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The tower of St James rises over the County Ground
Grid reference: ST228250
Location: 51°1’8"N, 3°6’0"W
Population: 61,400  (2001)
Post town: Taunton
Postcode: TA1, TA2, TA3, TA4
Dialling code: 01823
Local Government
Council: Somerset West
and Taunton
Taunton Deane

Taunton is the county town of Somerset. The town, including its suburbs, had an estimated population of 61,400 in 2001. The town has over 1,000 years of Christian and military history. It has various transport links which support its central role in economy and commerce.

Somerset is a county full of fine historic towns and charming natural wonders. Taunton though the county town is not well blessed in this respect as many of the county's other towns are, being more of a practical, business-like town. It does nevertheless have a good number of characterful mediaeval buildings and it houses Somerset County Cricket Club's County Ground. It is also home to 40 Commando, Royal Marines. The United Kingdom Hydrographic Office is located on Admiralty Way.[1]

Name of the town

The town's name is recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as Tantun and comes from name of the River Tone: "Tone Town".[2][3]


Taunton lies on the River Tone in the dip between the Quantock, Blackdown and Brendon hills, an area known as the Vale of Taunton. It is within the Taunton Deane Hundred.

Nature reserves

There are several Local Nature Reserves in and around Taunton.

South Taunton Streams is an urban wetland,[4] and in the northern suburbs is the Children's Wood riverside reserve which provides a movement corridor for various animals including otters along the banks of the River Tone. Birds occurring at the site include kingfishers, dippers, grey wagtails, mute swans, grey herons and reed warblers. it is also home to butterflies such as the small and large skipper, marbled white, small heath and small copper, and to dragonflies and damselflies.[5]


St Mary Magdalene
St John the Evangelist

The parish church of St. Mary Magdalene, built of sandstone more in the South Somerset style, preserves an attractive painted interior, but its most notable aspect is its 15th and 16th century tower (rebuilt in the mid-19th century), which is one of the best examples in the country and a landmark of the town towering 163 feet tall.[6][7] It was described by Simon Jenkins, an acknowledged authority on English churches, as "the finest in England. It makes its peace with the sky not just with a coronet but with the entire crown jewels cast in red-brown stone."[8] The tower itself has 12 bells and 3 bells "hung dead" for the clock mechanism.[9]

The parish church of St. James is also near the centre of her town, quite close to St Mary's. The oldest parts are early 14th century and there are fragments of 15th century glass in the West end. Like St Mary's it also has a sandstone tower but built to a much less impressive design. The tower was also like St. Mary's rebuilt in the 19th century – in this case thought to be due to building defects in the original tower.[10] The church backs onto the County Ground and forms a familiar backdrop to county cricket matches.

The church of St John the Evangelist was built in 1864 to designs by Sir George Gilbert Scott.[11]

The Mary Street Unitarian Chapel was built as a Baptist Chapel in 1721.[12] Samuel Taylor Coleridge, while living Nether Stowey, 16 miles away, came to the chapel to preach on several occasions. Dr Malachi Blake, who founded the Taunton and Somerset Hospital in East Reach, Taunton, was also a preacher at the Baptist chapel, attending in 1809 in celebration of the fiftieth year of George III's reign. The Chapel still has the original interior including Flemish oak pillars in the Corinthian style. The pews and pulpit are also in oak, and there is an early 18th century candelabra.

In the latter part of the 17th century, Taunton had two dissenting places of worship: "Paul's Meeting" and the Baptist Meeting.[13] Paul's Meeting was built at the top of Paul Street soon after 1672 on part of a bowling green behind the Three Cups Inn, now The County Hotel, and rapidly became one of the largest congregations in the county. After Mayor Timewell sacked both Paul's Meeting and the Baptist Meeting in 1683, the dissenters were driven to worship in private houses on the outskirts of Taunton, where their assemblies were regularly raided by the Justices. Paul's Meeting survived attempts to turn it into a workhouse and, with the coming of William and Mary, followed by the Toleration Act of 1689, was reopened. The Baptist Meeting became the Baptist New Meeting was registered in 1691 and rebuilt in 1721 as Mary Street Chapel.[14] It was bought by the Unitarians somewhat later.


The War Memorial and town centre

A Bronze Age and Iron Age village and Roman farm have been discovered at Cambria Farm outside the town.[15] There was a Romano-British village near the suburb of Holway.[16]

Anglo-Saxon period and Middle Ages

Taunton was a place of considerable importance in Anglo-Saxon times.[17] The Saxon town was a burh with its own mint.[3] King Ine of Wessex threw up an earthen castle here about 700, but it was destroyed by his queen Æthelburg in 722, to prevent its seizure by rebels.[3][18]

Taunton Cross, 1770

A monastery was founded before 904.[19] The Bishops of Winchester owned the manor, and obtained the first charter for their "men of Taunton" from King Edward in 904, freeing them from all royal and county tribute. At some time before the Domesday Survey, Taunton had become a borough with very considerable privileges, and a population of around 1,500[17] and 64 burgesses,[3] governed by a portreeve appointed by the bishops. Somerton took over from Ilchester as the county town in the late thirteenth century,[20] but it declined in importance and the status of county town transferred to Taunton about 1366.[21] Between 1209 and 1311 the manor of Taunton, which was owned by the Bishop of Winchester, increased two and a half times.[22]

In 1451 during the Wars of the Roses Taunton was the scene of a skirmish between Thomas de Courtenay, 13th Earl of Devon and Baron Bonville.[3] Queen Margaret and her troops passed through in 1471 to defeat at the Battle of Tewkesbury.[3]

Early Modern civil wars

In the Second Cornish Uprising of 1497 most of the Cornish gentry supported Perkin Warbeck's cause and on 17 September a Cornish army some 6,000-strong entered Exeter before advancing on Taunton.[3][23] Henry VII sent his chief general, Giles, Lord Daubeney to attack the Cornish and when Warbeck heard that the King's scouts were at Glastonbury he panicked and deserted his army. Henry VII reached Taunton on 4 October 1497 were he received the surrender of the remaining Cornish army. The ringleaders were executed and others fined a total of £13,000.[24] Taunton and its castle changed hands several times during the Civil War of 1642-45.[25] In 1642 the townsfolk sided with Parliament, but at the approroach of the Royalist army the town surrendered without a fight. The Parliamentariians seized Taunton the next year. In 1644 Taunton was the only Parliamentary stronghold in the West Country, under the command of Colonel Robert Blake, when it was besieged by Royalist forces under Lord Goring. Blake is famed for declaring that he had four pairs of boots and would eat three pairs before he would surrender. In 1645 the King’s men briefly took the town before being forced to retreat.

The Civil War destroyed many of the mediæval and Tudor buildings and in 1662 at the Restoration King Charles II had the castle keep was demolished, so that today only the base remains.[26]

On 20 June 1685 the Duke of Monmouth crowned himself King of England at Taunton during the Monmouth Rebellion and in the autumn of that year Judge Jeffreys was based in the town during the Bloody Assizes that followed the Battle of Sedgemoor, fought nearby at Westonzoyland.[27]

An old map showing the main roads and the river in the town.
A road map of Taunton from 1948

Later years

The town did not obtain a charter of incorporation until 1627,[17] which was revoked by Charles II but renewed by him in 1677. The charter lapsed in 1792 owing to vacancies for the members of the corporate body, and Taunton was not reincorporated until 1877. The mediæval fairs and markets of Taunton (it still holds a weekly market today), were celebrated for the sale of woollen cloth called "Tauntons" made in the town. On the decline of the west of England woollen industry, silk-weaving was introduced at the end of the 18th century.

In 1839 the Grand Western Canal reached Taunton aiding trade to the south,[28] which was further enhanced by the arrival of the railway in 1842.[3]

In Second World War the Bridgwater and Taunton Canal formed part of the Taunton Stop Line, designed to prevent the advance of a German invasion. Pillboxes can still be seen along its length.[29]


Taunton Deane had a low unemployment rate of 4.1% compared with the national average of 5.0% in 2005.[30]

Taunton is home to the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office, an organisation within the Ministry of Defence responsible for providing navigational and other hydrographic information for national, civil and defence requirements. The UKHO is located on Admiralty Way and has a workforce of approximately 850 staff. At the start of the Second World War chart printing moved to Taunton but the main office did not move until 1968.[31]

The Avimo company, which made precision instruments in Taunton, became part of Thales Optics in 2001, however their manufacturing is no longer in Taunton having been transferred along with a number of staff to Glasgow and Wells.[32][33] Taunton is also home to one of the head offices of Debenhams,[34] Western Provident Association, Viridor and CANDAC.

Moreover, the town is home to a DEFRA regional office at Quantock House on Paul St, the Charity Commission for England and Wales,[35] General Electric, Screwfix. Taunton is also famous for cider-making.[36]

Sights of the town

Red brick building.
Gray's Almshouses
Tudor Buildings, Fore Street
  • Gray's Almshouses on East Street were founded by Robert Gray in 1615 for poor single women.[37] The red brick buildings bear the arms of Robert Gray, dated 1635, and another arms of the Merchant Tailors. A small room is used as chapel and has original benches and a painted ceiling. (Grade I listed.)[38]
  • St Margaret's Almshouses were founded as a leper colony in the 12th century. Glastonbury Abbey acquired the patronage of the hospital in the late 13th century and rebuilt it as almshouses in the early 16th century. From 1612 to 1938 the building continued to be used as almshouses, cared for by a local parish. In the late 1930s it was converted into a hall of offices for the Rural Community Council and accommodation for the Somerset Guild of Craftsmen. It later fell into disrepair until the Somerset Buildings Preservation Trust with Falcon Rural Housing purchased and restored it for its earlier use, as social housing. (Grade II* listed.)[39]
  • Taunton Castle grounds[40] include the Somerset County Museum and The Castle Hotel, which incorporates the Castle Bow archway. Together with the municipal buildings they form a three-sided group of buildings just beyond the Castle Bow archway from Fore Street.
  • The Tudor Tavern in Fore Street dates from 1578.[41]

Public parks

There are a number of public parks around Taunton.

Vivary Park

Victoria memorial fountain in Vivary Park

Vivary Park near the middle of town is on land that was once a mediæval fish farm, or vivarium, for Taunton Priory and Taunton Castle.[42]

Fronted by a pair of cast iron gates made by the Saracen Foundry of Glasgow,[43] it contains the Sherford Stream, a tributary of the River Tone, which flows through the park. The park contains two main wide open spaces, as well as a war memorial dating from 1922, a miniature golf course, tennis courts, two children's playgrounds, a model railway track which was added in 1979, and an 18-hole, 4620-yards, par-63 golf course.

The park includes trees, rose beds and herbaceous borders, with around 56,000 spring and summer bedding plants being used each year. The rose garden includes the Royal National Rose Society Provincial Trial Ground.[42] Taunton Flower Show has been held annually in the park since the 19th century. It has been described as "The Chelsea of the West",[44] and attracts around 24,000 visitors over its two days.[45]


Goodlands Gardens is in the centre of the town, behind the Castle Hotel.


The Taunton Carnival

Central Taunton is part of the annual West Country Carnival circuit.

The Taunton flower show has been held each year in Vivary Park since 1866.

Outside links


  1. http://www.ukho.gov.uk/AboutUs/Pages/ContactUs.aspx
  2. Charnock, Richard Stephen (1859). Local Etymology: A Derivative Dictionary of Geographical Names. Houlston and Wright. pp. 266. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 Bush, Robin (1994). Somerset: The Complete Guide. Dovecote Press. pp. 202–206. ISBN 1874336261. 
  4. "South Taunton Streams". Local Nature Reserves. English Nature. http://www.lnr.naturalengland.org.uk/special/lnr/lnr_details.asp?themeid=1082977. Retrieved 25 February 2010. 
  5. "Children's Wood/Riverside". Local Nature Reserves. English Nature. http://www.lnr.naturalengland.org.uk/special/lnr/lnr_details.asp?themeid=1082967. Retrieved 25 February 2010. 
  6. Leete-Hodge, Lornie (1985). Curiosities of Somerset. Bodmin: Bossiney Books. pp. 70. ISBN 0906456983. 
  7. National Heritage List 1278073: Church of Mary Magdalene
  8. Jenkins, Simon: 'England's Thousand Best Churches' (Penguin Books, 2000) ISBN 0-14-029795-2
  9. "Taunton—S Mary Magd". Dove's Guide for Church Bell Ringers. Central Council for Church Bell Ringers. 30 September 2007. http://dove.cccbr.org.uk/detail.php?searchString=taunton&DoveID=TAUNTON+MM. Retrieved 15 April 2009. 
  10. St James Church History
  11. National Heritage List 1059951: Church of St John
  12. National Heritage List 1060009: Unitarian Chapel
  13. Bush, Robin, (1977). The Book of Taunton.
  14. National Heritage List 1060009: Unitarian Chapel
  15. "Excavation (2008-9), Cambria Farm, Taunton". Somerset Historic Environment Record. Somerset County Council. http://webapp1.somerset.gov.uk/her/details.asp?prn=28214. Retrieved 9 February 2011. 
  16. Toulmin, Joshua (1822). The History of Taunton, in the County of Somerset. J. Poole. pp. 558. 
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 "A brief history of Taunton". World History Encyclopedia. http://www.localhistories.org/taunton.html. Retrieved 19 January 2008. 
  18. Anglo-Saxon Chronicle  (722 Chronicle) (Laud)
  19. "History of Taunton Castle in Somerset By Charles Oman". Britannia castles. http://www.britannia.com/history/somerset/castles/tauntoncast.html. Retrieved 21 November 2007. 
  20. "Somerton by Miranda Richardson". Somerset Urban Archaeological Survey. http://www1.somerset.gov.uk/archives/hes/downloads/EUS_SomertonText.pdf. Retrieved 7 January 2008. 
  21. "A town plan for Somerton" (PDF). South Somerset Council. http://www1.somerset.gov.uk/archives/hes/downloads/EUS_SomertonText.pdf. Retrieved 7 January 2008. 
  22. Havinden, Michael (1981). The Somerset Landscape. The making of the English landscape. London: Hodder and Stoughton. pp. 97. ISBN 0340201169. 
  23. Philip Payton (1996) Cornwall, Fowey: Alexander Associates
  24. "Channel 4 - Perkin Warbeck". http://www.channel4.com/history/microsites/H/history/n-s/perkin.html. 
  25. "Taunton's History". Taunton Town Centre!. Archived from the original on 3 June 2007. http://web.archive.org/web/20070603195008/http://www.tauntontowncentre.co.uk/about_taunton_history.htm. Retrieved 21 November 2007. 
  26. "Taunton Castle". Castles and fortifications of England and Wales. http://www.ecastles.co.uk/taunton.html. Retrieved 21 November 2007. 
  27. "The battle of Sedgemoor". Britain Express. http://www.britainexpress.com/History/battles/sedgemoor.htm. Retrieved 21 November 2007. 
  28. Helen Harris (1996) The Grand Western Canal, Devon Books, ISBN 0-86114-901-7
  29. "Other Defences". Somerset Pillboxes. http://www.pillboxes-somerset.com/other_defences.htm. Retrieved 11 October 2008. 
  30. "Economic Characteristics". Submission Sustainability Appraisal for Taunton Town Centre Area Action Plan. Taunton Deane Borough Council. http://consultldf.tauntondeane.gov.uk/portal/spatialplanning/ttcaap/ttcaapsa?pointId=section_1102011612114. Retrieved 16 March 2009. 
  31. "Timeline of the UKHO" (PDF). www.ukho.gov.uk. UKHO. http://www.ukho.gov.uk/AboutUs/PublishingImages/timeline.pdf. Retrieved 25 November 2009. 
  32. "A Rich History in Optical Solutions". Qioptiq LINOS, Inc. http://www.qioptiqlinos.com/Company/History/. Retrieved 11 March 2010. 
  33. "Shock at factory closure news". This is the West Country. http://archive.thisisthewestcountry.co.uk/2006/11/9/70222.html. Retrieved 29 October 2007. 
  34. "FAQs". Careers at Debenhams. http://www.debenhams-jobs.com/deb_rec/faqs/. Retrieved 13 December 2009. 
  35. "Getting in touch". The Charity Commission. http://www.charity-commission.gov.uk/tcc/cctouch.asp. Retrieved 13 December 2009. 
  36. Taunton cider tour - Real Cider
  37. "Gray's Almshouses, East Street, Taunton". Somerset Historic Environment Record. Somerset County Council. http://webapp1.somerset.gov.uk/her/details.asp?prn=44386. Retrieved 1 May 2009. 
  38. National Heritage List 1232341: Gray's Almshouses
  39. National Heritage List 1232831: Margaret's Leper Hospital
  40. National Heritage List 1231384: Taunton Castle
  41. National Heritage List 1060025: Tudor Tavern
  42. 42.0 42.1 "Vivary Park". Taunton in Bloom. Taunton Town Centre Company Ltd & ADK Ltd. http://www.tauntoninbloom.co.uk/vivary_park.html. Retrieved 20 September 2010. 
  43. "News from November 2005". West Somerset Railway. November 2005. http://www.wsr.org.uk/newsnov2005.htm. Retrieved 26 August 2008. 
  44. "History". Taunton Flower Show. http://www.tauntonflowershow.co.uk/history_1.shtml. Retrieved 20 September 2010. 
  45. "Vivary Park". European Garden Heritage Network — EGHN. http://cmsen.eghn.org/vivary-garten.html. Retrieved 18 March 2009.