From Vallis I returned to Frome, and then, turning off to the right, made my way to the village of Nunney and the ruins of Nunney Castle. The walk is a most pleasant one, though not a little hilly; and one hill in particular, just outside Frome, is remarkably steep. After a while the round towers of the old place were visible among the trees which now fringe the still perfect moat, and a few minutes later I found myself in possession of the castle key and crossing the single plank, which, in lieu of the drawbridge of old, gives admission to this fortified manor house, usually designated a castle.
The first notice of Nunney is a grant of Henry III., dated October 23, 1259, giving Henry de Monteforti and his heirs the right to hold a Wednesday market at his manor of Nuny, and also an annual three days’ fair. Twenty years later Nicholas Braunche, lord of the hundred of Frome, endeavoured to stop this market, alleging that it injured the market at Frome. At this date it would seem that there was a Delamare at Nunney, and to the Delamares the fortification of the house is due, for the license to embattle and fortify a building (manse) at Nunney was granted to Sir John Delamare in 1373. From this it would appear that the Delamares were not then lords of the manor, for manse is not manor house. But four years later we find Sir John Delamare sheriff of the county, and holding his manor in capite from the king. Sir John died about 1389, and was succeeded by his son Philip, who in the next year founded a chantry. In two generations the male line failed, and the estate passed to Sir John Poulet, Kt, in right of his wife, Constantia Delamare. Constantia Poulet died in 1443, being already a widow. The Poulets retained Nunney till the death, in 1572, of William Poulet, Marquis of Winchester, who some twelve years before had obtained a grant of the Delamare chantry. In the nineteenth year of Elizabeth the manor of Nunney was sold to a certain Richard Prater, gentleman.
Nunney Castle is most remarkable in its plan, which takes the form of an oblong, flanked at each corner by circular projecting towers. In length the oblong is as nearly as possible double its width. The walls vary in thickness from seven to eight and a half feet, except where a stone staircase occurs in the wall near the entrance, and in another place where the large kitchen fireplace makes a weak spot. When perfect there were four stories to the castle, of which the floors were of wood, a fact proved by the absence of vaulting ; and the partitions must have been of a similar material, as there are no traces of party walls. I had heard that there were the remains of a chapel at Nunney, at the top of one of the towers, and after some little trouble managed to identify the place. As I make it, the window of the chapel is on the upper story of the south tower, and looking nearly towards the east. Beneath this window the altar slab can be discerned, and there is a piscina. I should much have liked to have obtained a sketch, but it was impossible ; still I think that my idea of the interior will sufficiently show the general condition of the place. A very curious little pen-and-ink drawing of Nunney, and a written description, preserved in the note-book of a Royalist, and now to be seen in the British Museum Library (Add. MSS., No. 17062), gives one or two more particulars which are worth attention. The towers, from the sketch, seem to have conical tops, and the general roof of the place to have been not flat, as one would have expected, but high-pitched. It has been needful to describe the castle at this period, because during the Great Rebellion the place was besieged, battered by cannon, and forced to surrender.
It appears that in 1642 Colonel Prater, the then owner, garrisoned it for the king. It, as a matter of fact, was more of a storehouse and rendezvous for Royalists than a fortress. Whether its position rendered it unimportant or not, for some cause Nunney was left unmolested for three years, till the successes of the “new model” army caused some apprehension, and the garrison was forthwith strengthened. On September 15, 1645, Fairfax and Cromwell, after success at Sherborne, marched through Castle Gary and Shepton Mallet. Three days later two regiments and three guns were detached to secure Nunney. Fairfax himself rode over on the morrow to inspect the place, but, leaving his troops to besiege the castle, returned to Shepton. On the following day the castle wall was breached, and after a parley Colonel Prater, the owner and governor, surrendered, but on condition that he, by changing his allegiance from King to Parliament, should be permitted still to hold his property and command. The castle was but poorly furnished with munitions of war, having only two barrels of powder. In number the garrison amounted to two barrels of powder. In number the garrison amounted to eighty, mostly Irish, who were commanded by Captain Turberville. From an account published at the time it would seem that certain “papists,” who were among the prisoners, fared very badly at the hands of the victors. The castle banner is quoted as ” red, and in the midst thereof a fair crucifix cross.” I have endeavoured to trace the design of this banner, but without success. That it was considered important seems to be shown from the fact that it was sent to London and exhibited to Parliament. Despite the terms of the surrender, immediately after the execution of Charles I. the Parliament sequestrated Nunney, and it was ordered to be sold. Colonel Prater, however, died before the sale took place, and his son George, who succeeded, petitioned to save his estate, but petitioned in vain. The sale took place in 1652, when the purchasers were Samuel Foxley and Robert Colby.
It is stated, I know not on what authority, that through a deserter the troops of Fairfax were informed of the weak spot in the castle wall, and that in consequence they directed their shot thither. Evidently the wall between the doorway and the western tower is the scene of the breach; but in this case the cannon must first have demolished a lofty wall, which is said to have surrounded the castle on all sides except the east. Another point which seems to involve difficulty is with regard to the top of the wall and towers. How were these defended ? The pen-and- ink sketch shows crenellations, but no machicolations. This is probably due to the omission of detail by the artist, and it is reasonable to suppose that the machicolations supported a crenellated parapet, which surrounded the entire building.
Nunney church contains some interesting tombs, mostly of dead and gone Delamares. The effigy belonging to the earliest of these is now on the sill of one of the windows. The figure is fully armed with the exception of the shield, and apparently bears the approximate date of the year 1300. Another tomb, with the effigies of a man and woman, dates about a century later, if the details of the costume are any guide. This is probably the monument of Philip Delamare, the founder of the chantry, and his wife. The costumes of both these effigies are worth the closest study. The arms of the Delamare family have the following blazon : Gules, two lions passant guardant in pale argent, collared azure. Besides these, there are the figures of two of the Praters, probably those of Richard Prater and his wife, for the costumes are certainly Elizabethan, and it is not easy to see to whom otherwise these effigies could belong. The arms of the Prater family were: Sable, three wolves’ heads erased argent, on a chief or, a lion passant of the first.
Of the other manor house of Nunney, which used to be called the Court House, and which stands near the castle, the remains which are left are of comparatively little interest. Formerly it was an important mansion, with a hall possessing a minstrels’ gallery, and I have heard that it contained a considerable amount of carving and painted heraldic glass. The hall, I understand, still exists, and a part of it is used as a shed; but I must confess that I did not, owing to the waning light, personally inspect the Court House. The village itself does not furnish much for the pencil, except the ruins of the castle. But I selected one subject for a sketch which shows the church tower behind the irregular and tumbledown cottages which fringe the muddy and shallow brook on which the village is built.
Somersetshire: Highways, Byways, and Waterways
Charles Raymond Booth Barrett
Published by Bliss, Sands, & Foster, 1894