Medieval stables at Dunster Castle
Dunster's stables are very grand, dating from the early 17th Century. They are one of the earliest surviving stable blocks owned by the National Trust.
Horses were valuable commodities in medieval society - essential for transport, communication and for use in battle. For a Lord to be considered powerful they would have needed war-horses and John de Mohun V certainly had one of the best, a white charger given to him personally by the Black Prince as reward for bravery after the Battle of Crecy in 1346. This horse was named Grisel Gris and gave rise to the Legend of Grisel Gris, now embedded in our stories.
Tests carried out in 2009 revealed that the massive oak beams in the stables at Dunster Castle are 17th century in origin. However if you look closely at the random rubble masonry and other areas of the stables, it’s clear the rubble is re-used stonework from an earlier medieval stable block arrangement.
Free standing stables began to be built from the 16th century, and historically were the second oldest type of castle building apart from the Keep. At Dunster Castle, as at other permanent strongholds, there were stables for cows and oxen, with a dairy and dovecote too, the pigsty would have been beyond the outer gate; at Dunster, the pig-sty was probably situated by the River Avill, close to the Mill buildings.
The horse was the most important animal of the great medieval household with the stables, or ‘marshalseas’, being separate from the dwelling spaces. Its head officer, the ‘Marshal’, would be one of the household’s senior officers, and would have pages and grooms serving under him to care for the horses, some of whom would live in the stables.
From the 20th century, the Stables only really came to life during polo matches, when all available space was needed to house the opposing team’s ponies. When the Maharaja came to visit each pony had its own Stable boy that slept with them in their stalls.