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Motte and bailey at Dunster Castle

A Scheduled Monument in Dunster, Somerset

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Latitude: 51.1814 / 51°10'53"N

Longitude: -3.4443 / 3°26'39"W

OS Eastings: 299147.888593

OS Northings: 143459.505765

OS Grid: SS991434

Mapcode National: GBR LK.5Z47

Mapcode Global: VH6GM.8K0N

Entry Name: Motte and bailey at Dunster Castle

Scheduled Date: 14 March 1977

Last Amended: 24 April 2002

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1020410

English Heritage Legacy ID: 33039

County: Somerset

Civil Parish: Dunster

Traditional County: Somerset

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Somerset


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
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

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Motte and bailey castles are medieval fortifications introduced into Britain
by the Normans. They comprised a large conical mound of earth or rubble, the
motte, surmounted by a palisade and a stone or timber tower. In a majority of
examples an embanked enclosure containing additional buildings, the bailey,
adjoined the motte. Motte castles and motte-and-bailey castles acted as
garrison forts during offensive military operations, as strongholds, and, in
many cases, as aristocratic residences and as centres of local or royal
administration. Built in towns, villages and open countryside, motte and
bailey castles generally occupied strategic positions dominating their
immediate locality and, as a result, are the most visually impressive
monuments of the early post-Conquest period surviving in the modern landscape.
Over 600 motte castles or motte-and-bailey castles are recorded nationally,
with examples known from most regions. As one of a restricted range of
recognised early post-Conquest monuments, they are particularly important for
the study of Norman Britain and the development of the feudal system. Although
many were occupied for only a short period of time, motte castles continued to
be built and occupied from the 11th to the 13th centuries, after which they
were superseded by other types of castle.

The motte and bailey at Dunster Castle was constructed by adapting a
naturally strongly defended and strategically placed position on high
ground above a flood plain of the River Avill. The monument is known to
have been in existence in Norman times and it has a rare documented
reference as a castle as early as 1086. It will retain archaeological and
environmental evidence relating to the construction and use of the site,
the lives of the inhabitants, and the landscape in which they lived. In
addition, Dunster Castle is a recognised and well visited historical site
in a dramatic setting.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Gibb, J H P, 'Somerset Archaeology and Natural History Society Proceedings' in The Medieval Castle At Dunster, , Vol. 125, (1981), 1-15

Source: Historic England

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