Taunton, Somerset

Taunton

[tawn-tn, tahn-]
Taunton is the county town of Somerset, England. The unparished area (or former municipal borough) of Taunton has a population of 88,241. Suburbs of the town include Bishop's Hull, Staplegrove and Galmington, giving a total population for the "Taunton Urban Area" of 102,304 according to the 2001 census, up 4.4% since 1991. It is the largest town in Somerset, and the site of Musgrove Park Hospital.

It is home to the County Cricket Ground where Somerset County Cricket Club play and home to the 40 Commando, Royal Marines. Central Taunton is part of the annual West Country Carnival circuit. It hosts the famous Taunton flower show, which has been held in Vivary Park since 1866. The United Kingdom Hydrographic Office is located in Taunton on Admiralty Way.

History

The town name derives from "Town on the River Tone" — or Tone Town. There was perhaps a Romano-British village near the suburb of Holway, and Taunton was a place of considerable importance in Saxon times. King Ine of Wessex threw up an earthen castle here about 700, and a monastery was founded before 904. 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 governed by a portreeve appointed by the bishops. Somerton took over from Ilchester as the county town in the late thirteenth century, but it declined in importance and the status of county town transferred to Taunton about 1366.

Taunton Castle changed hands several times during the great Civil War of 1642-45 but only along with the town. During the Siege of Taunton it was defended by Robert Blake, from July 1644 to July 1645. After the war, in 1662, the keep was demolished and only the base remains. 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.

The town did not obtain a charter of incorporation until 1627, which was renewed 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 medieval 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. In World War II 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.

Governance

Borough Council

Taunton is the main settlement and administrative centre of the local government district of Taunton Deane. The district was formed on 1 April 1974, under the Local Government Act 1972, by a merger of the municipal borough of Taunton, Wellington urban district, Taunton Rural District, and Wellington Rural District. Taunton Deane was granted borough status in 1975, perpetuating the mayoralty of Taunton. The district was given the name of an alternate form of the Taunton hundred.

Taunton Deane Borough Council consists of 55 councillors, of whom 20 are elected for wards in the town of Taunton. The wards are: Blackbrook & Holway; Eastgate; Fairwater; Halcon; Lyngford; Manor & Wilton and Pyrland & Rowbarton. Eastgate ward returns two councillors, with the remaining wards each returning three. At the council elections in May 2007, 17 Liberal Democrats were elected and 3 members of the Conservative Party.

County Council

Somerset County Council is based at County Hall in Taunton, and consists of 58 councillors. The town of Taunton is included in six electoral divisions, each returning a single county councillor: Taunton East; Taunton Fairwater; Taunton North; Taunton South; Taunton West and taunton and Trull (which also includes rural areas). Five councillors are members of the Liberal Democrats, and one is a Conservative.

United Kingdom Parliament

Taunton is a county constituency represented in the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It elects one Member of Parliament (MP) by the first past the post system of election. Following the review of parliamentary representation in Somerset, the Boundary Commission for England has created a modified Taunton constituency with the name change Taunton Deane, to reflect the district name. It is based on the town of Taunton but extends to include Wellington, many small villages and parts of Exmoor. Following a review of parliamentary representation in Somerset, this seat will be renamed Taunton Deane at the next UK general election. The current MP is Jeremy Browne, a member of the Liberal Democrats.

European Parliament

Residents of Taunton also form part of the electorate for the South West England constituency for elections to the European Parliament.

Geography

Taunton lies on the River Tone between the Quantock, Blackdown and Brendon hills in an area known as the Vale of Taunton.

The Firepool area on the northern edge of Taunton town centre, adjacent to the main line railway station, currently includes a high proportion of vacant or undeveloped land. The Council is currently promoting a sustainable, high quality, employment-led mixed use development. The scheme also offers the opportunity to secure the development of a substantial number of residential units. These are intended to create more than 2,000 new homes in the town centre, at least 14,000 new homes across the whole of Taunton, 80,000m² of employment space, 50,000m² of new retail space and at least 7,000 jobs.

Geology

In the Taunton area Permian (295-250 million years ago) red sandstones and breccia outcrop, while rocks of Triassic age (248-204 million years ago) underlie much of Somerset and form the solid geology to the Somerset Moors and Levels. Other nearby areas including the cultural quarter, Tangier and the town centre retail area fall within the regeneration plans of Project Taunton.

Climate

Along with the rest of South West England, Taunton has a temperate climate which is generally wetter and milder than the rest of the country. The annual mean temperature is approximately and shows a seasonal and a diurnal variation, but due to the modifying effect of the sea the range is less than in most other parts of the UK. January is the coldest month with mean minimum temperatures between and . July and August are the warmest months in the region with mean daily maxima around .

The south-west of England has a favoured location with respect to the Azores high pressure when it extends its influence north-eastwards towards the UK, particularly in summer. Convective cloud often forms inland however, especially near hills, reducing the number of hours of sunshine. The average annual sunshine totals around 1,600 hours.

Rainfall tends to be associated with Atlantic depressions or with convection. The Atlantic depressions are more vigorous in autumn and winter and most of the rain which falls in those seasons in the south-west is from this source. Average rainfall is around –. About 8–15 days of snowfall is typical. November to March have the highest mean wind speeds, with June to August having the lightest winds. The predominant wind direction is from the south-west.

Demography

Population Profile
UK Census 2001 Taunton Deane South West England England
Total population 102,299 4,928,434 49,138,831
Foreign born 4.1 % 9.4% 9.2%
White 98.4 % 97.7% 91%
Asian 0.4 % 0.7% 4.6%
Black 0.2 % 0.4% 2.3%
Christian 75.9% 74.0% 72%
Muslim 0.3% 0.5% 3.1%
Hindu 0.1% 0.2% 1.1%
No religion 15.7% 16.8% 15%
Over 75 years old 9.5% 9.3% 7.5%
Unemployed 2.4% 2.6% 3.3%
Taunton civil parish has a population of 44,050. Suburbs of the town include Bishop's Hull, Staplegrove and Galmington, giving a total population for the "Taunton Urban Area" of 58,241 according to the 2001 census, up 4.4% since 1991.

The figures below are for the Taunton Deane area.

Population since 1801 - Source: A Vision of Britain through Time
Year 1801 1851 1901 1911 1921 1931 1941 1951 1961 1971 1981 1991 2001
Population Taunton Deane 33,139 51,844 53,759 55,666 56,161 56,661 62,745 69,492 75,320 81,639 84,795 95,791 102,304

Economy

Taunton has a low unemployment rate at 2.4% compared with the national average of 5.6%.

Taunton is home to the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office which is an organisation within the UK government responsible for providing navigational and other hydrographic information for national, civil and defence requirements. The UKHO is located in Taunton, Somerset 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.

Avimo is now part of Thales Optics. It has been announced twice, in 2006 and 2007, that manufacturing is to end at Thales Optics' Taunton site, but the Trade Unions and Taunton Deane District Council are working to reverse or mitigate these decisions.

Taunton is also home to the Debenhams Head Office based in Bedford House on Park Street.

Corporation Street, TA1 is noted for its large number of law and accountancy firms. Moreover, the street is home to Defra.

Taunton is also involved with the production of cider.

Landmarks

Gray's Almshouses on Fore street were founded by Robert Gray in 1615 for poor single women. 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. It has been designated by English Heritage as a grade I listed building.

The grounds of Taunton Castle include the Somerset County Museum and The Castle Hotel.

Together with the municipal buildings they form a three-sided group of buildings just beyond an archway off Fore Street. The centre of the square is used as a car park, and a plain brick edifice of Mecca Bingo hall makes up the west side of it.

The area by the river north of the centre is surrounded by Morrisons supermarket, retirement housing and the Brewhouse Theatre. Towards the centre, is the Dellers Wharf Nightclub, Bridge Street and Goodlands Gardens. Currently a regeneration programme is being executed, north of Bridge Street, which will include redeveloping the County Cricket Ground. The area has hosted a concert by Elton John in 2006.

Hankridge Farm is a retail park close to the M5 motorway, with large stores including PC World and Halfords. In addition, there is a 'Venue' on the park, with restaurants, the Odeon cinema and Hollywood Bowl bowling. Now known as Riverside Retail Park.

The Old Market was a farmers market but this moved to the Firepool area. The Old Market is now a large indoor shopping centre in the centre. Locals still refer to it as "The Pig Market".

The County Walk is an indoor shopping complex in the centre with an anchor supermarket, Sainsbury's.

Public parks

There are public parks dotted around Taunton, the most notable of which is Vivary Park, located near the centre of the town. Fronted by a pair of cast iron gates made by the Saracen Foundry of Glasgow, it contains two main wide open spaces, as well as a war memorial, fountain, mini-golf course, tennis courts, two children's playgrounds and located next to one is an 18 hole golf course and the other is near the left hand exit from the park. The one near the left hand exit is an uder fives and the one near the golf course is over five. Flowing through the park is a tributary of the River Tone.

Goodlands Gardens, located in the centre of the town, is behind the Debenhams department store and behind Taunton Castle Hotel.

Transport

Rail

Taunton railway station is on the Great Western Main Line and the Cross-Country Route. It is served and operated by First Great Western and served by CrossCountry, with services to Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff, Bristol, London, Exeter, Plymouth and Penzance, as well as the rest of the West Country. The former railway route to Minehead has become the heritage West Somerset Railway, with a regular express bus service providing the normal link between Taunton and Minehead. Special rail events allow trains to run from Taunton along the heritage line to Minehead.

Road

Taunton also has good road links, having the M5 motorway junctions 25 (Taunton) and 26 (Wellington) close to the town, as well as other major roads such as the A38 and A358. Taunton Deane services are located between junctions 25 and 26 on the M5.

Buses and Coaches

Taunton's zone 1 and 2 bus services and most of the outer zone services are provided by First, who have routes across the town. Taunton Coach Station's operators include National Express, whom run regular London and Heathrow coaches. Local coach operator Berrys of Taunton, runs a number of day excursions and offers the London Superfast service from the Taunton & the West County to London every day.

Cooks Coaches operate the Park and Ride scheme on the west side of the town called the 'Taunton Flyer', including a dedicated service to Musgrove Park Hospital named the 'Musgrove Flyer'. There are plans to expand this service from the Motorway at junction 25.

Webber Bus runs the number 15, providing an express service connecting Bridgwater with Taunton, calling at stops including the Taunton Railway Station, Park Street, Musgrove Park Hospital and SCAT.

Under the Taunton Regeneration project, the Taunton Bus and Coach station is set to be redeveloped or moved in Autumn 2010. Local speculation has suggested that the new site will be at the former Taunton Market.

Air

The nearest airports are Exeter and Bristol, both within an hour's car journey of Taunton.

Trams

Historically, Taunton was served by electric trams between 1901 - 1921. These trams ran from Rowbarton along Kingston Road (for the rail station), to Castle Hotel, Parade down to East Reach. However Taunton Tramways was closed following disagreements with the electricity bill after World War I.

Education

State secondary schools in Taunton include St augustines Heathfield Community School, The Castle School, Bishop Fox's Community School and Ladymead Community School. State-funded Sixth Form teaching is provided by Richard Huish College. The coeducational independent schools in Taunton are Queen's College,King's College and Taunton School. Further education is provided by Somerset College of Arts and Technology.

Health Services

Taunton is within Somerset Primary Care Trust and is home to Musgrove Park Hospital, within Taunton and Somerset Foundation NHS Trust. This is the main district hospital within Somerset apart from Yeovil District Hospital. A Nuffield Hospital is also situated within the town, run privately by Nuffield Hospitals. The town is also home to several doctor's surgeries as well as a family planning clinic and occupational health centre.

Religious sites

The Mary Street Unitarian Chapel, which dates from 1721, is located on Mary Street in Taunton. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, while living Nether Stowey 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 chapel, attending in 1809 in celebration of the fiftieth year of George the Third'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. 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.

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 tall landmark. 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.” The tower itself has 12 bells and a clock mechanism. Two of the hammers on the clock mechanism are not striking.

The Parish church of St. James is also located near the centre of Taunton quite close to St. Mary Magdalene. The oldest parts of St. James Church 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). The church backs onto the Somerset County Ground and forms a familiar backdrop to the popular Cricket ground.

The church of St John was built in 1864 to designs by Sir George Gilbert Scott.

Popular culture references

Taunton is mentioned in The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, Scoop by Evelyn Waugh and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré. Taunton also features in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish by Douglas Adams.

Taunton has also made an appearance in a number of other British comedy series, including Monty Python's Flying Circus, Blackadder, Men Behaving Badly, Vic Reeves' Big Night Out, and also The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer. Comedian Bill Bailey also mentions the town in his stand-up DVD Part Troll, claiming to have taken part in a teleportation experiment sponsored by Taunton Cider. Taunton was also mentioned in a 2007 Doctor Who episode, "The Shakespeare Code".

Thomas Hardy created an imaginary Wessex and renamed Taunton as Toneborough in his books and poems. He called the area Outer Wessex.

Sport

Taunton is home to a number of sport clubs and venues.

The County Ground was originally home to Taunton Cricket Club, which was formed in 1829 and playyed at The County Ground until 1977 before moving to Moorfields, Taunton in conjunction with Taunton Vale Hockey Club, after which it was solely used by Somerset County Cricket Club. Somerset CCC was formed in 1875, but the club did not achieve first class status until 1891. The County Ground has a capacity of 6,500 and the ends are called the River End and the Old Pavilion End, and one of the main stands is named after Ian Botham. The ground houses the Somerset County Cricket shop and museum, which also has various conference rooms

Taunton Town F.C. are a football club, who play at Wordsworth Drive in the town. They were formed in 1947 by a few local businessmen as Taunton F.C., changing to the current name in 1968, and played their first friendly fixture in 1948. For most of their history, Taunton were members of the Western League. They spent a six-season spell in the Southern League from 1977, and after a further period in the Western League, returned to the Southern League in 2002, after winning the FA Vase in 2001. After the latest re-organisation of the English football league system, the club are currently members of the Southern League Division One South & West.

Somerset Vikings are a Rugby League Club who were formed at the beginning of 2003 as part of the RFL's plans to develop the game further beyond the traditional areas in the north of England. Initially the side was made up of a mixture of Royal Marines based in Taunton and Exeter together with a number of local rugby union players keen to try the 13-man code. The Vikings play at Hyde Park which is the home of the Taunton Rugby union club, which was formed in 1874.

The Taunton Tigers is a semi-professional basketball team competing in the English Basketball League Men's Division 1. The team play all their home games at Wellsprings Leisure Centre, which has a capacity of 500 seats.

Taunton Racecourse is close to the Blackdown Hills and about from the centre of Taunton. Although racing had been held in the area previously, the first race at the present site was held on 21 September 1927. The stands are called the Orchard Stand and the Paddock Stand which provide catering facilities and are used for meetings and conferences on days when racing is not taking place.

There is an oval motor racing circuit at Smeatharpe which is close to the Somerset/Devon border, it is frequently referred to as the Taunton Banger racing circuit although it is around 11 miles from central Taunton.

Taunton Freeriders is a community mountain bike project in partnership with the Forestry Commission who are developing a series of northshore and downhill (DH) style mountain bike trails just outside of the town. Run by volunteers from the local close-knit riding community and funded solely by kind donations, they are also involved with the redevelopment of the "Norton Dirt Jumps" and campaigning for a replacement skatepark at Hamilton Park and better facilities for alternative sports (e.g BMX, skateboard, in-line skates, mountain biking, parkour among others).

Taunton Regeneration

In 2006, Taunton Deane council revealed plans which it called 'Project Taunton'. This would see the regeneration of areas such as Firepool, Tangier, aiming to create Taunton as a central hub for business in the South West. The project has identified four areas for regeneration.

In Firepool, the area near Taunton rail station and the County Cricket ground, are ambitious plans to develop high rise offices and small retail outlets in an effort to establish Taunton as a sustainable business district in the South West. Furthermore, plans include to build hundreds of desirable riverside flats. The Firepool project is set to attract 3000 new jobs and 500 new homes.

In Tangier, the area near the Somerset College for Arts and Technology, the project proposes to build smaller offices and more desirable riverside housing.

What has been described as the 'Cultural Quarter', is the area along the river between Firepool and Tangier. The proposals have plans to extend riverside retail, such as the Coal Orchard area with an aim to attract more smaller, boutique businesses, such as those already found in the Riverside shopping centre.

Finally, there are plans to extend the town centre's shopping district by 50% to attract more major retail businesses. Moreover, there are plans to redevelop Goodlands Park in to a more desirable park to compliment the major revelopment plans. The plans also include replacing Taunton Library in 2011.

The regeneration programme will also include better transport links, with two more park and rides to be established. At present, the Firepool project is scheduled to be completed by early 2018 and the other areas by 2014, however it is anticipated that much of the major changes will be completed by 2012. Work has already begun. For instance, construction work has already begun to create desirable riverside housing in Firepool and Taunton Livestock Market has moved to the outskirts to make way for major redevelopment. More information can be found at

Notable residents

The following people were born or have lived in Taunton:

Twinning

Taunton is twinned with:

References

External links

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