1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Dunster

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DUNSTER, a market town in the Western parliamentary division of Somersetshire, England, 11/2 m. from the shore of the Bristol Channel, on the Minehead branch of the Great Western railway. Pop. (1901) 1182. Its streets, sloping sharply, contain many old houses. On an eminence stands the ancient castle, entered by a gateway of the 13th century. There are portions of later date, but still ancient, in the main building, but it has been considerably modernized as a residence. The church of St George has Norman portions, but the building is in the main Perpendicular. The fine tower in this style is characteristic of this part of England. There are traces of monastic buildings near the church, for it belonged to a Benedictine house of early Norman foundation. The church is cruciform and the altar stands beneath the eastern lantern arch, a fine rood screen separating off the choir, which was devoted to monastic use, while the nave was kept for the parishioners, in consequence of a dispute between the vicar and the monastery in 1499. The Yarn Market, a picturesque octagonal building with deep sloping roof, in the main street, dates from c. 1600, and is a memorial of Dunster’s former important manufacture of cloth.

There were British, Roman and Saxon settlements at Dunster (Torre Dunestorre, Dunester), fortified against the piracies of the Irish Northmen. The Saxon fort of Alaric was replaced by a Norman castle built by William de Mohun, first lord of Dunster, who founded the priory of St George. Before 1183, Dunster had become a mesne borough, owned by the de Mohuns until the 14th century when it passed to the Luttrells, the present owners. Reginald de Mohun granted the first charter between 1245 and 1247, which diminished fines and tolls, limited the lord’s “mercy,” and provided that the burgesses should not against their will be made bailiffs or farmers of the seaport. John de Mohun granted other charters in 1301 and 1307. Dunster was only represented in parliament in conjunction with Minehead, one of its tithings being part of that borough. Representation began in 1562, and was lost in 1832. Feudal in origin, Dunster’s later importance was commercial, and the port had a considerable wool, corn and cattle trade with Ireland. During the middle ages the Friday market and fair in Whit week, granted by the first charter, were centres for the sale of yarn and cloth called “Dunsters,” made in the town. The market day is still Friday. The manufacture of cloth had disappeared, the harbour is silted up, and there is no special local industry.

See Sir H. C. Maxwell Lyte, Dunster and its Lords (1882); Victoria County History, Somerset, vol. ii.