One of the best drama series to hit our TV screens in the 1970s was The Onedin Line, which charted the fortunes of a 19th century shipping line. The stirring theme music set the scene for this maritime epic, starring the late Peter Gilmore as James Onedin and Anne Stallybrass as his wife Anne, which gave a fascinating insight into seafaring life at the time, both at sea and on shore. The shore base of the shipping line was meant to be Liverpool, but much of the filming took place in Dartmouth, while many of the dock scenes were filmed in Gloucester Docks (moving to Pembroke Dock for the last series). Dartmouth’s historic riverfront, with its reminders of the town’s seafaring past, made a convincing backdrop for the filming of a story set during this period, while the massive 19th century waterside warehouses of Gloucester Docks, overlooked by the majestic tower of Gloucester Cathedral, served equally well for the shore-based scenes.
The action filmed in Dartmouth centred around Bayards Cove and the surrounding picturesque streets. The 16th century fort at Bayards Cove was used as a gun emplacement intended as an additional line of defence to the Dartmouth and Kingswear castles, which face each other at the mouth of the Dart. The fort was deliberately sited at the narrowest point of the channel forming the entrance to the harbour. In the period leading up to the construction of the fort, Dartmouth had developed into an important trading port, serving the wine trade with France, and later on the cloth trade. The town went into a decline in the 18th century, and with it the fort, but its fortunes were revived with the opening of the Naval College and the town’s popularity as a tourist destination. The fort is now owned by English Heritage, who also own the castle.
As well as the town’s historic sights, Dartmouth’s main appeal is its beautiful river. Boat trips are available, some of them linking Dartmouth with Totnes, an attractive market town further upstream. There is a steam railway on the Kingswear side of the estuary offering trips to Paignton, and tickets combining this with the boat trips are available. The town itself is an appealing mix of pubs, restaurants, cafes and shops. DartmouthMuseum is housed in the row of houses known as The Butterwalk, built in the 1630s as merchants’ trading houses.
It was the 1827 opening of the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal, linking the city to the mouth of the River Severn and the Bristol Channel beyond, which led to Gloucester taking off as a trading port in the 19th century. The docks’ facilities steadily grew during the course of the century, with the arrival of the railway in the 1840s providing a further fillip. By the second half of the century goods were being imported from Northern Europe and the Black Sea ports, and even as far afield as North America and the Russian Arctic. The produce reaching our shores via Gloucester ranged from timber to wines and spirits and even guano for fertiliser. In the early 20th century steamers began running services from Gloucester to ports on the Continent. It was the increasing size of many of the vessels which eventually contributed to the decline of the docks.
Nowadays, it is largely pleasure craft that make use of the facilities, with traditional canal barges rubbing shoulders with river cruisers in the 50-berth marina. Anyone wanting to relive the glory days and immerse themselves in the Onedin Line experience should visit during the Tall Ships Festival, when visitors get the chance to view these evocative vessels at close quarters. In the last few years, particularly since last year when the city hosted some of the Rugby World Cup matches, Gloucester Docks has really taken off as a tourist attraction, with Gloucester Quays Outlet shopping centre, a host of bars and restaurants, and a Waterways Museum from where tickets can be purchased for a boat trip along the canal. There are also a number of other events each year besides the Tall Ships Festival, including a Food Festival, a Sea Shanty Festival and a Victorian Christmas Market.
Map of Dartmouth.
Map of Gloucester.