Dartmouth and Kingswear Society

BRNC from down river
Royal Avenue Gardens in Spring

Aims of the Society

The Dartmouth and Kingswear Society is dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of the historic town of Dartmouth and the villages of Kingswear, Blackawton, Dittisham, Stoke Fleming and Strete, the River Dart and the neighbouring coastline and countryside of the county of Devon, UK.

The concerns of the Society include the conservation of both the architecture and form of the built environment and the natural beauty of the district together with the maintenance of a viable local economy in keeping with the character and history of the area.

Classic Gaffer near Dittisham
Kingswear from Dartmouth
The Kingswear Daymark

The Society’s Third Autumn Talk of 2023

An enthusiastic group of D & K members and friends were treated to an insightful lecture on Tuesday 14th November, with a powerpoint presentation in the Flavel by retired local Conservation Architect Robert Seymour. The lecture was entitled ‘Design in the Historic Environment’ and was a subject that Robert thought would be close to all those that attended.

Robert began by introducing the group to some important new words which he said he would use in his lecture. Most important of those were Pastiche and Vernacular, which were to appear many times in the lecture. Pastiche is the description of a new development that is trying to look old, and vernacular is a description of the features that give an area a particular character.

After visiting several famous iconic designs around the world, like the Opera House in Sydney, Robert moved onto the vernacular of Dartmouth and he analysed the features in several local historic views which give the town its distinctive character. But not all local scenes are ‘designed’ he continued, as many well-loved scenes have just evolved slowly and have grown over a period of time.

The process of design was then explored and how Architects (and others) decide what style of architecture may or may not be suitable and appropriate for a particular location. The complex system of planning was then described, and how objections by locals can influence and change the direction that planning applications may go in.

Robert then presented a number of designs he had been involved with in the historic heart of Dartmouth, including the famous Butterwalk and Market Square complex, and he explained how the context in the Conservation area and the fact that some designs involve listed buildings, had influenced the design. One particular project involved the important rebuilding of the five valley gutters on the roof of the Grade 1 Listed Butterwalk, to overcome many years of serious damaging leaks to the internal areas below. Seagulls had nested regularly every year on these valley gutters and had blocked the only available drainage outlet points. This led to such serious damage internally when water cascaded inside, that it threatened the whole future of this precious group of four old listed merchants’ houses.

The final slides showed the well-known heart of the old town in the Shambles in Higher Street, where Robert explained that ‘all is not what it seems’. He then described all the changes that had happened naturally over many hundreds of years to a well-loved and much photographed part of the town.

Robert’s final words explained how complex the historic environment can be and how he had needed to simplify some of the analysis and the processes involved. More lectures would be required in future, he added, to deal with other important topics like the re-use of redundant buildings in the centre of historic towns.

Some piercing questions from members of the audience completed the evening following which the Society’s Chairman Robert Brooke gave a vote of thanks.