Scheduled Monument: Motte and bailey at Dunster Castle (1020410)

Authority Department for Culture, Media and Sport
Other Ref Somerset 469; 33039
Date assigned 14 March 1977
Date last amended 24 April 2002
Date revoked
The monument includes part of the incorporated and adapted natural features and associated below ground remains which together formed the medieval motte and bailey of Dunster Castle. A Norman motte (steep fortified mound) is known to have been created by levelling the natural rock summit of the tor around which the town of Dunster lies. At the same time a further area below the motte was levelled for the creation of a bailey (a fortified courtyard or ward). Both the motte and the lower slopes which surround the motte and bailey complex were then scarped for added protection. The castle lies above the River Avill which flows out into the Bristol Channel and the site commands the land route along the Somerset coast north of Exmoor, with extensive views particularly to the east. The stronghold at Dunster may have Saxon origins but the erection of a castle on the site soon after 1066 is credited to William de Mohun, a supporter of Duke William of Normandy. William de Mohun was granted large estates in the West Country following the Conquest and Dunster is believed to have been his administrative centre. It is one of only two castle sites in Somerset mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 where it is referred to as `Torre'. The castle was defended by the second William de Mohun against King Stephen in 1138 and it is described in a contemporary document (the Gesta Stephani) as being fortified by towers, walls, and a rampart, suggesting that the motte at least may have been of stone. The lower ward or bailey, which encompassed an area of about 0.7ha, may have been constructed of wood and encircled by an earthwork rampart in the earlier periods as there is a record of Reynold de Mohun (died 1254) rebuilding the lower ward in stone, providing mural towers, and replacing the rampart defences with a curtain wall. The masonry of the Norman castle, certainly at foundation level, has been incorporated or buried beneath extensive later works including a gatehouse, erected in 1420 by Sir Hugh Luttrell, and several major periods of rebuilding, including that of the 1620s under William Arnold. The castle was garrisoned for Parliament in 1642 at the outset of the Civil War and, after a brief period of Royalist occupation was held once again for Parliament. Extensive demolition took place in 1650 in order to prevent the castle being utilised in any Royalist uprising and much of the 13th century curtain walling above ground level is believed to have been lost at that time. In 1764 the level of the lower ward was considerably raised and in 1868-72 the castle buildings were extensively enlarged and remodelled by Anthony Salvin. The resulting multi-period standing building of Dunster Castle and its gatehouse is Listed Grade I. The garden, which took in much of the old castle grounds, was largely created in the mid-18th century, and is included in the Register of Parks and Gardens at Grade I. A number of features are excluded from the scheduling. These are: all of the standing buildings of the castle, all modern ancillary buildings associated with the upkeep of the castle, the summer house located to the west of the Castle which is a Listed Building Grade II, all modern road, path, and other surfacings, all wooden steps and railings, and all fixed garden furniture; however the ground beneath all these features is included.

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Grid reference Centred SS 9914 4347 (308m by 267m) (Estimated from sources)
Map sheet SS94SE

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