TAUNTON, SOMERSET, a municipal and parliamentary borough and market town of Somersetshire, England, on the river Tone, 163 m. W. by S. of London by the Great Western railway. Pop. (1901) 21,087. Standing in the beautiful valley of Taunton Dene, the town is chiefly built on the south side of the river. Its three main streets, broad and regular, converge upon a triangular space called the Parade, where there is a market cross. The parish church of St Mary Magdalene is one of the finest and largest Perpendicular churches in England. Remnants of Norman work are preserved in the chancel arch, and of Early 'English work in the north aisles and transepts. The tower, noteworthy for its union of elaborate ornament and lightness of effect, exceeds 150 ft. in height. There are double aisles on each side of the nave, and the whole interior is admirable in its harmony of design and colour. Little is left of an Austin priory established in the reign of Henry I. by William Giffard, bishop of Winchester, who also built the castle, now a museum for prehistoric, Roman and medieval antiquities. Taunton castle, though largely rebuilt in 1496, embodies the remains of a very early fortress, while its walls and keep date from the 12th century, its towers and gatehouses from the 13th or i4th. At the Restoration it was dismantled and its moat filled in. Among the schools is a grammar school founded in 1522 by Richard Fox, bishop of Winchester. There are also public gardens, assembly rooms, almshouses, a town hall, market hall, a hospital founded in 1819 to commemorate the jubilee of George III., and a shire hall containing a series of marble busts representing, among other Somerset worthies, Admiral Blake, John Locke the philosopher, the Puritan leader Pym, Bishop Ken, and Speke the African explorer. The local industries are silk, linen and glove manufactures, iron and brass founding, coachbuilding , cabinetmaking, malting and brewing; while Taunton Dene is famous as a rich agricultural district.
1 The Amsterdam Hopes were descended from Henry Hope, son of a Scottish merchant, and younger brother of Sir Thomas Hope (d. 1646), the famo&s Scottish lord-advocate, ancestor of the earls of Hopetoun (marquess of Linlithgow, q.v.). Among his descendants was Thomas Hope (1770-1831), father of A. J. B. BeresfordHope (1820-1887), politician and author.
The parliamentary borough of Taunton returns one member. The town is governed by a mayor, six aldermen and eighteen councillors. Area, 1393 acres.
There was perhaps a Romano-British village near the suburb of Holway, and Taunton (Tantun, Tantone, Tauntone) was a place of considerable importance in Saxon times. King Ine 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, governed by a portreeve appointed by the bishops. It did not obtain a charter of incorporation until that of 1627, which was renewed in 1677. The corporation existed until 1792, when the charter lapsed owing to vacancies in the number of the corporate body, and Taunton was not reincorporated until 1877. Parliamentary representation began in 1299, and two members we're returned until 1885. A fair on the 7th of July was held under a charter of 1256, and there are now two fairs yearly, on the 17th of June and the 7th of July. The Saturday market for the sale of corn, cattle and provisions dates from before the Conquest. There is also a smaller market on Wednesdays. The medieval fairs and markets of Taunton 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.
See Victoria County History, Somerset; Toulmen's History of Taunton, edited by James Savage (1830).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)