Somerset Strongholds

SomersetSomerset, the gateway to the west country, is a county of contrasts and abounds with genuine castle hotels, castellated follies and the actual (and factual) location of Camelot! If you do a thorough investigation, you will find sandy beaches at Minehead- a popular resort for people on holiday- to a magnificently rocky coastline along Porlock Bay near Exmoor Forest and National Park in the westernmost part of Somerset. The rolling hills of the Quantocks below Bridgwater, the Mendips in the nether region and great expanses of flat lowlands stretch out along the moors completing the diversity of the landscape. On top of some hills it may seem as if you are up in the skies and the feeling can be almost a religious experience- much like the one Peter Gabriel had on Solsbury Hill above Bath. There are many just like it all over Somerset.
CotswoldLandscapes_RTalbotRWhitemanEven the building stone which comes from a great limestone escarpment across the Cotswolds and extends almost the entire length of the county, varies widely in appearance. At Bath, the quarried fine stone is the creamiest shade but a change to light golden can be found in edifices built of Ham stone in the south and in the Vale of Taunton the stone appears a rather unique hue of crimson.
Being a large portion of the overall Wessex landscape, Somerset is well interspersed, all along the countryside, with many well kept old churches. As a matter of fact you’ll find many towers here which have nothing to do with castles and are considered to be among the most beautiful medieval art treasures in all of England- spanning the 12th to the 16th centuries! Visitors looking for unique experiences should also search out the ancient rural traditions such as the wassailing of apple orchards to ensure a good crop. Since wassailing is primarily thought of as a Welsh tradition it seems rather quaint to find this culture continuing within England’s borders! There are surprises here, as well, such as Wookey Hole Caves and Cheddar Gorge- two fine examples of geological curiosities.
England’s smallest city, Wells, resides within Somerset’s borders and has the grandiose Bishop’s Palace right alongside the beautiful cathedral. Bristol and Bath in North West and North East Somerset, respectively- are neighbors with distinctly different personalities residing little more than ten miles apart. Magnificent gardens fill the southern region of the county vying for prizes as classic gardens. As they are too numerous to mention, I recommend a guide from the South Somerset District Council titled simply Classic Gardens which gives complete information for each venue whether it is a stately home, abbey or farmhouse. Many of these gardens are extensive enough to be daytrips, in and of themselves, and are well worth visiting for a garden and landscape enthusiast. There is, quite literally, something for everyone to enjoy in Somerset and in every respect. 

In the medieval period the Norman invaders took advantage of Somerset’s hill ranges, leaving behind a few majestically-sized strongholds. There are no less than 120 listed historical sites in Somerset and 105 of them are (or were) town defenses, masonry castles, motte and baileys, palaces and fortified manor houses! Castle Neroche and St Michael’s Hill at Montacute are formidable earthwork remains along with Castle Cary’s motte and bailey earthworks giving superb views of the countryside. Dunster Castle retains its magnificent facade and position but nothing you will see of the current edifice is from the Norman period. In fact, the altered hall at Taunton is the only substantial piece of Norman stonework that remains standing in Somerset other than ruins at Stogursey and portions of Dunster. You’ll find 13th century towered curtains at Stogursey but the old defenses of these four castles have suffered much destruction and dilapidation. Contrasting examples of late-medieval castles such as Farleigh Hungerford, which is a ruinous quadrangle, are only a bit better preserved. Nunney is a strikingly constructed tower house in beautiful condition, comparatively, while the Bishop’s Palace at Wells is a fitting neighbor to the beautiful cathedral.
Somerset’s most famous distinction is the association with the legend of King Arthur at South Cadbury Village and Cadbury Castle, seated as far south as you can get in the county. The castle site is not far from Glastonbury Abbey and Castle Cary- sites that are a part of the legend which has it that the monks discovered Arthur’s remains along with his Queen Guinevere near this formidable earthwork castle. The enigma magnifies its appearance, illuminating the legend.

CastleBatch_SandPoint_Weston BayAt the western portion of the northern border of Somerset and Northwest Somerset and just outside Weston-super-Mare you’ll find two claims on the name of Castle Batch. One is inland, and a simple motte; the other is on Sand Point north of Weston Bay and is a motte with a low bailey. The history of the latter mentioned is along the lines of the usual supposition of construction in the 11th century but is most notable for its position along the bay with breathtaking views and an obvious defensive position. You won’t see much else but the view is worth the visit. Very little, apparently, is documented on either motte sites. However, this area of Somerset will exhilarate you.

Wells_Cathedral_MarketSquareTwenty miles south from Bath and Bristol, the town of Wells is a tranquil market town named for Saint Andrew’s Well which is a sacred spring sited near the fortified and moated Bishop’s Palace of the 14th century.The cathedral and close along with the palace, cloisters, chapter house and grounds are considered the least spoilt, most intact and beautiful in Europe. They are a well-orchestrated ensemble of ecclesiastical and battlemented residences all laid out beautifully and naturally in this setting and dominates the town with no apology. Since the time of Bishop Jocelin Trotman (1206-42) it has remained in the possession of the appointed bishops and has only been a bishop’s residence. You can view the bishops’ tombs in the chancel of the cathedral, midway, along its own wing. At the palace, the Henderson rooms (13th century first floor hall) and the chapel and grounds are available to tour.
Bishops_Palace_Wells_SnN_Buck_S_view_1733Under the Normans, the parish had been transferred to Bath but Jocelin was the first bishop to return to Wells. Under a Papal ruling dating from January 3, 1245 the official episcopal title became Bishop of Bath and Wells. The oldest part of the palace goes back to his episcopate and dates from the same period as the fabulous west front of the cathedral. Palace fortifications were implemented after 1341 because of hostility and riots against the clergy. Bishop Ralph of Shrewsbury obtained a license to crenellate that same year and the defenses were supplied out of fines levied on the townsfolk! Ralph erected a low curtain which surrounds an irregular, pentagonal enclosure immediately south of the cathedral cloister with rounded mural bastions at each corner. The effect is delightfully decorative, accompanying a strong defense. An encompassing wide moat, populated by swans, made an even more significant barrier. Arguably, the most outstanding features of the Wells complex are the West Front entrance of the Cathedral and the gatehouse to the Bishop’s Palace, the latter being a lofty block with semi-octagonal turrets front and back with cross slits. The West Front’s statuary has a king, knight or saint for every day of the week and many of them are ‘actual size’. An astronomical clock which adorns this front was built from 1386 to 1392.
Bishops_PalaceC_Wells_3614287_ggrphCurtain walls were erected well outside the range of the Wells complex. Bishop Jocelin’s original hall house was heavily restored mid-19th century and the high-pitched, many gabled appearance, which is unique at Wells, is the result of that period. The vaulted undercrofts are original along with the row of window dormers above. Robert Burnell’s chapel to the right of Jocelin’s wing are tall, oblong structures with delicate window tracery and a soaring vault. These took half a century of building but their appearance is outstanding with carved roof bosses and fragmented medieval glass. The ruined Great Hall is also attributed to Burnell and is seated at an angle from the massive chapel and opposite the gatehouse. Two walls remain of it but the size of this 13th century ruined structure and the tall arched lights are romantic and idyllic. (Bishop Burnell’s additional status as Lord Chancellor under Edward I is reflected by both hall and chapel and these are comparable to Acton Burnell in Shropshire which was his family home.) Unfortunately, the hall was too grand a structure for his successors and it has been roofless since 1550. It is interesting that only a century earlier Bishop Bekyngton built a new wing to the left of Jocelin’s range, balancing Burnell’s chapel. It formed, in effect, a new residence on a smaller scale and its position against the curtain wall appears to be sequestered, making a great hiding place should the need arise. This 15th century wing is currently the private residence of the Bishop of Bath and Wells. The extensive grounds are criss-crossed with long winding paths, and springs rise emphasizing the Wells name making a beautiful setting for the borders of herbaceous plants, roses, shrubs, mature trees and the Jubilee Arboretum. Visiting it is an experience you’ll never forget.

BishopP_WellsGatehouse_Tom_PenningtonOn the northern slopes of the Mendip Hills, above Wells, Milton Lodge Gardens have broad panoramic views of Wells and the Vale of Avalon. don’t miss this video !
T- 01749 988111 
A few miles west of Wells you’ll find the town of Wookey where Bishop Jocelin built another manor house in 1224, referred to in the books as Wookey Court Palace, which was rebuilt three hundred years later. What remains is now a grade II listed farmhouse known as Court Farm. A mile outside the town, earthwork remains of Castle, a motte and bailey is sited on a natural hillock. A geological site of special scientific interest, at Wookey Hole (a sister village to Wookey) is a labyrinth of underground caves which receives an incredible amount of visitors every year. More recently specialist consulting engineers carried out a full geotechnical survey of rocks to bore a new access tunnel so that visitors can see a spectacular underground lake and cave formations only previously seen by cave divers. The last time any undertaking was this extensive was in 1973 when blasting was undertaken to expose more of the caves for the general public to view. New access has created one of the biggest show cave systems in Europe. As part of a 4 million investment in the tourist attraction Wookey Hole Caves’ expansion adds seventy meters of tunnel beneathWookeyHoleCavesexpansion3 the Mendips and the new expansion features previously unseen caverns,a stunning subterranean lake and breathtaking rock formations. Experts on site have been debating over one particular fluted rock. Three tons of explosives and thousands of detonators were used to blast through rock creating the largest cavern ever at this venue.
info T-01749 672243
On low lying land, in a loop of the River Axe, Wookey Court Palace grounds were enclosed with a moat (a large polygonal area of over five acres). The palace was once seated along the northern part where Court Farm resides which is the only remaining building. Earthworks delineate what is left of the sites of former partitions, and the filled-in moat can still be traced, in areas, as an earthwork. Major repairs and new buildings erected from 1461 up to 1557- the latter year being an attribution to a survey of the time- were carried out most likely replacing outbuildings for the palace. Curiously, the moat still existed in 1839 according to a tithe map. The grounds were once entered from the south east where a gatehouse stood and the palace had a garden, a barn, two bartons, an orchard, fishponds and a dovecote- according to a survey by the Wookey Local History Group for 1992-3. Records of 1557 indicate that the palace complex included a great hall, two parlors (one, old and the other, new), buttery, wine room, a new chamber, small chamber, broad chamber, three chambers over the ‘old’ cloister, armory, galleries, chapel, kitchens, brewhouse, larders, cellar, an enclosed yard with running water and fish troughs, gatehouse, dairy house and stable.
Fenny_Castle_WookeyFenny Castle, a former motte and bailey castle set on a small natural hill of peat, can be found one mile southwest of Wookey. The northwest portion of the hill was scarped to form a steep-sided conical motte, with a southeast plateau which was used as a bailey. Excavations unearthed a wall which defended the summit, as well as iron rings, an iron implement and pottery. Records from the 19th century show that the grading of the northwestern slope was removed for easier navigation around it. During that process the remains of 20 human skeletons were discovered and removed. It was surmised that they predated the construction of the castle. River Sheppey can be viewed in the foreground and Lias stone can be seen around the site indicating that it was rebuilt in stone at a later date. Some records of 1327 indicated that the owner was William atte Castle at that time. In 1480 it was declared a ruin by William Worcester who oversaw the plans of ‘all the houses and offices there.’ Access is free to the public at their own risk as it is a scheduled ancient monument. It’s worth a visit to see the prominent earthworks. A wet ditch or moat is still visible along the southwest side. (Fenny Castle House,Castle Lane, Wookey) T-01749 677592
CheddarGorge_somersetaccommodationIf you head back northwest toward the area between the Mendip Hills and River Axe (about 9 miles) you’ll find an awe inspiring canyon of mountains called Cheddar Gorge which is appropriately near the town of Cheddar. If you’re starting to salivate at the mere mention of Cheddar then you’re headed to the right place because you’ll definitely find cheddar cheese to eat there unless they’ve run out. The B3135 winds through the base of this three mile long gorge so don’t even try to speed unless you want to have a quick end. You won’t want to anyway because you’ll be busy getting a tan on the roof of your mouth staring at this incredibly beautiful landscape. Novelist Daniel Defoe wrote about Cheddar Gorge back in 1724 and he was absolutely enthralled by the limestone rock formations that rise vertically on either side of the road up to a height of 400 feet ! Believe it or not, the caves in the gorge were once used to store and mature the cheese because it was a perfect temperature environment for that purpose. Cheddar village lies south of the gorge in a valley and can be seen from the Prospect Tower atop Jacob’s Ladder which is about 280 steps up from the end of the gorge. You can follow a footpath from that prospect very far north to look down from the top of the gorge !
Cheddar_Kings_of_Wessex_School_chapelCheddar Palace is an Anglo-Saxon site located within the grounds of The Kings of Wessex Academy in the town. Seated alongside the 14th century ruins of St. Columbanus Chapel, the palace was established in the 9th century as a royal hunting lodge and hosted the Witenagemot in the 10th century. Described as a wooden great hall it was built during the reign of King Alfred the Great and is now marked by concrete slabs on the grounds. Roman artifacts and a burial site have been discovered in the area, as well. The ruins of the chapel are in fair enough condition to impress and there is documentary evidence of visits by Henry I in 1121 and 1130 and Henry II in 1158!
Richmont_CastleFurther north, on the border with Northwest Somerset just outside the village of East Harptree, Richmont Castle is only outlined with fragments of wall on a spur in the middle of parkland with a man-made lake and overlooking the Chew Valley. It is not even known exactly when it was erected but experts who have examined the site have surmised that it was late 11th century. Started with a single bailey on the south side, the castle may have been built over or onto a preexisting iron age fort which included another inner bailey within the original one and a circular keep on the apex of the spur. A similar castle exists at nearby Bincknoll but Richmont was revetted several more times. It was most likely founded by William FitzJohn de Harptree who supported Matilda during the anarchy. When Stephen was discouraged at Bristol, by its size, Richmont was next on his list and according to chroniclers he used his wiles to overtake the castle without much of a siege. He set up his engines at a distance and when the garrison of the castle went out to attack he burnt the gates behind them and took possession easily. Of course, that didn’t last and it was recouped by Robert of Gloucester by 1140. Richmont was visited by King John in 1205 and it stayed in the Harptree and de Gournay families for most of the medieval years. It became well known as an administrative center and law court for one of the four Mendip mines. Eventually the site was robbed of stone and mined extensively between the 17th to the 19th centuries for lead and calamine and taken to the foundries of Bristol. The castle was abandoned by 1540 and destroyed during Henry VIII’s reign.
Today, the site remains a scheduled monument and a small fragment of the keep can still be seen on one side of the spur. Otherwise it is devoid of stonework but the course of the curtain wall and a large tower can be traced for 30 meters with a foundation rubble mark and the earthworks are apparent with the exception of the badly scarred baileys. At one time the walls were three meters thick.

Hales_CastleAlong the eastern border of Somerset with Wiltshire, Hales Castle at Selwood overlooks the town of Frome and was most likely built immediately after the Norman Conquest. It remains as a circular ringwork, 120 feet in diameter, atop Roddenbury Hill. Most likely it was erected for its prime location because a Roman road from Poole Harbor, nearby, was built all the way to the town of Bath becoming an important line of communication. If you visit the site you’ll find embankment earthworks along with outer ditches and an unfinished bailey.
Beckington_Castle_-_geograph_org_uk_-_814491Beckington Castle a bit further north, became Ravenscroft School in 1945. The village of Beckington sits between Frome and the site of Farleigh Hungerford Castle which is situated even further north clear up to the very northeast corner of Somerset but south of Bath. During medieval times Beckington was a center for wool trade and by the 15th century fulling mills had been built along the banks of the River Frome which supported local spinning and weaving industries. After 1970 the school vacated and relocated- this, after a major fire broke out in February 1966 and nearly all of the interior was destroyed. School closed for a week, then continued to operate in castle outbuildings while extensive damage was repaired. beckington-ravenscroft-school-c1950_b402004Nevertheless, by 1970, growing numbers of pupils led to a move to Farleigh House a large country house built near the village of Farleigh Hungerford. The Beckington property had previously been the home of Captain Hamilton of the Coldstream Guards and later 3rd Baron Hamilton of Dalzell. It was also the birthplace of his second son the politician Archie Hamilton, Baron Hamilton of Epsom. The remains of the castle are now home to a company providing technical and procurement support to the Ministry of Defense and some remnants of what appears to be a 17th century Tudor home with octagonal towers is apparent. Interestingly, Seymours Court Farmhouse, which dates from the 15th century, is in the area and was once the home of Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley who married Queen Catherine Parr, Henry VIII’s last wife. Less surprising is the fact that Thomas Beckyngton, the 15th century Bishop of Bath and Wells, who also was King Edward IV’s Secretary, was born in this village.

FarleighHungerford-aerialRoger de Courcelles was granted the lands and manor at Ferlege by William the Conqueror late in the 11th century which eventually came to be known as Farleigh. A chapel dating from that period still stands within the complex and was originally the village parish church. The village was eradicated when building of the castle commenced centuries later. Farleigh became a part of William Rufus’ estate before Hugh de Montfort gained possession who subsequently renamed it Farleigh Montfort. Bartholomew de Bunghersh took possession during the reign of Edward III (after 1327) but the earliest known Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Thomas Hungerford and his son Walter, were the builders of Farleigh Hungerford Castle as it stands today. Hungerford purchased the ancient manor on the site ca. 1369-70 from the Bunghersh family for £733 and began to build a quadrangular courtyard castle with large corner towers. The moat was created from natural landscaping and ingenuity. His work there was most likely nearly completed by 1383 because he was pardoned in that year for crenellating (fortifying) his house without a license and given license on November 26th. The castle keep was a quadrangular typical of the period although the shape of the land mass the complex sits on is quite irregular. Later, his son Sir Walter added the outer courtyard in the 1420s and save for a lengthy forfeiture, arising from their loyalty to the Lancastrians during the War of the Roses, the Hungerfords lived there until 1686, when declining financial circumstances forced the second Edward Hungerford to sell to Sir Henry Bayntun. Henry purchased the castle along with other Hungerford properties for 56,000 but died in 1691 and subsequently the castle was sold to Hector Cooper of Trowbridge in 1702. By that time it was already falling into ruin and a family by the name of Houlton purchased it and dismantled the stones and marble for other properties such as Farleigh House and Longleat House in Wiltshire. People from nearby villages also vandalized and pilfered stone and the castle slowly and steadily collapsed. None of the ruination is from the Civil War.
Farleigh_Hungerford_Castle_from_the_south_east_-_geograph_org_uk_-_438798Presently, the castle stands on a rise overlooking the River Frome and the site is impressively large even though it is extremely ruinous. An outer curtain wall built by Sir Walter surrounds the southern part of the summit which is an irregular shape and possesses one quite reduced round tower flanking the outer gate tower and guarding the approach with a drawbridge recess which looks to have been rebuilt and allows a drive through the entire outer ward and out the former western gate. The inner quadrangular retainer’s’ lodgings are reduced to foundation footings along with another gatehouse fronted with a barbican- all reduced. This portion of the castle had four corner towers. The tallest tower, now completely gone, was in the northeast corner and referred to as the Redcap Tower. The northwest tower is also mostly gone and was the smallest tower referred to as Hazelwell Tower. farleigh2The two which still stand along the south wall of the quadrangle retain their original height but are also seriously ruined. The southwest tower was once referred to as the Lady Tower. The upper southern portion, where the outer gate tower resides abuts the chapel and priest’s house, to the southeast, which are intact and look quite medieval. These survivors do not bear any exterior ecclesiastical features and are quite homely but the lead family tombs inside – some with effigies of the Hungerford family- along with museum artifacts are quite interesting. The chapel was restored in 1779 when tourists began to visit the site. Murals on the walls were discovered in 1844 and have been fully restored and can be viewed during visits.
In 1915 Farleigh Hungerford was sold to the Office of Works and a controversial restoration program commenced. The property is owned and maintained by English Heritage.
Nearest village is Norton St. Philip

Newton_St_Loe_Gatehouse_ArtChapmanWest of Farleigh Hungerford, Newton St. Loe Castle’s two remaining buildings- the tower and the gatehouse-reside in the beautiful grounds of Newton Park, a former deer park. Oddly enough, the tower house precedes the gatehouse by one hundred years, mid-14th century, with the assumption that members of the St. Loe family had it built. Elizabeth, the last of the St Loe family, inherited the property in 1375 and married William, Baron Botreaux. A much earlier fortified manor house was sited in the deer park in the 12th century which had a tower keep, defensive curtain walls and domestic buildings. Most of the castle complex was demolished during landscaping of the park in the 18th century so determination possibilities are now gone. This Saxon manor was held by Aluric during the time of Edward the Confessor, then given to the Bishop of Coutances  by William I.  Domesday listed Geoffrey de Montbray Norman nobleman, as William’s trusted advisor and a great secular prelate, warrior and administrator.  The St. Loe family were, of course, originally from Normandy, whose name was Latinized as ‘de Sancto Lando’ and held the manor primarily during Richard I’s reign.
Newton_St_Loe_C_from_westWhat remains, however, is in extremely good condition most likely because of restoration or perhaps, rebuilding altogether. Documentation cites alterations, restoration and remodeling from the 16th century on into the 19th century for the tower house and grounds. So much was carried out that it has been difficult even for the experts to determine the time of the original building. The gatehouse has been attributed to Sir Walter Hungerford, however, and it is quite reminiscent of the gatehouse at Farleigh Hungerford. Flanking turrets certainly but the south facade is quite literally that and viewing it from the other side reveals quite a formidable Tudor barbican with oddly-placed but traditional medieval buttresses. (The tower is some distance behind it and can be seen in the background in the photo above.) Nothing could be more strange, as far as being authentic medieval, than the complete view of this gatehouse. Oh, if only stones could speak ! Walter most likely built the gatehouse after the work he did at his on his own property prior to his death in 1449. He did a marvelous job- machicolations, gun port and all. According to records, the castle keep was 35 miles west of the gatehouse so Newton St. Loe was quite large at one time.
Newton_St._Loe_Keep_College_642177The fortified manor house that preceded the castle was set in the middle of the park and was a rectangular courtyard configuration with square corner towers. The connecting curtain walls were surrounded on three sides with a ditch and there is no evidence that a moat existed. Excavations carried out on the site of the manor house revealed further defenses and domestic buildings and a motte north of the keep was proven to be the remains of a tower along the end of the east curtain wall. Today the site is leased by Bath Spa University and both the keep and the gatehouse are scheduled monuments, holding a Grade 1 listed building status.

Nunney_CastleWhat remains of Nunney Castle, is a blown-out 14th century rectangular tower house southwest of the town of Frome and equidistant west of Longleat House (in Wiltshire) with the A361 running just south of its location. This attractive ruin is closely surrounded by a deep wet moat and is what the Germans refer to as a wasserschloss (lit. water castle), apparently fed by the nearby Nunney Brook and sits directly in the center of the town of Nunney. It was erected by Sir John de la Mare, an English Knight during the Hundred Years War, who obtained a license to crenellate in 1373. Sir John had made a fortune in ransom money and plundering in France so money was no object. He ignored the manor on the site which was originally owned by William De Mohun and built Nunney close by using King Edward III’s architect and in one phase so that the castle you see today is basically the way it was originally built except for modernizing which was carried out in the 16th century.
Nunney_Castle_NE_view_SamNat_Beck_1760As a rectangular tower house it is most unusual for England with the large round turrets on each of the four corners. Eight feet thick walls were built so narrowly close that on one end the turrets nearly meet and it is impossible to see the wall along one end. A machicolated parapet ran in a continuous line across the tower walls and turrets- the latter of which carried recessed top stages which rose above the parapet level- a dead ringer for the Bastille in Paris which was completed in 1380! Those 50 feet tall corner towers once had conical roofs à la Francaise and a low curtain wall surrounded the moat except on the east side where Nunney Brook was used as a line of defense.
K021176Interior features included three floors with lots of additional accommodation inside the turrets including a chapel, a solar, great hall, separate rooms for family members, fireplaces and staircases leading to all floors. (Even concentric castle towers had such accommodations for the garrisons but sometimes became living quarters the Lords and their families if a central keep was heavily attacked.) A large fireplace and kitchen were at ground level. At Nunney the drawbridge leads into a narrow passageway at the base of the castle into the tower keep instead of the towers. This was clearly a fortification error.

Nunney was passed down two generations of De la Mares- first Philip and then grandson Elias which passed by marriage thereafter into the Poulet family. It is supposed that Elias died during Henry V’s campaign in France. The Poulet family retained the castle through two more generations in the 16th century although their seat was at Basing Castle in Hampshire. William Paulet, the Marquess of Winchester was the last in the family line to own the castle in 1572 when he passed on. (The misspelling was a common practice by distant relatives.) From him the castle was sold quickly by two more buyers with the final owner being Richard Prater before the castle’s demise. Prater purchased Nunney for 2,000 and began to redevelop it for residence by putting windows, a terrace along the edge of the moat, an alter and a grand staircase in taking on the latest in castle fashion. Occupation of the castle by the Praters lasted into the 17th century. The castle was never besieged until the Civil War.
NunneyCastle_2Colonel Richard Prater supported Charles I and was clearly Catholic. Nunney Castle was garrisoned in anticipation of Parliamentary attack and took in a number of refugees, including many Catholics.In September 1645 a Parliamentary army under the command of Lord Fairfax and Oliver Cromwell advanced into Somerset, taking Sherborne , Cary and nearby Shepton Mallet before approaching Nunney. A doubled regiment with cannons surrounded the castle on the 18th of September and when the Colonel refused to surrender, the cannons opened fire on the north side of the castle wall. A single cannon ball was shot from the top of the hill above Nunney and blasted through the north wall leaving a gaping, jagged hole. Prater continued to resist along with his primarily Irish garrison and hoisted a flag with a Catholic crucifix. Two days later the garrison surrendered. No further slighting was continued because of the extent of the damage but Prater, his family and garrison were forbidden to return to the castle. His son, George was not able to recoup the castle until after Charles II was given restoration of the throne in 1660 but it was sold to William Whitchurch ca. 1700 who most likely never set foot on the property. It was ordered by the crown that Nunney would be made ready for French prisoners in 1789 but no such prisoners ever arrived!
nunney2By the 20th century, Nunney Castle fell further into ruin and became covered in thick ivy as many water castles often do. On Christmas of 1910, 265 years after the slighting, a portion of the damaged north wall completely and suddenly collapsed and blocked the moat for a number of years. Much of Nunney’s north wall stone was stolen by local people. With the compromise to the stability of the castle the owner, Robert Bailey-Neale, transferred the property to the Commissioner of Works which put the castle under protection from further damage and started a program of restoration. Now owned and run by English Heritage as a tourist attraction Nunney is a scheduled monument. Further, this castle was a favorite of architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner who described it as “aesthetically the most impressive castle in Somerset.” It has been compared to other English castles such as Dudley and Rye Castles and certainly Herstmonceaux in East Sussex- no accounting for size, of course!   (video)

South of Nunney Castle, off the A361 a stopover at Wanstrow will give you a chance to see a motte situated at the highest point in a parish also connected with the Roman road that leads on to Bath. Breach Wood Mound was formed from earthworks prepared for a Norman motte and bailey site. It consists of three, curvilinear fragmented banks with adjacent ditches to the central motte, an angled D-shaped enclosure is located to the immediate north. It has not been determined what the enclosure would have been but it may have been preparation for a semi-circular tower. Further, two manors in Wanstrow were recorded in the Domesday book and this site may be the focus of one of them. Both manors had ecclesiastical overlords with the west manor headed by a sub-tenant knight known as Wanstrow or Wandestrie. Locally, Wanstrows had been supporters of Matilda and were rewarded for their loyalty to her with grants of land. Being situated only 1.5 kilometers from the Roman road but with no artifacts to speak of, it may have been abandoned early more than once in history. There are no roads or paths which lead to this location.
ballandsMuch further south at Penselwood, just west of Chiffchaffs (Wiltshire/Dorset/Somerset bordered) Ballands Castle a conquest motte and bailey is bordered by two others- Cockroad Wood and Castle Orchard. Ballands motte, no taller than an average cottage, sits along the north of the site with the inner and outer baileys to the south, with the motte surrounded by a ditch. The inner bailey measures 75 by 50 feet in size and the outer, separated from the inner by a ditch, is almost twice the size. These three were most likely built on a similar date and built as a system of fortifications to control the area. Traces of flint walling were discovered during one excavation in 1939 but this is not an indication that any of the three were ever rebuilt in stone. Many motte and baileys put up during the Norman conquest were not and eventually were simply abandoned.


You do not travel if you are afraid of the unknown,
you travel for the unknown,
that reveals you with yourself.
Ella Maillart


About Evelyn

The Castle Lady Official web site: other blogs:
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3 Responses to Somerset Strongholds

    • Evelyn says:

      Thanks for the comment. This one was a joy to write. Farleigh Hungerford and Nunney are even more impressive in person than even in the photos. I will be recommending hotel stays not too far down the road here to give a hand to those who like to linger and check out these sites extensively.
      More later… The Castle Lady ; )

      Liked by 1 person

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