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Dunster Castle



Dunster Castle is a grade I listed building that has always been a great medieval stronghold. The castle is now a fine fortified house and has been home to the Luttrell family for 600 years. The castle secured a fantastic defensive position above Dunster medieval village, the stronghold had been built to guard the north Somerset coast line. The Victorian modifications give the building a sense of grandeur which is befitting for the castle.

The castle started out as a motte and bailey castle, that sat high up on the Tor above Dunster medieval village. It has been on this site for over a thousand years and so dates from Anglo-Saxon days. The building has taken on various different forms during these times; the sea originally reached the base of the hill and an Anglo-Saxon burgh was built on top. Several Iron Age forts were also built in the area including Bat's Castle, Grabbist Hill and Black Ball Camp.

The first baron of Dunster was Willaim de Mohun a tenant and chief to Willian the Conqueror who held a number of manors in Somerset. His main settlement being Dunster Castle in 1086. The first motte and bailey castle was built on top of the old Anglo-Saxon site. As customary to the time, in 1090, William built a Benedictine Priory down in Dunster town, of which a Dovecote still exists today. The village prospered from surrounding vineyards and excellent fisheries and so a large stone fortification was added to the castle during 1100s. One of these included a keep, up on the motte.

This residence was seen as one of the great strongholds for Empress Matilda, the key rival to King Stephen's crown in the 1130s. During the civil war known as the Anarchy, William's son, who was a loyal supporter of Matilda held out during a siege on Dunster castle by King Stephen's supporters in 1138. As a token of her gratitude, Empress Matilda made William (the son of William de Mohun) Earl of Somerset.

In 1330, Sir John de Mohun inherited Dunster Castle, having no heir and falling into serious debts, his wife sold the castle on John's death in 1376 to Lady Elizabeth Luttrel. The Luttrel's were another major Norman family who added further fortifications during the 14th century, including a moat around the base of the Tor. In 1404, Sir Hugh Luttrel took over the castle and constructed the Great Gatehouse and Barbican around 1420. A deer park was added too, providing rich game for hunting venison. During the War of the Roses, Sir James Luttrel, a Lancastrian supporter, died in the Second Battle of St Albans in 1461. As a result, Yorkist, Edward IV gave Dunster Castle to the Herberts. Fourteen years passed by until the Lancastrian King, Henry VII, returned it back to the Hugh Luttrel, James' son.

A 16th Century Jacobean mansion was added to Dunster Castle by George Luttrel, as part of a large redesign. With a symmetrical front and large square towers, it was set within the castle walls, with the keep above it. The interior was also updated, to include ornamental ceiling designs of that time.

Several more attacks took place on Dunster Castle, including the one during the English civil war. In 1642 Royalists, lead by the Duke of Somerset, attempted an attack on Dunster Castle, but were driven back initially, by the Parliamentarian-supporting George Luttrel and his garrison although a second attempt in 1643 forced George Luttrel to surrender. By switching sides and becoming a Royalist George would secure Dunster Castle for his family once more.

A couple of years later, Parliamentarians would once again seize Dunster Castle they deliberately weakened the medieval parts of the outer defences not to make the castle uninhabitable just enough to prevent it from withstanding another attack. The only parts of the medieval walls to survive today is the Great Gatehouse and the base of the towers.

Moving on into the Victorian period, another George Luttrel inherited Dunster Castle. The great income produced by agriculture at that time gave George the money to modernise and improve the dilapidated castle to become a glamorous gothic fortified home which mainly can still be seen today.

The medieval gatehouse of the castle still stands on the Lower Ward and has the same impressive stance as it did 600 years ago. The gatehouse spans across the main approach from Dunster medieval village to form a spectacular entrance to all. On each side of the main gateway upto the gatehouse, sits a semi-circular tower with vaulted chamber and has arrow slits for defence.

People have reported ghostly sightings at Dunster for many years, but the most famous ghosts who are seen often are that of the 'Grey Lady' and the Foot Guard, who wears a three pointed hat. These two have been witnessed to show themselves as blurry shapes or faces.

The dungeons starved many so there are many old stories which stated that bodies were left to rot so people didn't get a proper burial. It has also been claimed that the footsteps of soldiers garrisoned in the Leather Gallery at the castle can still be heard. In addition there are also a host of reported phenomena from staff that work and indeed live in the castle accommodation areas. The crypt within the castle has a cold, dark and eerie atmosphere and resident bats add to the spookiness.

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