narrow wall-walk was via a stone stairway climbing over the entrance arch.
The fort wall was originally topped by a parapet, mostly now missing, from which musketeers or archers could fire. The wall-walk gave access to a small area just west of the rock face where the gunners’ accommodation might have been sited: traces of lean-to buildings can be seen in the rock face here.
Below, a row of 11 gunports close to the water’s edge allowed heavy guns to be brought to bear on enemy ships. At this time, cannon were generally fixed to heavy wooden base-plates, rather than mounted on wheels.
The gunports are larger than those at Dartmouth Castle, which was the first English castle purpose-built with gunports to take heavy guns. They are similar in design, with internal splays and external slots for shutters.