The Luttrell Collection

Dunster Castle, the 17th-century stables

The Luttrell Collection

The Norman baron William de Mohun was granted vast estates, 56 in Somerset, including Dunster where his castle became the administrative centre of a large lordship. For nearly 900 years the Mohuns and their successors the Luttrells managed their estates with the aid of stewards, reeves, clerks, bailiffs and land agents. The resulting accounts, court records, surveys, rentals, deeds, leases, ledgers, correspondence, diaries, maps, lists, notes, plans, drawings and vouchers were carefully kept in the muniment rooms at Dunster Castle until they were transferred to the Somerset Record Office where they fill some 300 boxes, excluding maps and other large items. Most material relates to the Somerset estates but there is a large amount of material for the Luttrell estates in neighbouring counties.

There is evidence of meticulous record keeping from the Middle Ages. Significant items might be marked with silk thread for future use and many documents bear later endorsements. Following the Civil War the Luttrell family returned to the Castle under a Parliamentary governor, Major Robinson. Parliament considered destroying the castle or at least slighting it but eventually used it as a prison. In 1649 William Prynne was imprisoned in Dunster Castle by Parliament for sedition and spent his time cataloguing the manuscripts. Prynne was a Somerset man who after an Oxford education trained as a lawyer and entered politics. His books and pamphlets made him unpopular not only with the government of Charles I but also with his fellow Parliamentarians. He was not a very attractive character, his diatribes against entertainment and dress are well known, but he was clearly an able scholar who had no difficulty reading and understanding medieval records. He was thought to have become too friendly with his gaoler, George Luttrell, and in 1651 was transferred to Pendennis Castle, Cornwall. His catalogue remained the standard list of the medieval documents until recently and the prefix P to document numbers indicates an item from the collection he listed although some items are substitutions and some of the manuscripts he recorded are missing. Prynne’s recording was eccentric as he was interested only in deeds and found rentals and accounts of little value. The early documents have now been properly listed for the second time with more detail. The catalogue can be searched in the Somerset Record Office and through their on-line catalogue:

The post medieval records filled two muniment rooms at the castle and shelf lists were made in the early 20th century. In addition large quantities of 19th and 20th-century estate records were carefully kept. The contents of the first muniment room are now being catalogued properly for the first time and the lists can be consulted in the Somerset Record Office. It is hoped that the rest of the collection will be listed in due course and then a catalogue to the whole collection will be available for the first time.

In addition to all the records relating to estate management from the Middle Ages to the 20th century the collection also reflects the many interests of the Luttrell family such as Parliament, the railways, the port of Minehead, the improvement of the castle including 18th and 19th-century drawings and plans, housekeeping and entertaining, the parish church, law and order, commercial ventures into pottery and brickmaking, and forestry.