Taunton Castle
Taunton Castle is a castle built to defend the town of Taunton, Somerset. It has origins in the Anglo Saxon period and was later the site of a priory. The Normans then built a stone structured castle, which belonged to the Bishops of Winchester. The current heavily reconstructed buildings are the inner ward, which now houses the county museum, and the Michelin Guide starred Castle Hotel on the site of one of the previous gate houses.

Anglo Saxon origins
The earliest fortification of Taunton started for King Ine of Wessex and Æthelburg, in or about the year 710. However according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle this was destroyed twelve years later. An ecclesiastical minster is traditionally said to have been founded at Taunton, only a few years later, by Queen Frithugyth, wife of King Æthelheard of Wessex, and the Bishops of Wessex appear to have built a manor house, adjoining it.

Medieval and Tudor eras
At the time of the Domesday Book Taunton belonged to the Bishop of Winchester, who had a minster or Augustinian Priory on the site. Between 1107 and 1129 William Giffard the Chancellor of King Henry I, converted the bishop's hall into a castle It was his successor, Henry of Blois, who transformed the manor-house here into a mighty castle in 1138, during the Civil War that raged during the reign of his brother, King Stephen. In 1216, Bishop Peter des Roches, a supporter of King John, defended the castle during a barons' revolt. The gate-house of the inner ward was probably of Edward I's date (1239 - 1307), but it was changed by Bishop Walter Langton in 1496. He inserted a large two-lighted Tudor window and placed a tablet bearing his own arms, supported by angels, above it and the Royal Coat of King Henry VII below. The Great Hall, which stands just opposite the gateway, is 120 feet (37 m) by 31 feet (9 m), with walls apparently, in part, Norman, but much changed by later generations. Bishop Langton inserted Tudor windows but all of them, save two in the north front, have been replaced by seventeenth or eighteenth century substitutes.

Stuart era and Civil War
Taunton Castle had fallen into ruin by 1600 but it was repaired during the Civil War. The 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. It was in the Great Hall that Judge Jeffries, in 1685, held the " Bloody Assizes" and condemned more than 200 of the rebels who had followed " King Monmouth".

Taunton was a typical Norman keep of the first half of the twelfth century, 50 feet (15 m) long by 40 feet (12 m) wide, in three stories, with walls some 13 feet (4 m) thick. This was let into the walls of an inner ward with a stone enceinte and, there was an outer bailey represented by the modern "Castle Green". By 1780, many parts of the castle, had fallen into a bad condition and were repaired in a Georgian style by Sir Benjamin Hammet, a banker of Lombard Street, London and the Member of Parliament for Taunton. In 1786 had purchased the grant as bailiff and keeper of Taunton Castle in the names of his sons and his nephew. He put on a new roof, inserted many windows and recast many other details all round the castle. The outer ward is now occupied by two hotels, which have been crenellated, in order to be in keeping with the genuine battlements of the inner ward. But the great gate, opening into the enclosure, where they stand, is in part a genuine antique, having the arches of an "Early Decorated " gate-house of about the time of Edward I, though the super-structure is a restoration of 1816. In 1899–1900 the Great Hall was repaired and refitted as the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society's chief museum space, and in 1908-9 the Adam Library was created to house the society's growing collection of books.

The Castle Today
The great hall and inner ward of the original castle make up the Somerset County Museum. In October 2007 plans for a £6.5 million improvement to the museum and the castle were submitted by Somerset County Council to the Heritage Lottery Fund. The building has been designated by English Heritage as a grade I listed building. The Castle Hotel, Taunton is over 300 years old in its own right and is built on the site of one of the outer gate houses.


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