Visitors to the medieval village of Dunster might well be wondering what on earth is going on in the garden at The Luttrell Arms Hotel?  For, whilst the award winning hotel carries on its daily business, a fascinating set of mid-eighteenth-century buildings has been uncovered below a section of their back lawn.

South West Archaeology Ltd, specialists in recording sites of historic interest, are working with the Luttrell’s owners Nigel and Anne Way, ahead of a £2million investment in the hotel. The significance of the finds beneath the aptly-named ‘Secret Garden’ is such that essential development work for a new service tunnel, laundry and conversion to the existing buildings, set to go ahead in the spring, has been halted whilst a full archaeological survey is carried out some 15 feet beneath the garden.

This has presented a rare opportunity for archaeologists to see what is underneath some of the ancient buildings of the village. So far the remains of an eighteenth-century pottery cottage, a kitchen with an oven, stables and cobbled paths have been uncovered behind the hotel on the High Street, and the project is getting more interesting by the day.

Colin Humphreys, Director of South West Archaeology, says: ‘The owners have been generous in enabling us to carry out the work even though they need to get on with the building project.” Items of interest unearthed by the site of the cottage beneath the Pottery Kiln built by Henry Fownes Luttrell as part of his plan to improve the landscape around Dunster Castle are among finds being examined and recorded. The new buildings to improve facilities at the hotel are expected to take three years and are probably the largest construction along the ancient street in recent times.

The Pottery Kiln, commissioned by Henry Fownes Luttrell of Dunster Castle in the mid-eighteen century to landscape the valley of Avill, still survives and is a rare example of a domestic pottery kiln, which is visible from the hotel’s garden.  The occupants of the Pottery Cottage were John and Ruth Mogg of Bristol. After John’s death in 1760 Ruth advertised the pottery but there were no takers so it was subsequently closed down.

The ‘house’ that is now the Luttrell Arms Hotel once had stabling for 30 horses and was thought to be a base for the visiting Abbot of nearby Cleeve Abbey.

Today the 28-bedroom hotel is a thriving business in the village of Dunster, employing 40 full- and part-time staff. Nigel and Anne Way are South West hoteliers and own The Luttrell Arms Hotel, Dunster, The Royal Seven Stars, Totnes and The Royal Castle Hotel, Dartmouth.

PHOTO Part of the kitchen, courtesy of South West Archaeology.