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Taunton's History

Taunton's History
Taunton's Statistics
Taunton's Vision
Municipal History

 

A brief history of Taunton !

THE BEGINNING

Taunton began as a Saxon village and was called Tone Tun. The Saxon word tun means farm or estate. The word Tone is Celtic and may mean roaring river. By the 10th century Taunton had grown from a village into a small town (although it would seem very small to us with a population of only a few hundred). In AD 904 a charter (a document granting the townspeople certain rights) was given to Taunton by King Edward the Elder (celebrated in 2004-click here to read more). Taunton was also a fortified settlement called a burh. In the late 9th century Alfred the Great created a network of fortified towns across his kingdom. These were called burhs (from which our word borough is derived). The burh of Taunton would have been surrounded by a ditch and rampart with a wooden palisade on top. By the 10th century Taunton had a mint and a market, which was held on The Parade.

THE MIDDLE AGES

By the time of the Domesday Book (1086) the population of Taunton was about 1,500. That might seem very small to us but settlements were tiny in those days, a typical village had only 100 or 150 inhabitants. There were 3 watermills in Taunton. One of these was the town mill, which stood on the site of Goodland Gardens. By the early 13th century there was a fulling mill where wool was woven and fulled. This means the wool was pounded by wooden hammers in water to thicken it, worked by a watermill . From the 13th century Taunton was famous for its wool industry and by the 15th century wool from the town was being exported to France through Lyme Regis. By the late 16th century it was being exported as far away as Africa.

In 1111 Taunton suffered from a severe fire but soon recovered. (In those days most buildings were of wood with thatched roofs so fire was constant hazard. On the other hand if buildings did burn they could be easily replaced). About 1125 a priory or small monastery was built. The bishop of Winchester was lord of the manor of Taunton and in 1138 he began building a castle next to the priory. In 1158 the priory moved to a new site, east of the town, outside its defences. The priory is long gone but it lives on in the street names Priory Avenue and Priory Bridge. The monks of the priory are believed to have built some new streets. It is thought they laid out Canon Street, Middle Street and St James Street.

By the mid-13th century Taunton had two fairs. These Middle Age fairs were like markets but were held only once a year for a period of several day and Taunton fairs would attract buyers and sellers from all over Southwest England. As well as the priory there was a leper hospital at Taunton where Hamilton Road stands today. Southwest of the town were the vivaria or fish ponds belonging to the lord of the manor, the Bishop. The vivaria were on the site of Vivary Park. In those days Taunton was a prosperous wool town and from the end of the 13th century it sent 2 MPs to Parliament. The tower of the church of St Mary Magdalene was built in the years 1488-1514. In 1451 during the civil wars known as the wars of the roses a battle was fought at Taunton. In 1497 a man named Perkin Warbeck attempted to overthrow Henry VII and make himself king. His men occupied Taunton castle but they fled when a royal army approached.

THE 16th AND 17th CENTURIES

In the 16th and 17th centuries Taunton still relied on the wool industry which continued to flourish. In 1522 a grammar school was founded in Taunton (Click here to read more). Then in 1539 Henry VIII closed the priory. The power of the Lord of the manor, the bishop of Winchester gradually declined then in 1627 Taunton was given a new charter. For the first time it was given a corporation and a mayor and it was made independent of the bishop. Grays almshouses were built in 1635. Then in 1642 came civil war between king and parliament. The town sided with parliament but in June 1643 a royalist army approached Taunton and the town surrendered without a fight. It remained in royalist hands for a year. Then in July 1644 Taunton was captured by parliamentary troops. However, the royalists had not given up. In October 1644 they returned. They entered the town and the parliamentary soldiers retreated into the castle. The royalists laid siege to the castle but they were unable to take it. They let when they heard a parliamentary army was coming. The royalists returned in April 1645. Again they captured most of the town but were unable to take the castle. This time much of the town was burned in the fighting. Once again in May 1645 parliament sent troops to Taunton. Once again the royalists fled when they heard the parliamentarians were coming. This time they did not return and soon after the king was losing the war and it ended in 1646. Taunton had been severely damaged by the sieges but the town soon recovered.

In 1660, when Charles II became king he took away the towns charter (no doubt remembering how Taunton had supported parliament against his father). However it was restored in 1677. Charles II also ordered the destruction of Taunton castle to prevent it being used as a rebel base in the future. Then in 1685 the Duke of Monmouth led a rebellion against King James II. The people of Taunton welcomed the Duke and young women presented him with banners. He was also declared king on The Parade and about 400 men from the town joined his cause. However, the Duke was defeated at the battle of Sedgemoor. Afterwards George �hanging judge� Jeffreys held a court in Taunton Castle called the Bloody Assizes. He tried 514 people. Of them 144 were sentenced to death (although not all were actually executed). Another 284 people were transported to the West Indies. On a lighter note a new market house was built in 1682 with assembly rooms over it. The assembly rooms were used for events like balls and card games.

THE 18th CENTURY

In 1711 a cannonade of bells was added to the tower of St Mary Magdalene to chime on each hour. At the start of the 18th century there were 3 market crosses in Taunton, Chuse Cross, Ruish Cross and High Cross. These were removed because they impeded traffic. The last one, High Cross, was removed in 1770. A new market house was built in 1772. In 1788 Sir Benjamin Hammet built Hammet Street. He also restored the castle. A museum opened in the castle in 1778 and in the late 18th century the wool manufacture in Taunton declined but silk making was introduced into the town in 1778. Taunton remained an important market town.

THE 19th CENTURY

In 1801 Taunton had a population of 5,794. By the standards of the time it was a fair sized town. A hospital was built in Taunton in 1812. Yet another new market house was built in 1822. After 1821 Taunton had gas street lighting. After 1858 it had piped water and in the 1870s sewers were built. In the late 19th century public parks were laid out.  and the town expanded rapidly. In the 1830s and 1840s the Trinity area was built up. Trinity church being one of these which was built in 1842. St John the evangelist was built in 1863. St Andrews was built in 1881. The railway reached Taunton in 1842. Queens College was built in 1843, named after Queen Victoria. Taunton school opened in 1847 and Kings College opened in 1880. Jellalabad barracks were built in 1881 as a base for the Somerset Light Infantry. (It was named after a place in Afghanistan where the soldiers had campaigned). Corporation Street was laid out in 1894 and Somerset County Cricket Club was founded in 1875. In the later 19th century a new industry, making shirt collars flourished. Other industries included brewing and iron founding. In 1843 the county court was moved from Ilchester to Taunton as the town grew more important but even though since the Middle Ages Taunton had sent 2 MPs to parliament, in 1884 the number was reduced to one.

THE 20th CENTURY

By 1901 the population of Taunton was over 19,000. Between 1901 and 1921 electric trams ran in the town. The first public library in Taunton opened in 1905 with the first cinema in 1910 and the Priory Bridge in 1922.

The market had been held for centuries on The Parade. In 1929 it was moved to Priory Bridge Road. In 1935 Taunton was made the county town instead of Weston Super Mare, an indication that Taunton was growing in size and importance. From the late 1930s there was an industry making optical equipment in Taunton. In 1939 about 4,000 schoolchildren were evacuated to Taunton from nearby cities as it was believed the town would be safe from German bombing. Happily most of them soon returned home. In 1958 the museum became the Somerset County Museum and  in 1974-75 the M5 motorway was built past Taunton (Junction 25). Better communications and transport routes meant the town grew more rapidly and in the late 20th century industries in Taunton included clothing, textiles and cider making. Today tourism is a major industry in the town. Taunton is also an important regional shopping centre. The Old Market shopping centre opened in 1982. County Walk Centre opened in 1985 and today the population of Taunton is 102,000.

Getting Started  !
Whether you are a resident, visitor, business or just passing through, our website is designed for everyone. You can visit the Site Map to see what pages are included in this web site or browse around using the multitude of links throughout or by using the white main menu buttons. Whatever your interest we welcome you to our website and town a great place to shop, relax and stay.
 
 
The History of the Municipal Hall

Situated in the centre of Taunton Town is the Municipal Buildings, where the Taunton Town Centre Management offices are based. The history of this prominent and most memorable building in Taunton holds a bank of importance to Taunton and those that played a large role in Taunton's growth.

Why not take a look at the Municipal Buildings History by clicking here

:: Taunton Highlights

Thinking of Going Out Tonight?
Taunton's night life also utilizes the natural streetscape and provides a pub and club circuit that ensures that you'll always be seen at the right place at the right time. Check out our Entertainment section for more information.
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Thinking of the Children
Take a brief look at what is on offer for children. From fun houses to interesting places to visit, sport venue's and even events on offer throughout the school holidays. Whatever their age, you can make it a day out that all family members can enjoy.
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Family Days Out
Whether resident or visitor why not take advantage of activities and events that Taunton Town Centre has to offer. Indoor and outdoor, the choice is yours and don't forget that some are even FREE. Go on...we know you'll be glad you came!
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Find a Car Park Location
To find any of the car parks listed on our website why not use this map. This map is provided by Taunton Deane Borough Council and it will link you to their website.
 

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