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The Seale family were merchants who were first recorded in Dartmouth as long ago as 1401, but who moved to Dartmouth from Jersey in 1720 and were based there until 1870. During much of this time they used the coat of arms granted to Robert Seale of Northumberland. Their influence spread across the town and beyond.
Sir John Henry Seale (1780–1844) was a powerful man in Dartmouth at the turn of the 18th Century. He held extensive property and land in and around Dartmouth, including a country estate at Hillfield, a manor at Townstal, and Mount Boone, his large mansion overlooking the town. He extended the grounds to include the woods at Old Mill, and Combe Mud, now Coronation Park.
In 1828, he began to play a significant part in creating the original higher Dart crossing to the north of Dartmouth. He worked with the Earl of Morley, initially on the design of a suspension bridge from Dittisham to Greenway. The plan met with huge opposition and was shelved. Other abandoned ideas included a high level bridge from St Barnabas Church to Kingswear and a steam crossing, but the partners were determined.
Eventually Seale and others formed a company to develop the idea of a floating bridge from his lands at Sandquay. A Parliamentary bill was passed, work commenced, and the crossing opened in 1831. He became Whig Member of Parliament for Dartmouth in December 1832 and was created a baronet in 1838, specialising in the politics of business and trade. Sir John died in 1844.
The Seale Baronetcy of Mount Boone, remains a title in the Baronetage of the United Kingdom, having been created in July 1838 for John Seale. The second baronet, Sir Henry Paul Seale, was also a political figure on the national stage and close to home. He was the Mayor of Dartmouth for many years.
After Sir Henry Paul Seale, 2nd Baronet (1806-1897) came Sir John Henry Seale, 3rd Baronet (1843-1914), Sir John Carteret Hyde Seale, 4th Baronet (1881-1964) and Sir John Henry Seale, 5th Baronet (b. 1921).
The feuding between the Seales and their arch competitors in Dartmouth, the Holdsworth family, fuelled most of the development that shaped the town we see today. The rivalry between the two names saw each trying to outdo the other, to Dartmouth’s great benefit. Their public works, as each sought to become ‘the family’ of Dartmouth, came in the form of rebuilding, landscaping and road building. It was the Seale family who built the steam railway, helping to create a golden age of prosperity, which ended only when the cod trade collapsed at the close of the 19th century. Even then, the Seale family played its part in keeping the town’s fortunes buoyant. Dartmouth made the Royal Navy its main focus and the positioning of Britannia Royal Naval College at Dartmouth in 1863 guaranteed a boost to the local economy. The naval college buildings and grounds are situated on land that made up part of the Seale estates.
This was a fitting circle of events as the first Sir John Henry Seale was a great advocate of the Royal Navy and had lived in fear of Napoleon invading Dartmouth. The cannons he bought to defend Mount Boone and the mouth of the Dart were never used, but can now be seen at Bayards Cove.
In the 1870s, financial difficulties forced the family to sell off their Dart valley estates, which had spread across most of the southern side of the parish of Dittisham, but the Seale name remains synonymous with success and prosperity for Dartmouth and the surrounding villages.
Sadly, Sir John Henry Seale passed away on January 26th 2017 and is succeeded by his son, Robert Seale who becomes the 6th Baronet.