TAUNTON, a municipal borough and market-town of Somerset, England, is situated in the beautiful and fertile vale of Taunton Dene, on the river Tone, on the Taunton and Bridgwater Canal, and on several branches of the Great Western Railway, 45 miles south-south-west of Bristol, 31 north-east of Exeter, and 163 west-south-west of London. The river is crossed by a stone bridge of three arches. The town is well built, the three main streets being wide and regular, and meeting in a triangular space in the centre called the Parade, where there is a market cross. The castle, now occupied by the museum of the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society, is reputed to have been founded by Ine, king of the West-Saxons. The earliest portion of the present building was erected by Walter Giffard, bishop of Winchester, in the time of Henry I., but the whole building was repaired in 1496, and an embattled gateway erected by Bishop Langton. The church of St Mary Magdalene, a spacious building with double aisles both north and south of the nave, is chiefly Perpendicular, but has remains of Norman work in the chancel arch, and of Early English in the north aisles and transepts. It possesses one of the finest of the characteristic towers of Somerset, but only a facsimile reproduction (erected 1857-62) of the old one. There are still some remains of the Augustinian priory founded by Bishop Giffard, and there are also two modern convents. Taunton is an important centre of education, the principal institutions being the grammar school (founded in 1522 by Richard Fox, bishop of Winchester), Huish's schools, the Independent college (1841), and the Wesleyan collegiate institution (1847). The other principal public buildings are the old market-house, the assembly rooms, the new market in the Ionic style, and the shire hall in the Elizabethan style, opened in 1858 at a cost of £28,000. The charitable institutions include the Taunton and Somerset hospital (opened in 1809 and extended in 1870 and 1873), the eye infirmary (1816), Gray's almshouses and chapel (1635), St Saviour's home for boys (1870), and the servants' training home (1882). The town possesses manufactories of silk, collars and cuffs, and gloves, iron and brass foundries, coach-building works, and breweries. There is also a considerable agricultural trade. The population of the municipal and parliamentary borough (area 1249 acres) in 1881 was 16,614. The population of the same area in 1871 was 15,466.
Taunton has played a prominent part during the troubled periods of English history. Various Roman remains prove it to have been occupied by the Romans; but it first obtained historical notice when Ine, king of the West-Saxons, made it the border fortress of his kingdom. It takes the name Taunton, or Thoneton, from its situation on the Tone or Thonc. The castle was razed by Ethelbnrg after expelling Edbricht, king of the South•Saxons. About the time of William the Conqueror the town and castle were granted to the bishop of Winchester, and for many years the castle was the bishop's principal residence. In the reign of William it possessed a mint. In 1497 the town and castle were seized by the impostor Perkin Warbeck. Taunton was made the seat of the suffragan see of Taunton and Bridgwater in 1538, but, on the death of William Finch, the first bishop, in 1559, the Act had no further operation in reference to Taunton. Like the other towns of Somerset, Taunton was strongly Puritan in its sympathies. Situated at a point where the main roads of the county met, it was during the Civil War almost constantly in a state of siege by one or other of the rival parties. Having been garrisoned by the Parliamentary forces, it was captured by the Royalists in the summer of 1643, but on 8th July 1644 it was, after a long siege, taken by Blake, who held it with heroic pertinacity till relieved by Fairfax on the 11th May 1645, and again after it was invested by 10,000 troops under Goring till the siege was finally raised on the 3d July. Still constant to its Puritan traditions, Taunton welcomed Monmouth in 1685 with acclamation, and be was proclaimed king there on the 20th June, the maidens of the town presenting him with a standard. As a consequence, Taunton was made the chief example of the fearful vengeance of Jeffreys, who, at the assizes held in the castle, condemned no fewer than 134 inhabitants of the town and neighbourhood to death, and a much larger number to transportation. Taunton obtained a municipal charter from Charles I. in 1627, which was revoked in 1660. A second charter, grantedly Charles II. in 1677, was permitted to lapse in 1792 owing to the corporation allowing a majority of their number to die without filling up the vacancies. From this time until it again received municipal government, 17th April 1877, it was under the care of two bailiffs appointed at the court lest of the lord of the manor. Formerly the town returned two members to parliament, but in 1885 the number .was reduced to one.
See Toulmin's History of Taunton, edited by Savage, 1822; and several papers in the Proceedings of the Somerset Archmological Society for 1872.