Taunton, the county town of Somerset, is a bustling market town situated on the River Tone between the Quantock, Blackdown and Brendon Hills. With a population of more than fifty thousand Taunton is Somerset’s largest town, a fact reflected in her wide variety of shops, of both the interesting and department-store variety, and numerous markets.
The town was established in the 8th century by King Ine of Wessex who built earthwork fortifications here. A generation later Queen Frithogyth founded a minster here and some time later a monastery was created under the control of the Bishop of Winchester.
Taunton’s Saxon castle, which dates back to the 12th century and was the scene of many a bloody uprising particularly during the English Civil War when the castle was held siege. A particularly blood thirsty episode in the castle’s history were the Bloody Assizes carried out by Judge Jeffreys. After the battle of Sedgemoor and the defeat of the Duke of Monmouth around 1,300 of his supporters were tried here with many of them executed by drawing and quartering. Queen Victoria is said to have drawn the curtains whenever she passed through Taunton on the train.
Today the castle is home to the County Museum and the Castle Hotel, considered one of the twenty best places to eat in the whole of the British Isles and made famous by celebrity head chefs such as Gary Rhodes and Phil Vickery.
A weekly farmer’s market sells local produce, from cheese, bread and cakes to vegetables and, of course, cider. There is also a thrice-weekly ‘county market’ on the picturesque Bath Street and, on Silver Street, one of the West Country’s largest antique markets, boasting more than one hundred and thirty dealers.