The Old Dartmothians
The association’s birth came about following a chance meeting between four men, Major W H Fox, Alderman; J H Moses; Lt S C Legg, RN and Fred Voisey at the North Embankment during regatta in 1923, who sealed their intention with a little liquid refreshment at the nearby Ship in Dock Inn.
Today the association boasts more than 200 members in the men’s section and a similar number in the ladies section, which was formed 42 years later in 1965.
One of the first enhancements to the town by the newly formed Old Dart’s was the installation of a flagpole at the entrance to Royal Avenue Gardens, complete with a flag presented by Captain John Pillar in 1928.
When Coronation Park was restored after the Second World War, members realised the long-standing project of erecting and presenting to the town a shelter in 1951. Five years later, the association handed over 12 trees which were planted along the North Embankment.
In 1980 the association presented a new flag staff to fly above the Town Guildhall to celebrate the Queen Mum’s 80th birthday and, in 1991, members commissioned the town’s former blacksmith, Alan Middleton, to the tune of £5,000, to replace the wrought iron arch at the entrance to Royal Avenue Gardens.
Thanks to a £22,000 grant from the National Heritage Fund, fundraising events and large donations from various families in the town, the Old Dartmothians were able not only to restore the fountain in Royal Avenue Gardens but also, fit new railings around the goldfish pond, install the small statue near the war memorial and replace the windshields in the Bandstand.
VIPs including the chairman of South Hams Council and the Mayor of Dartmouth officially unveiled the plaque commemorating the achievement and switched on the fountain in front of huge crowds in June 1999.
Since then, The Old Dartmothians have provided gifts of seats, a drugs fridge for Dartmouth Hospital and financial help to local sports clubs as well as donations in cash or kind to various organisations and charities in the town.
Richard Rendle, 74, who has been secretary of the men’s section for the past 10 years, joined the association at the tender age of 23 at the request of his father, who was also a member.
He said: ‘It was just a friendship society in those days, where people met at regular times and for the president’s dinner – that was all that was really involved then.’
Richard was eligible to join the association in 1962 because he was born in the town (he was the first male baby born at Townstal in 1939). The rules have since changed, allowing residents who have lived in Dartmouth for 10 years or more to join.
Richard, a former mayor of Dartmouth, said: ‘We are getting more and more people who are not true Dartmothians by birth who are joining us and we welcome them as well because friendship and communication is an important part of Dartmouth.’
It only cost £5 a year to join the Old Dartmothians and £40 for a life membership but thanks to some careful investment and a number of bequeaths over the years the association has built up a healthy £35,000 nest egg.
This allows the association to help local causes and take a more active role in the town, including splashing out £10,000 on a brand new fountain in Royal Avenue Gardens as a royal Diamond Jubilee gift to the town.
Richard, of Ferndale, said: ‘We replaced the fountain because the old one was cracked and broken.
‘So many people wanted to be involved in the project, we had a fantastic workforce who did everything voluntarily because they all wanted to be associated with it.
‘The ladies section got involved in it too, they put £1,000 towards it, and it was good to see them there on the opening evening with tremendous affection for the place.’
Both the men’s and ladies’ sections of the association have members all over the UK and abroad including America, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, France and Spain and both keep in touch with Christmas cards. The men also send newsletters with news of Dartmouth.
Both groups also have dedicated almoners who visit sick members and widows of former members, often bearing gifts of flowers and chocolates. Each section holds an annual reunion during Regatta Friday, which attracts members from across the globe. The men hold a president’s dinner every February and the ladies enjoy an annual Christmas get-together.
Debbie Morris, secretary of the ladies section and also a former town mayor, said: ‘One of our members who now lives in America comes to our regatta reunion nearly every year. We have up to 100 members attending at times and we enjoy a supper and a sing-along.’
The ladies section is not as affluent as the men’s, with just £2,000 in the bank but still manages to support local causes including a small donation to local young Olympic Torchbearer, Georgia Lock, to enable her to buy the torch she carried through Dartmouth’s streets.
Debbie, of Stoke Fleming, said: ‘We are not a wildly active group, our primary aim is to keep Dartmouth people in contact with each other. ‘
Residents only need to have lived in the town for five years to join the ladies section, said Debbie.
‘We recently knocked it down to five years to attract new members. We have quite a few members who are not Dartmouth born and they are all very welcome.’
Although not a political group, Richard said members do have strong views about events in the town. ‘We keep in touch with our members all over the world and sometimes we get strong views back from them about what they think ought to be done in the town. There is huge affection for Dartmouth from people who were born here or who have spent time here.
‘At our meetings there are usually split views about things but they are all aired in a friendly way. If we can agree an action consensus we do write letters about things we think need to be done.’
Twice a year the men’s and ladies’ section enjoy a social evening together. Both Richard and Debbie hope the two groups will permanently unite at some stage.
Richard said: ‘My vision is I hope one day the ladies and gents will join together although I’m not quite sure they ever will. It just seems we could join the strengths of the two groups when we have all got the same affection for the town. But there is mixed feelings about it and some prefer to leave it as it is.’
Debbie said: ‘We have suggested merging with the men, but a lot of the single ladies and widows feel they would be left out. I think we do need to modernise the group a little bit, without losing what it’s all about, to attract younger people. ‘
First Published July 2012 By The Dart