Dunster Castle is not as it may first appear. Originally built and fortified with defence in mind, it has changed greatly over the years and today the forbidding exterior belies a story of family life and a home full of warmth. The gardens defy the steeply sloping and challenging terrain to showcase a surprising variety of plants, from temperate to sub-tropical.
This 48-page souvenir guide leads the reader through 1,000 years of history, from the de Mohuns, who came over to England shortly after 1066 and established a castle here to help William the Conqueror control the area, through the many generations of Luttrells, who transformed this fortress into a family home before passing it to the National Trust in 1976. In the 600 years that the Luttrells owned the castle, it transformed from its original defensive purpose to its ultimate incarnation as a family home.
In 1617 architect William Arnold (builder of Montacute House and Wadham College, Oxford) created a Jacobean mansion inside the walls of the original castle. The Civil War of the 17th century resulted in the destruction of almost all the military defences. Better times came in 1680 when Francis Luttrell married wealthy heiress Mary Tregonwell and they spent lavishly, commissioning plasterwork from Edward Goudge and a staircase from Edward Pearce, both master craftsmen of the day.
At the end of the 19th century, another prominent architect, Anthony Salvin, worked with George Fownes Luttrell to remodel the castle, adding service quarters and the two massive towers that create the castle's 'medieval' skyline.
The gardens and surrounding park similarly evidence various periods of occupation, and their gentle informality forms a fascinating contrast with the austere castle exterior. The site's particular topography gives rise to a temperate microclimate and allows tender plants to flourish, including many of Australian origin, which were introduced by Alys Luttrell in the 20th century.
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