MSO9461 - Medieval Town of Dunster (Place)


The medieval borough of Dunster was first recorded in 1197. It is considered to be one of the finest examples of a medieval settlement in the country.

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Type and Period (1)

Protected Status

Full Description

The town of Dunster is marked on the First Edition County Series mapping (The name is centred at SS 994 436). [1] Dunster is mentioned in 1197, when £21 is received from the borough. In 1225, it is represented as a borough by its own jury at the eyre. From 1254-1257, a charter of Reginald de Mohum grants privileges to the burgesses. [2] Dunster does not appear to have been a town before the late 12th century. The Domesday Book indicates an agricultural settlement, although the castle is mentioned. The borough was probably established by the late 11th century - first reference is 1197 when it yielded 20. A market was granted in 1222. It developed in the Middle Ages as a market centre, harbour and cloth manufacturer. "Dunsters" was a type of cloth. The harbour was first mentioned in 1183. By the 15th century it was being replaced by Minehead. In the post medieval period, the town contracted from a 14th century maximum. [3] The first reference in the Domesday Book names the town Torre (tor) but it was probably called after a Saxon thane, Dunna. Tradition (but no other evidence) says there was a Saxon fortress on the hill. Dunster's last Saxon lord was Aluric, who also held neighboroughing manors of Avill, Broadwood and Bratton. The manor of Dunster was granted to William de Mohun, who came from St Lo, nr Bayeux and who built Dunster Castle, the administrative centre of his 69 West Country manors. Domesday records only enough ploughland in the manor for one plough, five acres of meadow and thirty acres of pasture, with fifteen bordars (cottagers) and their families working the strips of arable land in fields to the west of the town. However, Dunster may have been bigger than implied by this, for instance, two mills are mentioned and the manor's value had increased from 5s to 15s in 20 years. [9] During the medieval period, it seems that West Street was an area in which weaving, fulling and dyeing cloth took place, especially the lower end. In May 1645 the 15 year old Prince of Wales was sent to Dunster to avoid the plague, though he soon left as much of Dunster itself was suffering from the illness; 23 burials were recorded that month. It is suggested that many of the houses in West Street have communicating doors dating from this time as people avoided going into the street 'where they might contract the disease'. The openings were also likely used in the 19th Century when flexible letting of houses appears to have been practiced. [9] Dunster is regarded to be one of the finest examples of a medieval settlement in the country. A number of the surviving buildings have monastic connects, for example the tithe barn (MSO9436) and the dovecote (MSO9437) to the north of the church (MSO9435). The exisiting layout of the town dislays evidence of medieval burgage plots, this is mostly clearly evident on West Street and the west of the High Street. [10] Additional bibliography. [13] This record was enhanced as part of the National Record of the Historic Environment to Exmoor National Park Historic Environment Record data transfer project. [14] Dunster and its townscape, including its situation, layout and development, is discussed in the 2018 Conservation Area Appraisal. The Conservation Area was designated in 1973 and revised in 1980; the Appraisal proposed a further extension to the designated area. [15]

Sources/Archives (16)

  • <1> Map: Ordnance Survey. 1854-1901. County Series; 1st Edition 25 Inch Map. 1:2500.
  • <2> Monograph: Beresford, M.W and Finberg, H.P.R. 1973. English Medieval Boroughs: A Hand-List. David and Charles Limited.
  • <3> Monograph: Aston, M. and Leech, R.. 1977. Historic Towns in Somerset. Committee for Rescue Archaeology in Avon, Gloucestershire and Somerset. Survey Number 2.
  • <4> Monograph: Maxwell-Lyte, H.C.. 1909. A History of Dunster and of the Families of Mohun & Luttrell. 2.
  • <5> Article in serial: Savage, W.. 1954. Somerset Towns. Proceedings of the Somerset Archaeology and Natural History Society. 49.
  • <6> Photograph: Somerset County Council Planning Department. Slide. 3.010.0004, 3.010.0780-0781. 1979.
  • <7> Aerial photograph: Griffith, F.. 1980s-1990s. Oblique aerial photographs of the Devon part of Exmoor National Park. 1990, DAP QJ/15, SM/7,8,10,11.
  • <8> Aerial photograph: Various. Various. Vertical Aerial Photograph. Aerofilms, A187421.
  • <9> Monograph: Binding, H.. Discovering Dunster. The Exmoor Press. p2-3, 8, 9, 65-6, 79.
  • <10> Article in monograph: Gathercole, C.. 2002. English Heritage Extensive Urban Survey: An Archaeological Assessment of Dunster. The Somerset Urban Archaeological Survey. English Heritage.
  • <10> Report: Fisher, J.. 2002. Dunster Conservation Area Character Appraisal. Exmoor National Park Authority.
  • <11> Unpublished document: Siraut, M.. 2012. Dunster's historic development and timeline.
  • <12> Monograph: Anonymous. 1086. Domesday Book / Liber de Wintonia / The Great Survey. N/A.
  • <13> Monograph: Binding, H.. 2002. The Book of Dunster. Halsgrove. 1st Edition.
  • <14> Digital archive: Historic England. Various. National Record of the Historic Environment (NRHE) entry. 866609, Extant 19 May 2022.
  • <15> Report: Pratt, N. and Thurlow, T.. 2018. Dunster Conservation Area: appraisal document. Exmoor National Park Authority.

External Links (2)

Other Statuses/References

  • Local Heritage List Status (Rejected)
  • Local Plan - Historic Core
  • National Monuments Record reference: SS 94 SE89
  • National Park
  • NRHE HOB UID (Pastscape): 866609
  • Somerset SMR PRN: 33566



Grid reference Centred SS 990 435 (488m by 840m) Estimated from sources
Map sheet SS94SE

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Record last edited

Nov 14 2022 2:34PM


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