I first visited Dunster Castle some years ago but this account is from April 2019. Dunster Castle is a former motte and bailey castle, now a country house, in the village of Dunster, Somerset, England. The castle lies on the top of a steep hill called the Tor, and has been fortified since the late Anglo-Saxon period. After the Norman conquest of England in the 11th century, William de Mohun constructed a timber castle on the site as part of the pacification of Somerset. A stone shell keep was built on the motte by the start of the 12th century, and the castle survived a siege during the early years of the Anarchy. At the end of the 14th century the de Mohuns sold the castle to the Luttrell family, who continued to occupy the property until the late 20th century.
The castle was expanded several times by the Luttrell family during the 17th and 18th centuries; they built a large manor house within the Lower Ward of the castle in 1617, and this was extensively modernised, first during the 1680s and then during the 1760s. The medieval castle walls were mostly destroyed following the siege of Dunster Castle at the end of the English Civil War, when Parliament ordered the defences to be slighted to prevent their further use. In the 1860s and 1870s, the architect Anthony Salvin was employed to remodel the castle to fit Victorian tastes; this work extensively changed the appearance of Dunster to make it appear more Gothic and Picturesque.
Following the death of Alexander Luttrell in 1944, the family was unable to afford the death duties on his estate. The castle and surrounding lands were sold off to a property firm, the family continuing to live in the castle as tenants. The Luttrells bought back the castle in 1954, but in 1976 Colonel Walter Luttrell gave Dunster Castle and most of its contents to the National Trust, which operates it as a tourist attraction. It is a Grade I listed building and scheduled monument. (source: Wikipedia).
The interior of the house is interesting and various rooms on the ground and first floors can be seen. The gatehouse and other castle parts remain, but if you are expecting a medieval castle, look elsewhere!
The site has a number of pleasant walks curving around the hill. The top of the hill (above the house) is flat and laid as an open lawn. Below the hill is an old watermill to the south and the village of Dunster to the west. A folly tower tops a nearby hill to the north-east.
There are foot entrances from the village, but if arriving by car, the car park entrance is on the A39 north of the village.
The house is of medieval origin, remodelled in Tudor times by the Wake family and further modernised in the 18th and 19th centuries by the Elton family. The floor plan is somewhat irregular. The principal downstairs room is the double-height Great Hall. A fine staircase leads up to the Thackeray Room which commemorates the house’s literary connections. Also on this floor is the large State Room, now set up as a bedroom. Adjoining it is the restored Chapel, with a fine rectangular stained-glass window with reticulated tracery.
Downstairs on the east side of the screens passage is the Justice Room, originally a medieval buttery for beer butts, and now a museum room for a collection of colourful Nailsea glassware. From the screens passage, another passage leads to a triangular courtyard. beyond is the Old Kitchen, a much altered double height room now used as an exhibition space. The Old Kitchen predates the other parts of the house.
Outside, a steeply terraced garden with summerhouses rises behind the house to the wooded land beyond.
Mottisfont was originally an Augustinian priory. After the Dissolution the monastic buildings were largely dismantled or incorporated into a large Tudor mansion with two courtyards. Little now remains of the Tudor mansion. In the 18th century most of the Tudor buildings were demolished and a three-storey south front constructed, giving the building much of its present-day appearance. The Stables were rebuilt in 1836.
Successive owners made changes to the interior. in 1934 the house was bought by the Russells who repaired and modernised the house, changing the function and fittings of many of the rooms.
The principal rooms on the ground floor are open to visitors, and some upstairs rooms are open as exhibition spaces, and maids’ rooms can be seen on the attic level. The ground floor contains a collection of paintings, notably the Derek Hill collection. The Russells converted the original entrance hall into a grand saloon with spectacular trompe l’oeil murals by Rex Whistler.
At basement level, vaulted cellars and other features from the old priory can be seen. One cellar contains a poignant sculpture of estate workers disappearing into the wall, a reference to WWI.
Outside the house is a 20th century parterre. Further afield are a walled garden, a winter garden, the river and other features. The Trust manages an estate of over 1600 acres.
Mottisfont is well worth a visit, which could extend to over half a day.
Markers Cottage is a medieval cob house that retains many original features. Originally it had a hall open to the roof and a cross passage. Smoke blackened thatch can still be seen in the attic. A medieval wood partition has paintings on it, and upstairs a section of decorative plasterwork is preserved.
Later the cottage was given a first floor and sub-divided. The garden contains a charming cob summerhouse (a Millenium project).
The cottage is well worth a visit if you are in the area. I suggest you combine your visit with a visit to Clyston Mill in the same village of Broadclyst.
The discreet National Trust signs in the village will take you to the village car park. Look for the sign indicating how to walk to the cottage. There is no onward signage: essentially you walk to the far end of the car park, exit in the RH corner, turn left and proceed along the edge of the playing field till you reach a street with a yellow painted thatched cottage in it. You can drive to the cottage and park outside: exit the car park turning left, then right & right into Town End street. You should be able to park outside (except during the school run!).
By the 19th century, difficulties in administrating relief for the poor caused parishes who were responsible for poor relief to start adopting a new system. Instead of being helped in their homes, the poor requiring relief would be required to enter a workhouse where conditions were spartan and they might be required to work – or do without. The overt object of this was to discourage the poor from claiming.
Southwell was one of the pioneering parishes to adopt this scheme. It was championed by the Rev. John Thomas Becher, who wrote a pamphlet called The Antipauper System. The Southwell workhouse was founded in 1824.
This system was found to be much cheaper and was incorporated in the New Poor Act of 1834.
The Southwell workhouse was acquired by the National Trust in 1997, and is the most complete in existence. Various parts of the buildings have been restored to their original appearance.
The tour starts with a short video, then one can visit outbuildings at the back, before touring various rooms in the main block. Some rooms have been restored for displays, and a few are left unrestored. The centre of the block was the Master’s accommodation. Rooms contain displays of the conditions in the workhouse for the various categories of inmate – the able-bodied poor, the aged and disabled, and the itinerants.
This makes a most interesting visit. The problem of what to do about the deserving and ‘undeserving’ poor remains vexed to this day.
Kedleston Hall has a long frontage with a centre block and two semi-detached wings. The family still lives in the left hand one, which was always intended as a family home, the centre block being for display rooms.
The lower hall is a forest of columns supporting the heavy floor and columns above. The State floor of the central block has an series of rooms on two rows (front and back). The centre front houses the double-height Marble Hall with Roman theme decor. At centre back is a round hall, Pantheon like with an oculus, and black iron stoves to warm the room a bit. There are lots of paintings in various rooms by minor artists.
The lower floor has a museum of Indian relics (one past Curzon owner was Viceroy of India). The exhibits include a howdah. The grounds are mostly open grass land, with some bits of garden border and garden buildings at back.
The interesting church contains some fine family monuments. Click to enlarge
Calke was built and lived in by the Harpur and Harpur Crewe families, some of them eccentric recluses. The National Trust has preserved the house largely as acquired, rather than sprucing it up.
One arrives at Calke passing an imposing stable block and arriving at a complex of large redbrick outbuildings now housing the reception, shop etc. The next stop is the dilapidated stable block, a massive affair surrounding two courtyards. There are two exhibition rooms and one can peer into many other spaces, mostly full of discarded objects. Leaving here one can wander round the back of the outbuildings and look into the biomass boiler room, or pass on into the gardens.
A short walk down through shrubbery brings one to open ground at the side of the house. Here one can go around to the house entrance, or if early take a hike up to the church and walled gardens.
The church was largely rebuilt in Victorian times and is small but interesting.
The walled gardens are huge and take some time to explore. The first walled garden, now let to grass, is four acres in size. Halfway along one side is the restored Orangery, not identified on the map. At the other side of the wall are several sections of cultivated garden and various horticultural buildings, greenhouses, boiler rooms, and even a tunnel or two to be explored. In summer, the flower gardens look very fine.
Back at the Abbey itself one enters under the pillared front. On all three floors, around half of the rooms are accessible to visitors. The ground floor has some fine rooms at the front and, owing to the slope of the ground outside, cellarage at the back. The first floor houses most of the finer rooms. The double-height Saloon is the most impressive room and the dining room and library are also fine. Many of these rooms contain the Calke collections of shells, rock specimens, stuffed birds and miscellaneous objects. The house appears to contain more objects than some museums, and until a sale in the 1020’s it really did contain more bird specimens than anywhere else. The third floor contains bedrooms, notably Sir Vauncey Harpur Crewe’s bedroom with its odd collection of contents. Many of the rooms were shut up in later years and used to store an accumulation of objects. Some rooms have been derelict since the 19th century.
The house tour ends at the courtyard. Have a good look around here. Features of the earlier Elizabethan house are said to be visible (not obvious). Explore the kitchen area. You can exit to the side, or explore the cellars at the back, which will lead you to a long arched tunnel which emerges at the brewhouse at the far side of the stable block.
One’s overall impression of Calke is of size: vast outbuildings, huge walled garden complex, extensive grounds, a large house full of thousands of objects and miles of outer grounds. On arrival at the outer gate I was handed a Calke CD and had time to listen to it before I arrived at the car park 1.5 miles further on.
Allow at least 4 1/2 hours for a full visit, excluding the outer grounds and tea-break.
The museum is housed in an 18th century house owned by the National Trust and leased to the Launceston council for a local museum. It contains a variety of exhibits on three floors. Exhibits range from paintings through a model of the former railway station, the Victorian kitchen, a room about the astronomer John Couch Adams, period dresses, a toy room, to a polyphon, a forerunner of the jukebox.
Well worth a visit. Free admission, donations welcomed.
The pretty village of Lacock is managed by the National Trust. On it edge is Lacock Abbey and gardens. The Abbey was the home of pioneering photographer William Henry Fox Talbot, who is jointly credited with the invention of photography. The Abbey was built as a nunnery, housing a community of nuns led by Ela, countess of Shreswbury. After the dissolution, it came into the hands of William Sharington, who demolished the abbey church but retained the cloisters, converting the upper part into a dwelling by adding partitions. Despite later alterations, various medieval vaulted rooms and walkways still survive, notably in the lower parts of the building.
The Hall, built in a Gothick style, dates from the 18th century and contains terracotta statues set in niches on the walls.
The kitchen dates from the medieval period, with later alterations and fittings. Also downstairs can be found original encaustic tiles, and the only manuscript book to have survived from a pre-dissolution English abbey.
The service court houses an interesting Tudor brewhouse.
Beside the reception building is a museum of photography.
Well worth a half-day visit.
Nostell Priory was built in the 18th century on the site of an earlier house. Nothing of the medieval priory now remains. The house has a symmetrical plan with a colonaded extension to one side. The kitchen block is set back and connected by a link corridor. Entry is into the lower hall, dimly lit and filled with dark furniture. The formal rooms are all on the floor above. A doll’s house exhibit is in a room on the top floor.
Outside, a large stable block houses the usual visitor facilities. Passing through the stable block you can access the rose garden and the former walled garden, and the lakeside walks. The lakes are beautiful. Note that the paths do not allow a complete circuit of either of the lakes. In front of the house is extensive parkland.
Visiting – there is a £3 parking charge for non members of the National Trust. There are entrance charges for the house and rear gardens. There is no charge for entry to the parkland or stable block.