MSO9407 - Dunster Priory (Monument)


Dunster Priory was a Benedictine priory, founded after 1090 and dissolved in 1539. It abutted the north side of the parish church.

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Type and Period (2)

Protected Status

Full Description

[SS 9900 4367] Remains of Benedictine Priory [NR]. [1] Dunster Priory, situated to the north of the church and abutting on to it, was built by the monks of Bath as a cell of their abbey. The present buildings are but a fragment of the original and are in the form of an "L". The shorter piece, looking north, appears to have been the refectory in which there is a window dated not later than circa 1380. The longer side of the "L" appears to have always been offices, and a cloister ran from the priory along the north side of the church, perhaps as far as the chapel of St. Lawrence [2]. Benedictine Priory, founded 1090, dissolved 1539 [3]. The surviving remains of the priory are incorporated in the house described above. This has been greatly altered and rebuilt and is now know as "The Old Priory". Pevsner considers that it was the Prior's House. The only external feature of note is a window in the south wall. [4,5,13] The church of St. George was granted to the monks of Bath in 1090. There must have been a cell there from the earliest times but it had no separate existence until 1332 when it was to have a prior and four monks. It was dissolved in 1539. The outline of the precinct bounded on the south by Church Street, on the west by St. Georges Street and on the east by the rear of the properties in High Street. Water was supplied to the Priory from St.Leonards Well (MSO9418).[3,6-9] The outline of the precinct boundary of the monastery is clear for perhaps two-thirds of its course. [9] Binding states that the Priory was first mentioned in 1177 "and by the reign of John was well-established and able to provide accommodation, food and stabling for the Vicar of Dunster, Richard the Chaplain, who was not one of the monks but who was responsible for the needs and worship of the parish." Also, from 1262 the Priory's "endowments were increased by the de Mohun family and the monks held and farmed a separate manor, a fair-sized area of land to the north of the Church and in Alcombe where they served a small chapel." Binding also mentions the presence of a dorter close to the north wall of the church with a possible nightstair, a cloister and the still extant 'Prior's Lodging', together with kitchens and storerooms. After the Dissolution, the Priory became dilapidated and as late as 1703, timber and tile were being taken from the 'cloister court' to be sold for building purposes or for church repairs. [14] An archaeological watching brief was undertaken in 2009 in the Memorial Gardens north of the church to monitor the excavation of trenches to contain new cable ducting. Quantities of 18th and 19th Century material such as pottery and glass were recovered, suggesting significant and intrusive cultivation in this area and this may have denuded the archaeological horizon to the north of this area. The southern area appeared to have dumps of levelling material, probably of a late date but a wall foundation of probable medieval date was noted to the southeast of the plot. It was suggested this wall could form the western limit of the cloister. A feature of densely packed sandstone may also have formed a path running from the north to the church, but the date of this feature was uncertain. [15] William de Mohun, Sheriff of Somerset, established the Benedicting priory shortly after the Norman Conquest c. 1090. It was a daughter church of Bath Abbey. The monks were probably responsible for the building of the larger church on the site of an existing parish church and they shared this with the local parishioners. The majority of the current structure date from the 13th Century. The priory complex was located to the north of the church and the boundary of the precinct is not confirmed but was probably bounded by Church Street, St George's Street and the backs of High Street properties. The northern extent is the least certain, although a persistent field line on 18th and 19th Century maps has been used in recent depictions. There may also have been encroachment into the churchyard itself during the medieval period. The priory water supply was fed, via a conduit, from St Leonard's well, which also supplied two public troughs in the settlement. In 1262 the priory had its endowment increased and acquired its own manor. Various disputes arose due to the dual use of the church, notably in 1357 and 1489. In 1539 the priory was dissolved and the lands and buildings passed to the Crown before being leased to John Luttrell. The Luttrells had bought the manor in 1375. John lived in Priory Farm and was the uncle of John Luttrell, the owner of Dunster Castle. In 1543 the property was sold to the Luttrell family. The Priory Farm is now known as "The Old Priory". Few priory buildings have survived. The Tithe Barn (MSO9436) may originate in the 16th Century. An early map of the area appears to show a large building on the site as well as a dovecote (this may predate the current dovecote, MSO9437, thought to date to the 16th Century). The first documented record of a barn on the site, however, dates to 1498. The current structures probably postdate the Dissolution of 1539. Some post-medieval buildings on Priory Green incorporate elements of earlier priory buildings. These may be part of the refectory or Priors Lodgings (MSO12115). [16] A watching brief in December 2017 recorded the northern side of a large east to west aligned ditch to the south of St George's Church, at the southern end of the churchyard. Finds included occasional charcoal and abraded animal bone but provided no dating evidence. It was suggested that it may have formed the original southern boundary of Dunster Priory. (See MEM24460). [18] This record was enhanced as part of the National Record of the Historic Environment to Exmoor National Park Historic Environment Record data transfer project. [19] The priory is discussed in the 2018 Dunster Conservation Area Appraisal. [20]

Sources/Archives (20)

  • <1> Map: Ordnance Survey. 1929. County Series, 3rd Edition 25 inch map. 1:25,000.
  • <2> Monograph: Hancock, F. 1905. Dunster Church and Priory. 43-4.
  • <3> Monograph: Knowles, D. + Hadcock, R.N.. 1971. Medieval Religious Houses England and Wales. 53 and 64.
  • <4> Monograph: Pevsner, N.. 1958. The Buildings of England: South and West Somerset. Penguin Books. 156.
  • <5> Unpublished document: PITCHER, GHP. 1960s. Field Investigators Comments. Ordnance Survey visit, F1, 26 May 1965.
  • <6> Monograph: Page, W. (editor). 1911. The Victoria History of the County of Somerset. Archibald Constable and Company, Limited (London). 2. 81-2.
  • <7> Monograph: Tanner, T.. 1744. Notitia Monastica. P. 467.
  • <8> Article in serial: Russell, J. C.. 1944. The Clerical Population of Medieval England. Traditio: Studies in Ancient and Medieval Thought, History and Religion. 2.
  • <9> Monograph: Aston, M and Leech, R. 1977. Historic Towns in Somerset. P. 46.
  • <10> Index: Department of the Environment. List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest . DOE (HHR) West Somerset District (Dunster Ph) Somerset 04/08/1983. 31.
  • <11> Monograph: Collinson, J.. 1791 (2006). The History and Antiquities of Somerset. Archive CD Books Ltd. P. 16-17.
  • <12> Monograph: Chadwyck-Healy, CEH. 1901. History of West Somerset. 43-67.
  • <13> Photograph: Pitcher, S.. 1965. DUNSTER PRIORY FROM THE NORTH EAST. OS65/F124/8. B/W.
  • <14> Monograph: Binding, H.. Discovering Dunster. The Exmoor Press. p38-48.
  • <15> Report: Brigers, J.L.. 2009. The Parish Church of St George, Dunster: An archaeological watching brief.
  • <16> Report: Croft, B.. 2007. Dunster Tithe Barn: Archaeological recording and excavations 2005-2007; Interim report November 2007.
  • <17> Map: Unknown. c.1770. Plan of the Priory, Dunster. Pen and Ink.
  • <18> Report: Brigers, J.L.. 2018. The Parish Church of St George, Dunster, Somerset: A watching brief in the churchyard. 6, 7 (Plate 1), 16-7.
  • <19> Digital archive: Historic England. Various. National Record of the Historic Environment (NRHE) entry. 36848, Extant 16 May 2022.
  • <20> Report: Pratt, N. and Thurlow, T.. 2018. Dunster Conservation Area: appraisal document. Exmoor National Park Authority. p 5, 6, 15, 21.

External Links (2)

Other Statuses/References

  • Exmoor National Park HER Number (now deleted): MSO12017
  • Local Heritage List Status (Unassessed)
  • National Monuments Record reference: SS 94 SE1
  • National Park: Exmoor National Park
  • NRHE HOB UID (Pastscape): 36848
  • Somerset SMR PRN (Somerset): 33569
  • Somerset SMR PRN: 34816



Grid reference Centred SS 9896 4376 (307m by 292m)
Map sheet SS94SE
Historic Parish DUNSTER

Finds (0)

Related Monuments/Buildings (10)

Related Events/Activities (3)

Related Articles (1)

Record last edited

Nov 14 2022 2:33PM


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