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Taunton Castle

Visited July 2012

Location Taunton, Somerset
Entrance Fee No
Railway Station Nearby Yes- Taunton
Parking Yes
Facilities Toilets, Cafe, Gift shop
Map

 

Taunton castle is now the home of the recently revamped Museum of Somerset. It is in the centre of the town, close to the bus station. The museum has free entry, so is a bargain day out with the children!

 


 

 


Review

The castle was built on the site of a saxon priory, and recent excavations have discovered some saxon skeletons in the area which was once the castle bailey. The castle was originally built by our old friends the Bishops of Winchester, in about 1138.  However, much of the exterior we have today has been altered, specifically the  large windows which were added in the 18th century.

 

The castle bailey has also been built on, a hotel  imaginatively called the  'Castle Hotel' was built in the 18th century, it was crenellated to blend in with the surroundings. When the hotel was built it incorporated the original East Gate into its structure. The arches of this gateway date back to Edward I, with the much newer hotel building plonked on top.

 


 

 


 

There is not an extensive amount of castle to see outside, the main gatehouse to the inner ward is still used as the main entrance- inside the courtyard there is seating for the cafe, but sadly nowhere to sit if you want to eat a picnic. This is a shame as it would not be too hard to provide a couple of picnic benches, but perhaps the courtyard cafe have exclusive rights to the area. We had brought a picnic so in the end we perched on the doorstep of a small medieval looking house which was kitted out inside with a period reconstruction. Although the house was not open we could peek in the windows. I imagine it is used for historical events at the castle. ( Ed's note- on a re-visit in 2014 this building had a sign saying it was an Almshouse, recreated from the original wood saved from the demolished buildings which once stood in St. James Street, Taunton)

 

 


 

 


Across the courtyard is the entrance to the Museum of Somerset, which is housed in the Great Hall of the castle. It was in this very hall that Judge Jeffries set up his Bloody Assizes after the Monmouth Rebellion. 144 men were sent to the gallows from this court. The castle was then used as offices and parts as a school house and fell into disrepair until it was rescued by the Somerset History Society in 1873. It has been used as a museum every since, and recently underwent a 6 million pound re-fit.

 

The Museum of Somerset is actually very impressive, it has been well thought out, with activities to appeal to children, and a trail to keep them busy. We especially enjoyed seeing the Frome Hoard, the largest collection of  Roman coins ever discovered in the UK. The mosaic found in West Ham in Somerset  depicting Dido & Aeneas is displayed in fabulous condition with some modern special effects to enhance it.  The 'Tree of Somerset', a carved oak depicting life in the county, is also worth a look.

 

What was disappointing about our visit is that there was so little access to the exterior of the castle building. The whole of the back of the castle and the castle green to the front was completely cordoned off as building work was in progress. This was not publicised on the museum website, so we were totally unaware that we would not be able to get a proper look at the exterior of the building. I am sure that once the building work is finished it will be pleasant place once more, but if seeing the exterior is important to you as it was to us then I would recommend waiting until the works are completed. It was also very hot & noisy from the drilling on the day we went, so not conducive to lingering once the museum visit was complete. (Ed's note- on a re-visit in 2014 we found the building works finished and the back of the castle once more accessible. )

 


 

 


 

More info:  Taunton Castle

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