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Taunton, Somerset

Historical Description

Taunton, a town and a municipal and parliamentary borough in Somerset. The town stands on the river Tone, with an important station on the G.W.R., 159 miles from London, and 44½ SW of Bristol. It is supposed, from the discovery of Roman urns and coins in its neighbourhood, to occupy the site of a Roman station; was known to the Saxons as Tantun and Thonetun; took that name from its situation on the Tone; acquired a royal castle, and was the place of a great council in the time of Ina, king of Wessex; was a mint town at the time of the Norman Conquest; suffered capture by Perkin Warbeck in the time of Henry VII.; was held by the Parliamentarians in 1642, by the Royalists in 1643, and by Blake in 1645; sustained a famous siege of some months, under Blake, till relieved by Fairfax; was punished at the Restoration by complete razure of walls which had surrounded it; and took a prominent part in the rebellion of the Duke of Monmonth, and proclaimed him king. Judge Jeffries held his " bloody assize " here after the suppression of the rebellion under the Duke of Monmouth. Its castle dated from 680; was taken by Eadricht, king of the South Saxons; was retaken and nearly all pulled down by Queen Ethelburga in 722; went with the manor to the Bishops of Winchester; was rebuilt by one bishop in the time of Henry I., repaired and extended by another in 1496, and fitted with a great hall by a third in 1577; had, as a constable, a relative of the poet Chaucer; suffered injuries in the Civil Wars of Charles L, and curtailments of moat and drawbridge in 1785; and is now represented chiefly by a round tower, an embattled gateway, and the great hall. The hall is a noble room 119 feet by 30, was thoroughly repaired about the end of the 18th century, and was used till 1858 as the assize hall. The castle is now the property of the County Archaeological Society, and has been fitted up as a museum. Taunton numbers among its natives the historian Daniel, who died in 1619; the theologian Grove, who died in 1736; the theologian Dr. Amory, who died in 1774; and the distinguished writer A. W. Kinglake.

A rising-ground, adjacent to the Tone, is a chief part of the town's site. A large and fertile vale called Taunton Dean, abounding with orchards and villages, extends to the E and the W, and is flanked on the N by the Quantock Hills, on the S by the Blackdown Hills. The town has spread in all directions beyond its old limits, and it now includes a portion called North Town, connected by a three-arched bridge with the main body. Three main streets, spacious and well built, meet in a central open triangular space called the Parade, and there are many smaller streets, lanes, and courts. The Town-hall was built in 1772, and includes a good assembly-room and the old market-house. The Literary Institution was built in 1823, is in the Ionic style, contains a rich museum, and includes the new market-house. The Shire-hall was built in 1855-58 at a cost of about £28,000, is in the Tudor style, and contains an entrance-hall, court-rooms, retiring-rooms, grand jury-room, and judges lodgings. Assembly-rooms, comprising one room 90 feet by 40, and another 60 feet by 30, are at one of the hotels. St James' Church was the church of an Augustinian priory founded in 1127, is of Later English date, and has a very fine tower which was rebuilt in 1870; the whole building was well restored in 1884. The living is a vicarage in the diocese of Bath and Wells; gross value, £310 with residence. A chapel belonging to the same priory, and of Early Decorated date, stands on Priory Farm, and is now used as a barn and stables. St Mary's Church was originally also a chapel of the priory, became parochial in 1308, is a splendid structure in Later English architecture, has been thoroughly restored, and has a noble pinnacled tower, rebuilt in 1861. The living is a vicarage; net value, £190 with residence. Trinity Church was built in 1842 at a cost of about £7000. The living is a vicarage; net value, £200 with residence. St John's Church was built in 1863 at a cost of about £10,000, and is in the Decorated English style, with tower and spire. The living is a vicarage; gross value, £60 with residence. St Andrew's Church is a building of stone in the Decorated style, and was erected in 1880. The living is a vicarage; gross value, £150. The church of St George, Wilton, is a building of stone in the Perpendicular style, and was rebuilt in 1854. The living is a vicarage; gross value, £70 with residence. Population of St James, 5909; of St Mary Magdalen, 4913; of Holy Trinity, 3533; and of St John the Evangelist, 680. There are Congregational, Baptist, Wesleyan, Bible Christian, and Unitarian chapels. The Roman Catholic chapel was built in 1861, and has a tower and spire 210 feet high. A nunnery was built in 1868. There were anciently a Carmelite friary and a lepers' hospital. The Convent of Perpetual Adoration is situated in this parish, and was established in 1867. The sanctuary is beautifully decorated, and the altar exceedingly rich in alabaster and paintings. The Dissenters' College, in the Collegiate style, with dormitories for 150 boys, was built in 1867-70 at a cost of about £20,000. A Wesleyan college, in the Tudor style, was built in 1847. King's College, a church institution, was built in 1870. The grammar school was founded in 1522, and is endowed. The infirmary was built in 1812, the lunatic asylum in 1820, the eye infirmary in 1816, the workhouse in 1837. Huish's Almshouses and Gray's Almshouses are both well endowed.

The town has a head post office, four banks, is a seat of assizes, quarter sessions, petty sessions, and county courts, and publishes four weekly newspapers. Markets are held on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and stock fairs on 17 June and 7 July. Woollen manufacture was once extensive, but is now extinct; the silk trade followed, but has very greatly declined; and glove-making, coach-making, malting, brewing, and brass and iron founding are now carried on. The disposal of the sewage by precipitation is considered to be one of the best systems in the kingdom. There are two recreation grounds, and a public park has been provided at a cost of about £12,000. The corporation has introduced electric lighting. The town is a borough by prescription, and sent two members to Parliament from the time of Edward I. till 1885, when the number was reduced to one. A charter of incorporation was granted to the town in 1877, and the corporation consists of a mayor, 6 aldermen, and 18 councillors. The Somerset County Cricket Ground is in this parish. The principal residences are Pyrland Hall, Flook House, Lyngford, and Belmont. The area of the municipal borough in 1891 was 1203 acres, and the population 18,026. Its limits were extended in 1895. The parliamentary borough is co-extensive with the municipal borough.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England & Wales, 1894-5

Administration

The following is a list of the administrative units in which this place was either wholly or partly included.

Ancient CountySomersetshire 
HundredTaunton and Taunton-Dean 
Poor Law unionTaunton 

Any dates in this table should be used as a guide only.


Church Records

Ancestry.co.uk, in association with Somerset Archives & Local Studies, have images of the Parish Registers for Somerset online.


Directories & Gazetteers

We have transcribed the entry for Taunton from the following:


Maps

Online maps of Taunton are available from a number of sites:


Newspapers and Periodicals

The British Newspaper Archive have fully searchable digitised copies of the following Somerset papers online:


Visitations Heraldic

The Visitation of Somersetshire, 1623 is available on the Heraldry page.