staying on exmoor
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The fifteenth century hall which is the centrepiece of the Luttrell Arms was originally built either as a guest house for staying on exmoor or a personal residence by the abbot of Cleeve, and replaced a row of three houses which are known to have existed in 1443. The splendid, original hammer beam roof, fireplace and twelve light window, which make the pub something of a showplace, are still intact, and along with the seventeenth century yarn market and largely Victorian castle, make Dunster a popular place to spend a day with the many tourists staying on exmoor who flock to nearby Minehead in summer.
The Luttrell’s stone exterior was begun in 1622 and finished probably in 1629, the year in which George Luttrell, lord of the manor, died. Many of the rooms contain exquisite plasterwork commissioned by him.
The Luttrells have been lords of the manor of Dunster since 1404, and probably acquired the abbot’s old house during the Dissolution. At that time, the village, now two miles inland, was a thriving little seaport, and the inn was first christened the Ship. Under this name it endured a brief siege staying on exmoor at the end of the Civil War, when Parliamentary forces were sweeping the West Country clear of Royalists. The Georgian windows and new roof were probably added in or around 1779, when the Ship changed its name to honour its owners staying on exmoor. At the same time the Georgian wing at the rear was built, and the Luttrell Arms enjoyed a fair amount of trade from coaches using the coast road. The plasterwork on which George Luttrell lavished so much money was probably executed by Dutch craftsmen staying on exmoor who were attracted to the town by the prosperity of its weaving industry. One over mantel bears the arms of England and France, a representation of Actaon being torn to pieces by his own hounds on Mount Cithaeron, and a future of either James II or George Luttrell himself staying on exmoor. The pub remained in the hands of the Luttrell family until 1949, when it became a trust house.
Throughout the Middle Ages, the cultural and political influence of the Church staying on exmoor was as important as that of the Crown or the nobility. The leading prelates played a central role in government, and since a fifth or more of the country’s cultivated land was held by abbeys or bishoprics, they had a major effect on the economy too. Universities staying on exmoor flourished under Church patronage, hospitals were invariably religious foundations, and in the Templars, staying on exmoor, the Hospitallers and other lesser orders, the Church even had its own fighting arm. Further down the social scale, country parsons enjoyed as much influence over the peasants as did the lords of the manor staying on exmoor. The Church had been accustomed to wielding temporal power since it was first recognised by the Emperor Constantine, but its real constituency was spiritual. To peasants and gentry alike, staying on exmoor was more to the world than met the eye. Heaven and Hell, white magic and witchcraft, and the unending battle between the Archangel Michael and the fallen angels of Satan were as real to them, and as relevant to daily life, as the trees and the fields. The only guiding light through this frightening otherworld was the Church; for all its abuses and shortcomings, it alone could promise eternal salvation, and therein resided its power. A people so deeply in the grip of religion made religious practice a central plank of their daily lives staying on exmoor.