The History of Dunster
A William de Moyon built a Norman castle at Dunster, probably near the site of an existing Anglo-Saxon settlement. The original castle was made of wood but later it was rebuilt in stone. William de Moyon is listed in the Domesday Book of 1086 as the Lord of the Manor, it also makes mention of Dunster as the site of his castle. By necessity castles tended to attract settlements or encourage existing ones to flourish. They needed feeding and servicing and usually relied on merchants setting up shop just outside, or sometimes even within the castle walls. Dunster grew steadily in the Norman era and by the 13th century it had markets and fairs which would have added great value to the local economy.
One of the principle goods marketed there would have been wool. Somerset ’s hills and pastures made ideal sheep country and wool was a major part of the economy in the developing county. Most of the residents of Dunster would have made a living doing something connected to wool. Spinning, weaving and the fulling mills in the town would have provided plenty of employment and made some select landowners and merchants very rich indeed. Dunster was famous for its own unique type of thick wool called Dunsters. Such was the importance of wool to Dunster that at the beginning of the 17th century the Yarn Market was built. The market cross, which still stands today, has a belfry with a bell that was rung to open the market for trading. Throughout the 18th century the wool trade dwindled, production moved to other parts of England and cotton started to displace wool.
A small priory was established at Dunster in the 12th century. Henry VIII closed Dunster Priory in 1539 and all that now exists of it is a dovecote. The site of the Lutterell Arms was built at the end of the 15th century and became an inn in later, the 17th century. On the southern outskirts the 15th-century Gallox Bridge still stands. This was a packhorse bridge that served to take a main trade route over the River Avill. In 1379 Dunster Castle passed to the wealthy Lutterell family. War came to Dunster in 1645, when the King and the Royalists held the castle as the Parliamentarians laid siege. The Royalists resisted the siege into 1646 making Dunster Castle one of the last places in Southwest England to be taken by parliamentary forces. After it fell to the Parliamentarians in 1645 and orders were sent out for the castle to be demolished. These were for some reason ignored and instead the castle was used as the garrison for Parliamentarian troops until 1650. When peaceful times arrived the castle underwent a number of restorations and alterations including an 18th century landscaping of the castle grounds by the artist Richard Phelps. Previous alterations to the castle itself had taken place in the 17th century and it was then rebuilt in the 19th century by the architect Anthony Salvin. In 1976 the National Trust obtained the remains of Dunster Castle which now mainly consist of the 13th century gatehouse.
The railway took until 1874 to come to Dunster but kept running until 1971, outlasting many branch lines by up to ten years. Dunster railway station reopened in 1976 as part of a private railway. In the Second World War the approaches to the Bristol Channel and Severn Estuary were considered worthy of fortification. Staunch defences were built along the English coastline, including the north coast of Somerset. Some of the structures, such as the pillboxes on the foreshore of Dunster Beach, remain to this day. They were made with the hefty pebbles that litter the beach there and were bonded together with concrete. Dunster remains a sleepy place that has hardly grown since the 1801 census. Back then it had a population of 772. The population of Dunster is now less than a hundred more at about 860. Despite being a relatively small place Dunster has over 200 listed buildings, witness to a long and wealthy history.
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