Visitors to the medieval village of Dunster might well be wondering what on earth is going on in the garden at The Luttrell Arms Hotel. For whilst the award winning hotel carries on its daily business, hundreds of years of history are being uncovered on their back lawn. And if you are quick you might be able to see it!
South West Archaeology Ltd, specialists in recording sites of historic interest are working with the Luttrell’s owners Nigel and Anne Way, ahead of a £2million investment in the hotel. The significance of the finds beneath the aptly named ‘Secret Garden’ is such that essential development work for a new service tunnel, laundry and conversion to the existing buildings set to go ahead in the spring have been halted whilst a full archaeological survey is carried out some 15 feet beneath the garden.
This has presented a rare opportunity for archaeologists to see what is underneath one of the ancient buildings in the village. And they have not been disappointed. Bryn Morris, Project Manager for South West Archaeology said: “This is indeed a surprise, the remains are pretty impressive. The owners have been generous in enabling us to carry out the work even though they need to get on with the building project.” So far the remains of an 18th century pottery cottage, medieval plots, a kitchen, 16th or 17th century malting kiln, stables and a cobbled track connecting the High Street to the parkland at Dunster Castle, have been uncovered behind the hotel on the High Street and its getting more exciting by the day. For a short time at least we are able to see the archaeology work from the Secret Garden but it is set to finish soon so check with the hotel if you would like to see it.
Items of interest derived from the site of the cottage leading to the Pottery Kiln, built by Henry Fownes Luttrell in the 18th century to improve the landscape around Dunster Castle, are among finds being examined and recorded. The new buildings to improve facilities at the hotel are probably the largest construction project along the ancient street of Dunster for hundreds of years.
The village on Exmoor National Park is one of the best preserved medieval villages in England and throughout its history of poverty and prosperity from the dark ages to the 21st century, some buildings inevitably became derelict, plots were infilled and buildings reshaped as land owners adapted with the times. It is perhaps fascinating that Nigel and Anne Way, who have been restoring the 28 bedroom Luttrell Arms Hotel since rescuing it from administration in 2013, are doing the same.
The ‘house’ that is now the Luttrell Arms Hotel once had stabling for 30 horses and was thought to be a base for the visiting Abbot of nearby Cleeve Abbey. Today the 28 bedroom hotel is an award winning business in the village of Dunster, employing 40 full and part time staff. Nigel and Anne Way are south west hoteliers and own The Luttrell Arms Hotel, Dunster, The Royal Seven Stars, Totnes and The Royal Castle Hotel, Dartmouth.
The Pottery Kiln commissioned by Henry Fownes Luttrell of Dunster Castle in the mid eighteen century to landscape the valley of Avill, still survives and is a rare example of a domestic pottery kiln, which is visible from the hotel’s garden. The occupants of the Pottery Cottage were John and Ruth Mogg of Bristol. After John’s death in 1760 Ruth advertised the pottery but there were no takers so it was subsequently closed down.
Dig Photos: courtesy of South West Archaeology