Britannia Castles: Nunney Castle, Somerset

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History of Nunney Castle in Somerset
By Charles Oman


A Chateau in Somerset

This small little-visited castle lies in a well-watered valley, five or six miles to the west of Frome. It is quite late - going back only to the reign of King Edward III. The founder, Sir John Delamere, is said to have built it with ransom-money obtained in the great Wars with France. It is quite small and consists only of one ward surrounded by a good moat formed by a running stream. Its plan is curious. It is formed by four large drum-towers, of which the southern and northern pairs are close together with no space between them; but the east and west fronts, between the two pairs of towers, have long stretches of curtain. It was built of beautiful ashlar masonry and shows surviving windows with cusped tops and mullions of early Perpendicular style. It had no outer buildings whatever, the water of the moat coming up to the foot of the enceinte all round, as at Shirburn (Oxon) or Bodiam (Sussex).

Its interior arrangements consisted of three storeys and a basement. Access to all being by a large newel stair in the north-western tower. There are visible a hall with a large fireplace on the first storey and an oratory or small chapel, indicated by a large mullioned window on the top storey. The whole interior was, for many years, blocked with fallen masonry, a great section of the west curtain having fallen inwards through mere decay in 1910. This was the side on which the gate lay.

Seventeenth century drawings, which chance to have survived, show that the four corner towers were once surmounted with high conical roofs and that there was a rampart walk below them, going round the whole top storey of the castle. The projecting corbels on which it rested are still very visible and seem to hint that the walkway was partly or wholly of timber, standing out from the face of the castle.

The site is very low and, despite the watery defence of the narrow moat, seems a weak one for a castle of the later fourteenth century, when cannon was coming in. For there is rising ground quite comparatively close, from which even Edwardian siege guns could have made havoc with the walls. Moreover, the houses of the village are only a stone's throw from the moat - the castle was actually in the middle of it. On the rising ground, on the other side of the street, is the church containing the monument of the founder, Delamere, and others of the families of Paulet and Prater, who succeeded, the Delameres. A Prater held his own house against Fairfax, in the great Civil War, and saw it breached by the guns of the "New Model Army". A traitor is said to have warned the besiegers that the west curtain was the weakest section of the walls and so it proved to be. It was probably ineffective repairs after 1660 which later caused this same front to fall down.

Edited from Charles Oman's "Castles" (1926).  (T) 302.234.8904    (F) 302.234.9154    Copyright ©2000, LLC