Nunney Castle, Somerset


★★

South side of the castle
Bridge across the moat

Small but well-built and picturesque 14th century castle, surrounded by a moat and overlooking a stream, in the centre of a quiet country village
Management
Entry
Free
Location
In the centre of Nunney, Somerset, 4 miles southwest of Frome
Photo Tour (19 images)
The relatively small size and not particularly strategic location of Nunney Castle reflect the fact that this was built primarily for residential use rather than defence. The castle overlooks a stream in the small Somerset village of Nunney, and it has a pleasingly symmetric and stylish, French-influenced design, rectangular in outline with four circular towers at each corner, lined by a fortified, grassy bank (revetment) and enclosed by a water-filled, ten foot-deep moat. Three of the walls are complete, but the fourth is largely missing, partly due to damage sustained during the English Civil War. All the interior structures are also absent, and the towers are missing their original conical roofs and the battlements, yet the castle is still visually very impressive.

The site is free to enter, and open all day. Nunney lies just off the A361 between Frome and Shepton Mallet, in the shallow valley of Nunney Brook, a tributary of the River Frome. The suggested parking place is in a dedicated area along Castle Street on the west edge of town, from where the castle is 600 feet away.



The Castle


The first view is of the moat and the rear of the castle, centred on the full height southeast-facing wall which, like the four towers, is adorned near the top by a neat row of machicolation holes between projecting wall supports (corbels) through which defenders could engage potential attackers, though these upper walls (battlements) are all missing, leaving just the projections. The moat creates a fine reflection of the castle in its tranquil, greenish waters. Nunney Brook flows right past to the south, while the other three sides of the site border private residences. A path circles the outer banks of the moat and links with a bridge on the north side, at the site of the original drawbridge entrance; from here visitors proceed through a doorway and porch set in a small, surviving section of the north wall, and on to the interior. Ahead is an array of windows and fireplaces in the south wall, clearly indicating that the castle once had three upper floors. Some of the upper windows retain their original tracery but most are just empty openings. Each of the four towers can be entered at the base, and they also have windows, though only on the upper two levels, hence are rather dark. The interior of the castle is generally rather gloomy since some of the masonry is covered by black staining, and the alignment of the building means that the place is rarely illuminated by the sun. All the site can be seen in just half an hour or so.

History


Nunney Castle was built by Sir John de la Mer, or Delamere, a soldier who had found favour with the King (Edward III) during the Hundred Years War, and was in 1373 granted permission to replace his existing residence in Nunney a basic manor with a fortified building. When complete, the castle site was surrounded by an outer court, walled on three sites and bordered by Nunney Brook to the southeast, and which presumably contained several outbuildings. The castle had a ground floor, site of the kitchen and servants' quarters, and three upper floors; the first was probably for general living purposes, the second contained the great hall, while the third held bedrooms and apartments, one of which was linked to a small chapel in the southwest tower. Nunney Castle remained with the Delameres until transferred by marriage to the Paulet family in 1415, and later (1578) to the Prater family, who carried out various alterations including enlarging the windows, and adding the revetment, with a consequent reduction in the width of the moat. The Praters were loyalists, and as a result the castle was besieged during the Civil War, surrendering after sustaining damage to the north wall as a result of cannon fire. The site was however still habitable, yet gradually became disused over the next hundred years, though not until 1910 did the north wall finally collapse, following a period of heavy rain. The castle was acquired by the government in 1926, and subject to a ten year programme of stabilisation and improvements, including repairing the brickwork, draining the moat, and removing a thick covering of ivy and other plants.