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Bradshaw’s Guide

Taunton

The castle, Taunton, England. Taken between ca. 1890 and ca. 1900. Original: Library of Congress

The town, as seen from the station, has a most pleasing appearance. It is situated in the central part of the luxuriant and beautiful vale of Taunton Dean.

Taunton is an ancient borough town, population 14,667 (two members), in a rich and beautiful part of Somersetshire, on the Bristol and Exeter railway, 163 miles from London. The wide and cultivated dean, or shallow strath, in which it stands is watered by the Tone (wherefore the Saxons called it Tantun), and overlooked by the tower of its Gothic church, which is of Henry Seventh’s age. The tower is 153 feet high, of light and elegant proportions, covered over with heads of lions, &c., and set off with pinnacles, battlements and niches, in the elaborate style of that day, of which, indeed, Somersetshire furnishes many excellent specimens. There is some good carved work inside, about the pulpit and niches, and a fine organ. Quaint epitaph to Sheriff Grey, founder of a hospital, who left this place a poor boy:—

Taunton bore him – London bred him,
Piety trained him, virtue led him;
Earth enriched him, heaven caressed him,
Taunton blest him, London blest him;
This thankful town, that mindful city.
Share his piety and his pity;
What he gave, and how he gave it,
Ask the poor, and you shall have it.
Gentle reader, Heaven may strike
Thy tender heart to do the like;
And now thy eyes have read this story,
Give him the praise and Heaven the glory.‎

And another on a tailor, who invented ruffs. The Assize Court is an ancient building, 120 feet long, erected in 1577, close to the gate of the Castle, which was founded here by Ina, King of Wessex, and rebuilt after the Conquest by the Bishops of Winchester. It was successfully defended by Blake against the Royalists in the civil war, but dismantled by Charles II. Here the ill-fated Monmouth proclaimed himself king in 1685. Forty young ladies presented him with a banner, worked at the cost of the town, for which they were specially excepted in King James’ proclamation of amnesty, issued some months afterwards. After his defeat at Sedgemoor, near Bridgewater, King James’s Chief Justice, Jefferies, the worthy tool of such a monster, held his bloody assize at Taunton, when hundreds of poor wretches were condemned to death, after being persuaded to throw themselves on the king’s mercy. His executioner, Kirke, hanged one man three times on the White Hart sign post, and cried out he would do it again if he could. The joy of the town therefore, when the Prince of Orange appeared, was proportionately great. The Town Hall and Assembly Room, built in 1723, are over the marketplace, which stands in an open spot at the junction of the principal streets, called the Parade. A new room at the Taunton Institution was established in 1823. There is now being built a new Shire Hall, to be used instead of the old assize courts. The streets are in general airy and well built, which adds considerably to the pleasant aspect of the town. The outskirts are furnished with large spreading gardens and orchards. One of the best and most conspicuous buildings is the Wesleyan Collegiate Institution, a Tudor range, 250 feet long (built 1847); it contains room for 100 students. This, among others, was the result of the centenary celebration.

A little outside Taunton, across the Tone, is Price’s Farm, the site of a friary; and in this direction you come on a very ancient bridge, of one arch, called Ram’s Horn, and which is said to be a Roman structure.

Within a short distance of Taunton are also Pyrland, the seat of R. King, Esq. Sandhill, that of Sir T. Lethbridge, Bart., is near Combe Florey, the rectory formerly of Sydney Smith. Milverton, in a pretty spot, was the birth place of the philosopher, the late Dr. Thomas Young. Ninehead is the seat of E. Sandford, Esq.

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