A Pretty Village Called Dunster

Dunster Yarn Market

Dunster village in the county of Somerset is one of the prettiest villages in England, sitting on the edge of Exmoor National Park, near the seaside town of Minehead. Many of the buildings are pretty, thatched cottages, with roses growing around the front doors. It was only the first week of May when we were there, so we saw no roses, but the cottages certainly are pretty. Dunster is also one of the best preserved medieval villages, and has over 200 listed buildings.

The origins of the village date back to the Bronze and Iron Age. Approximately 1500 years before Dunster’s castle was built in the 11th century, people lived in the hills above the River Avill, which runs from the Exmoor Hills to the Bristol Channel.

There are hints of Roman occupation of the area. It is possible that the old Carhampton road is of Roman origin (or even older) and several Roman coins were found in the 19th century. Aerial photographs of the area around the castle have shown what may be a Roman fort and in 1983 a small hoard of coins was discovered in the ramparts of Bat’s Castle, an Iron Age hillfort near to the village.

Saxons invaded the area around AD700 and soon settled on the Dunster site. Although the Domesday Book names the settlement as Torre, it was probably named after a Saxon thegn (thane) named Dunn. After the coming of the Normans in 1066, William de Mohun was granted the land around Dunster by William the Conqueror and in the late 11th century, he built a fortress, which became the administrative centre of his estate.

Like so many castles, most of Dunster Castle was destroyed in the Civil War (1642-46). Left behind was a grand Jacobean mansion, which was later transformed into a Victorian country house by the Luttrell family, who have owned the castle since 1376.Dunster Castle 5

Sited up on a hill – an excellent defensive position – the castle can be seen from most parts of the village and here are a few of the photos we took of it as we walked round:

Back in the 12th century, the village was a thriving port known as Dunster Haven. The sea then retreated, leaving Dunster two miles from the coast. But the medieval wool trade continued to grow, and Dunster made the most of things by becoming the centre of a new weaving industry. By 1222, the village had a market and the first recorded fulling mill was in 1259.

After the Civil War, the wool trade continued to thrive for another 200 years. In 1609, the impressive Yarn Market was built in the middle of the village. Its purpose was to shelter traders and their wares from bad weather. It was damaged during the Civil War, but repaired in 1647:

By 1840, Dunster had many craftsmen and small businesses, all serving the local community and mostly linked, in one way or another, to the woollen industry. The industry in Dunster survived until the flourishing textile industry in the North of England presented too much competition.

There are many other old and interesting things to see around Dunster and these are a few more of them:

Many of Dunster’s buildings have interesting histories, like the Tithe Barn. A tithe was a tenth part of the agricultural produce or personal income of each family in a village and was collected by the Church. The agricultural tithe was stored in a large barn, called a tithe barn. It is recorded that in 1090, tithes of the Dunster estate, owned by the de Mohuns, were passed to the Benedictine Priory.

Today, the Tithe Barn in Dunster, which stands near to the Parish church of St George,  has become a Community Centre for the people to meet and hold various events. The Benedictine Priory was destroyed during Henry V111’s  Dissolution of the Monasteries (1536-39) but evidence of its former existence can be seen in several names in the village, particularly around the church. The dovecote was once part of the priory’s estate.

There was also an old pottery kiln, a survivor of a mid-eighteenth century pottery which produced red earthenwares. Evidence suggests it dates from 1759 and is the earliest pottery kiln to survive almost complete, as well as standing exactly where it was built.

Kiln 1

On this occasion, we didn’t actually visit the castle. We hadn’t set out to visit Dunster at all, merely venturing there to look for a coffee shop on our way to Minehead. We were totally unprepared for the number of buildings of historical interest. Nor did we know there was a Civil War reenactment on at the castle that day, all well underway by the time we’d had our coffee at the Castle Coffee House (gallery above). So we just walked around with no particular idea of how much there was to see and photographing this and that before having a very nice lunch at the Luttrell Hotel (gallery) and carrying on to Minehead, then Athelney.

But we do intend to revisit Dunster at some point in time. We might manage to find the Civil War cannonball hole (that we didn’t know about at the time) that’s somewhere in the rafters of the Yarn Market.

Inside Yarn Market for header

References:
dunster tithebarn.org.uk
britainexpress.com
A variety of booklets and leaflets from Somerset, including:
‘discover Dunster – Village Guide and Map
‘THE POTTERY HOUSE IN THE PARK’ – published by the Exmoor National Park Authority
‘Dunster Castle and Gardens’ – by The National Trust

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About milliethom

I am a reader and writer of historical fiction with a keen interest in the Earth's history and all it involves, both physically and socially. I like nothing better than to be outdoors, especially in faraway places, and baking is something I do when my eyes need respite from my computer screen.
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35 Responses to A Pretty Village Called Dunster

  1. Antonia says:

    Wow, the ceiling of the Yarn Market is awesome! Such an interesting place Millie!

  2. Buildings are really lovely! 🙂

  3. anroworld says:

    A very interesting village!

    • milliethom says:

      I would have liked to have seen Dunster in the summer, Ann, when the roses were out. It was quite a dull day when we were there, and things never look as bright and cheerful. But there are so many really old and interesting buildings. Another visit, I think…

  4. Joy Pixley says:

    What a charming place to visit! It definitely seems like you could spend a whole day just in that little village, exploring all of the historic buildings! I’m especially drawn to the Yarn Market — what a very fancy building, considering the era (and that it’s not a church).

    • milliethom says:

      It was a really interesting place, and it definitely needs another visit. But, like many historic places, it gets crowded with tourists. Fortunately, the day we were there, most of them were up at the castle for the reenactment. The Yarn Market was my favourite thing, too. I wish we’d known to look for the cannonball hole, though. Thanks, Joy.

  5. Lovely village, so charming. I love historic buildings.

    • milliethom says:

      I’m sure you’d like this village, Suzanne. I’ve since seen Dunster listed in the ten most visited/most interesting villages in England. So far, we’ve been to five of those, but now that we know about the list, we’ll make a point of visiting the rest! (Any excuse for a holiday. 🙂 )

  6. draliman says:

    What a lovely place to visit, quite an unexpected treat as you happened upon it on your way elsewhere 🙂

    • milliethom says:

      Thanks, Ali. Yes, Dunster was definitely unexpected. We’ve since seen the village listed as one of the ten most visited villages in England. We’ve now been to five of them so, from now on, we’re on a quest to see the other five. Dunster’s closer to you than it is to us, so you could always pop along there yourself sometime! 🙂

  7. meghdeb says:

    Beautiful description millethom 🙂 The pictures look amazing! I really wish I can visit Dunster some day 🙂

    • milliethom says:

      Hello, Meghdeb! It’s quite a while since we connected, and I hope all is well with you. 🙂 Thank you for the nice comment about my post. Dunster is a lovely village and certainly has an interesting history. I’m sure you’d love it if you ever managed to get over to England. 🙂

      • meghdeb says:

        Hi Milliethom 🙂 It’s so nice to see your comments. I’ve been well. How have you been?

      • milliethom says:

        I’ve been well, too, thanks, meghdeb. Sometimes we just have too many other things in life that need doing to spend too many hours on WordPress. I did miss doing many of the flash fiction challenges, though. I just noticed that you’ve written one for PJ’s challenge this week, but I won’t read it until I’ve written my own. I prefer not to read other entries until I get mine done. It’s nice to see you back again, too. 🙂

      • meghdeb says:

        Yes, you’re right. I missed a lot of the challenges too. Henceforth, I’m going to make sure I participate in as many as possible.

        I’m waiting to read your perspective on the photo promt 🙂

      • milliethom says:

        Hello again. I’m not sure I’ll have time to do a flash fiction this week, but I’ll try to read a few on the site, if I can. 🙂

  8. Singledust says:

    you mentioned a Jacobean mansion…..was this a site that King James of Scotland stayed in or one from his royal court? the buildings are so lovingly maintained and preserved…i would love to visit these places and just feel like i stepped through time.

    • milliethom says:

      The term ‘ Jacobean’ simply refers to any building from the period 1603 -1625 in English history.
      James V1 of Scotland became James 1 of England after Elizabeth 1’s (childless) death in 1603. But I have found no reference to James 1 having stayed at Dunster. So the term ‘Jacobean’ refers to the period.
      Dunster is a place that holds on to so much of the past and we were fortunate to come across it! 🙂

      • milliethom says:

        I’ve just had another think about your question, Singledust, and realise it could be possible that James 1 visited Dunster. I just haven’t seen any reference to it – but then, we didn’t actually go into the castle. The Jacobean mansion that formed part of the inner castle, was built during James 1’s reign, in 1617, I believe. (James ruled from 1603-1625). So you could well be right. Monarchs at that time liked to visit many castles and palaces in various parts of the country. 🙂

      • Singledust says:

        i have read about the Jacobean movement in other books and thought it referred to the King alone, thanks for the explanation so i know now that it is descriptive of an era not only the monarch. its a really lovely place and i wish to be able to visit places like these some day. you are so lucky to be so close to such historical sites!

  9. Susan Langer says:

    Looked like you had a wonderful day as it was. Lets of things to see.😃

    • milliethom says:

      Hi, Susan. Yes, we hadn’t expected Dunster to be anything special until we got there. It was only when we got into the coffee shop and picked up leaflets that we realised this was a special village, historically. But we had a really nice wander around. 🙂

  10. What a fascinating place, so interesting ! and your pics are amazing Millie. Hope you are well 🙂

  11. milliethom says:

    Hi, Lynne! Have you been on holiday? I’ve checked your blog a couple of times recently, and you hadn’t posted since the last time I commented. I haven’t looked yet today, so that may have changed now. I’ll be sure to check, very soon. 🙂
    Dunster was a nice surprise for us, too. We didn’t know it was anything special when we pulled in, looking for somewhere to have coffee before we went on our way. There are so many really old buildings and structures, the village really is somewhere to spend a lot longer than the few hours that we managed. Thank you for liking my post about it. 🙂

  12. inesephoto says:

    The castle seems to be in every photograph 🙂 What a huge part of the villagers life it is, always in sight.

    • milliethom says:

      The castle really does dominate the village. Its location up on a hill makes sure of that. Next time we go down to Somerset, we’ll make a point of going to the castle and finding out more about it. Thank you again, Inese. 😀

  13. Nice to see a bit of Somerset. Some of my eighth generation Aussie family hailed from Somerset environs. Sounds like there is quite a bit of history there.

    • milliethom says:

      It was our first time actually staying in Somerset, Amanda, and our main reason for going was to see the Cheddar Gorge. I posted about that a few weeks ago. I also wanted to see Athelney, where King Alfred hid out when the Danes attacked his manor unexpectedly at Christmas. It was a big disappointment, marked only by a monument in a field that belonged to a farmer, and marked as private property! Oh well…

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