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Kingswear is a village and civil parish in the South Hams area of the English county of Devon. The village is located on the east bank of the tidal River Dart, close to the river's mouth and opposite the small town of Dartmouth. It lies within the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and has a population of 1,332. There are several picturesque walks around the surrounding town ideal for taking in the sea breeze.
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Kingswear is noted for being the railhead for Dartmouth, a role continued to this day by the presence of the Paignton and Dartmouth Steam Railwayn the village. Two vehicle ferries and one pedestrian ferry provide links to Dartmouth.
The village itself contains several small tourist-oriented shops and public houses, and is home to the Royal Dart Yacht Club.Kingswera Castle, is a privately owned 15th century artillery tower is situated on the outskirts. Kingswear also contains the Church of St Thomas, which is a member of the Anglican Diocese of Exeter and whosepatron saint is Saint Thomas of Canterbury.
Kingswear is not mentioned in the 1887 Domesday Book. However, it is believed that the settlement of Kingston, in the civil parish about 1 mile (1.6 km) to the east of the village, dates from the time of the Anglo Saxons, with evidence of there being Stone Age settlers. The first documentary mention of Kingswear was c.1170 when William de Vinci gave the local church half of the land in the village.
After the murder of Thomas a' Beckett in 1170, Becket's tomb in Canterbury became a place of pilgrimage. Pilgrims travelling by sea from further west, and from Brittany, were known to use Kingswear as a landing place. The current church was built, and dedicated to St Thomas, as a staging point on the pilgrim route. The church was rebuilt in 1847.
By 1365 a ferry was operating from Kittery Point, the western most tip of Kingswear, to Dartmouth. In 1636, settlers sailed from here to the mouth of the Piscataqua River in North America to found the town now known as Kittery, Maine.
In 1864 the Dartmouth and Torbay Railway reached Kingswear, providing connections to Exeter and London.The line became part of the Great Western Railway in 1876. The planned extension across the river to Dartmouth never took place, and instead rail passengers used a railway-owned ferry. The Royal Dart Hotel was constructed adjacent to the station, and provided accommodation for passengers waiting to sail to overseas destinations.
During WWII the Royal Dart Hotel became HMS Cicala and headquarters of the British 15th Destroyer Flotilla. Journeys were made from there to the northern beaches of Brittany, landing agents and equipment for the French Resistance and bringing back escaping allied soldiers and airmen. The Free French Navy operated motor launches and motor torpedo boats from Kingswear and was based in Brookhill, a large house dating from about 1820 on the outskirts of the village.
In 1948 the railway became the Kingswear branch of the newly nationalised British Rail , but by 1968 the closure of the line was being proposed. Instead, the line was purchased by a private company. Since 1973, the line has operated a seasonal steam operated service, principally as a tourist attraction. The line is now known as the Paignton and Dartmouth Steam Railway.
Kingswear railway station is located on the riverfront in the centre of Kingswear, and is the terminus of the Paignton and Dartmouth Steam Railway,a seasonally operated heritage railway. The nearest National Rail stations are Totnes station, on the main line from Exeter to Plymouth , and Paignton station, the terminus of a branch from Newton Abbot. The steam railway's Paignton terminus is adjacent to the National Rail station. Stagecoach buses connect Kingswear with Brixham and Paignton and other bus services in Dartmouth can be reached by ferry.
Kingswear is linked to Dartmouth, on the other side of the River Dart, by three ferries. Both the Higher and Lower ferries carry vehicles. The Passenger Ferry, as its name suggests, carries only passengers. The nearest bridge across the Dart is in Totnes, some 12 miles (19 km) away by road.
The 630-mile (1,010 km) long South West Coast Path crosses from Dartmouth on the ferry and then follows the coast around towards Brixham.
Films and television
In recent history, Kingswear and the River Dart were used as filming locations for the movie The French Lieutenant's Woman and the television series The Onedin Line, where Kingswear represented the Old World and Dartmouth the New World, thus giving rise to the comments of the local tour guides that this was the shortest ever crossing of the Atlantic. Kingswear also figured in Down to Earth, though mainly for shots of neighbouring Dartmouth.