Taunton Castle: a motte and bailey castle, part of the outer bailey, an Anglo-Saxon cemetery and a Civil War artillery platform


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:
Statutory Address:
Castle Green, Taunton, Somerset, TA1 4AE


Ordnance survey map of Taunton Castle: a motte and bailey castle, part of the outer bailey, an Anglo-Saxon cemetery and a Civil War artillery platform
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Statutory Address:
Castle Green, Taunton, Somerset, TA1 4AE

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Taunton Deane (District Authority)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:


The monument includes a motte and bailey castle, part of the outer bailey or ward, and other features, including a Civil War artillery platform on the north-east side of the castle and an Anglo-Saxon cemetery.

Reasons for Designation

Taunton Castle, which includes a motte and bailey castle, part of the outer bailey or ward, and other features, including an Anglo-Saxon cemetery and Civil War artillery platform, is scheduled for the following principal reasons:

* Survival: as an important and prestigious defensive and domestic medieval site associated with the Bishops of Winchester. The site survives well and also includes the buried remains of a wide range of structures and features relating to all phases of its history, including an Anglo-Saxon cemetery; * Potential: although no large-scale excavations have taken place beyond the Keep Garden, various investigations within the castle complex have demonstrated the survival of buried deposits relating to its occupation since the late 7th century; * Diversity: the site has evolved over many centuries and includes remains associated with an Anglo-Saxon cemetery, a motte and bailey castle which underwent periods of rebuilding and remodelling, and a Civil War artillery site. * Documentation: the history of the castle is very well-documented in contemporary records and added to this; it has been the subject of archaeological investigations and detailed research; * Group value: for its significant association with the medieval and post-medieval buildings of the inner ward (Grade I), Castle Bow (Grade I) and the former Grammar School (Grade II*). The survival of these structures adds significantly to the importance of the archaeological remains.


There are documentary references to a settlement known as `Tantone' soon after AD 710, and Queen Frethogyth bequeathed the lands of Tantone to the Bishop of Winchester prior to her pilgrimage to Rome in AD 737, explaining the strong influence held by the Bishop of Winchester over Taunton from early in the medieval period. From the late Anglo-Saxon period Taunton was the administrative centre for one of the largest estates of the Bishops of Winchester.

Although the early origins of Taunton Castle are unclear, it is probable (Webster, see SOURCES) that the site initially comprised a minster church, a cemetery and a fortified episcopal residence. The early defences of the site, probably a motte castle and inner and outer baileys, may have been built by William Giffard, who was Bishop of Winchester 1100-1129. It underwent further phases of remodelling and repairs, being strengthened by Bishop Henry de Blois during the civil war between King Stephen and the Empress Matilda in the mid-C12. From AD 1207 the Winchester Pipe Rolls provide detailed documentary evidence that the castle was enlarged and strengthened as part of a wider programme of fortification of castles in Somerset and Dorset by Peter de Roches. Men were employed to construct a moat around the town and the castle, and carpenters were employed to work in and around the castle. The purchase of 450 oak boards and 73 other boards suggest that there may have been a palisade forming at least part of the castle enclosure. Smiths and masons were also employed at the castle, and materials such as stone, wood, sand and lime were transported to the site. The overall form of Taunton Castle appears to have been in place by the beginning of the C13. Although it maintained the title and appearance of a castle, it seems to have served more as a centre for the estate than as a power base. That said, it was besieged in the mid-C15 and was garrisoned in 1497 during the Warbeck Rebellion of 1491-1499.

Although of little strategic significance, the castle was besieged by Yorkists in 1451. The fortifications were improved in 1578 in preparation for an anticipated Spanish invasion, and the strategic significance of the site increased further during the Civil War. The town and castle were besieged and captured by the Parliamentarians under Sir Robert Pye and General Blake in 1644. During 1645 the fortification of the castle and defences of the town were enhanced by Blake, although the later besiegement by Royalist forces led to the virtual destruction of the town. In 1662 an order to destroy the fortifications at Taunton is likely to have caused the infilling of the moats and the slighting of the castle. It was, however, subsequently used as a prison and court, with the trials following the Monmouth Rebellion conducted there. In 1786 Sir Benjamin Hammet, MP for Taunton, acquired the castle buildings and carried out extensive alterations. The castle subsequently fell into disrepair and the castle buildings were sold to the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society in 1874 and many of which house the county museum. A major programme of refurbishment of the buildings of the inner court (Grade I) was undertaken in 2009-2010, together with building recording, archaeological watching briefs and historical research.

More detail on the history and evolution of Taunton Castle can be found in Webster’s 2016 publication (see SOURCES).


PRINCIPAL ELEMENTS The monument includes a motte and bailey castle, part of the outer bailey or ward, and other features, including a Civil War artillery platform on the north-east side of the castle and an Anglo-Saxon cemetery, all situated on the southern river terrace of the River Tone at Taunton.

The standing buildings of the castle’s inner court, including Castle House (listed at Grade I and excluded from the scheduling) date from the C13 onwards and have undergone successive periods of remodelling since then. The castle site was utilised throughout the post-medieval period and successive redevelopments have led to the integration of much of the monument into the modern town centre.

DESCRIPTION The earliest archaeological features identified at the site include a large number of human burials; the majority were recovered from the area which subsequently became the castle’s outer ward, though several burials were situated within the inner ward. These burials provide evidence for an extensive late-Saxon cemetery associated probably with the minister church that was established in the late 7th century and is referred to in historical records. Radiocarbon dates indicate that the cemetery was active from the late 7th century up to the C11.

The earliest castle fortifications are considered to date from the C13. Partial excavations conducted by St George Gray between 1924 and 1929 identified the complex remains of building foundations and numerous walls in the north-eastern part (known as the Keep Garden) of the castle site. These remain in situ and when surveyed in 1977 were found to survive to a maximum height of 2.85m and to include 17 visible stone courses. The stonework was Norman in character and comprised predominantly grey sandstone, together with some Hamstone. Although the stratigraphic relationship of these features was not recorded during the excavation and many are no longer evident above ground, it seems likely that they represent a building or buildings, possibly forming a tower, probably around the remains of the motte. Historical records refer to a great tower at Taunton in 1234, and to ‘cleaning wards and ramparts of said tower’ in the late C14 (Webster, 2016). Although it was described as ‘much ruinated’ in 1635 it is considered to have been cleared before or during the Civil War.

The castle site was defined by moat ditches which have become infilled over the centuries. It enclosed two areas, an inner ward which formed the northern part of the castle and a larger outer bailey immediately to the south. Various excavations have recovered evidence about the outer moat which measured approximately 12m wide and over 3m deep. A partial excavation in 1980 at Mill Lane in the north-eastern part of the site uncovered evidence for later revetment walls within this section of the moat fill.

The inner ward has maximum dimensions of 104m east-west and 68m north-south and contains the principal castle buildings (Grade I), including the Great Hall. Excavations have demonstrated that the Great Hall was originally a first-floor hall constructed during the early C12 which measured approximately 16m by 13m. In the C13 the building was modified when it was narrowed in width and extended to some 21.5m in length. To the south of the hall is the bishop's camera or private chamber which was constructed around AD 1245. To the east of the camera lie the bishop's apartments, including a probable late-C13 circular tower which was largely rebuilt in the C18. Other features recorded in historic documents include a pantry, a kitchen, a tower and a bridge leading to a garden, as well as a Chapel of St Nicholas which stood next to the inner gate. Excavations within the inner ward have demonstrated that buried archaeological deposits survive beneath a sealing deposit which was created when the interior of the ward was levelled in the C18.

The outer ward was roughly funnel-shaped in plan and measured approximately 140m east-west and 120m north-south. It is known from historical sources to have accommodated storage facilities and to have contained various ancillary buildings. Access was provided via an eastern gatehouse, known as Castle Bow (listed at Grade I), situated next to constable`s apartments, around which were chambers for a guard, clerks and the land manager. There were two barns near the east gate, a cowshed within the centre, as well as a Chapel to St Peter. Other outbuildings included the granary, three stables, a dairy, dovecote, press and a store for surplus building materials. The area of the outer bailey is now extensively built over; however the foundations and lower levels of internal structures, together with other features such as pits and postholes, as well as the outer ditch, will survive as buried deposits, as demonstrated by various small-scale excavations. The Old Grammar School (listed at Grade II*) which stands on the line of the outer ward’s southern defences was recorded in 1522 as the `Scolehouse (school) within the castle’. It retains early-C16 fabric and is the last recorded building at the castle by the Bishops of Winchester.

On the north-eastern side of the castle and adjacent to the probable site of the motte Gray’s excavations in the 1920s uncovered evidence of an earthwork bank which he interpreted as a Civil War gun emplacement or platform for artillery that overlies the outer rampart of the castle. Finds from the C16 and C17 have also been recovered in this area. The Civil War feature has been partially overlain by buildings on the west side of North Street.

EXCLUSIONS There are a number of exclusions from the scheduling. These include the castle buildings (Grade I), the remains of a range of almshouses (Grade II), the portrait bust, the Welcome Building and the Wyndham Galleries which are all situated within the inner ward, the Old Grammar School building (Grade II*), Castle Bow (Grade I); the Castle Hotel (Grade II) and its associated buildings, Castle Lodge (Grade II), the Winchester Arms (Grade II) and Wyndham Hall. The buildings (a number of which are listed at Grade II) situated on Mill Lane, North Street, Fore Street, Castle Green, Castle Way, Corporation Street and Castle Walk, the bus station office, all modern roads, pavements and other surfaces, modern boundary walls, balustrades, fencing and railings, lamp posts, road signs and notice boards. The ground beneath all these features is, however, included in the scheduling.

EXTENT OF SCHEDULING The area of protection includes the recorded extent of Taunton Castle, including the inner ward, Keep Garden, the surviving parts of the outer ward and its moat, the later artillery platform and all associated ruins, earthworks and buried remains as defined on the Ordnance Survey 1:500 map published in 1889 and also based on archaeological surveys and trial excavation. The archaeologically sensitive area to the north of the inner ward, north-west of the artillery platform and south-east of the Mill Stream is also included to ensure the protection of associated remains within the only waterlogged area of the site. The scheduling boundary, therefore, has maximum dimensions of 327m from east to west and 415m from north to south. The outer ward extended westwards in the area occupied by the former cinema on Castle Way, but as this structure is more substantial than other buildings on the site, it is unlikely that significant archaeological deposits survive beneath it and this area is, therefore, not included in the scheduling.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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Books and journals
Orbach, J, Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England. Somerset: South and West, (2015), 615-619
Webster, CJ, Taunton Castle, (2016)
The Somerset Historic Environment Record. 44204: Taunton Castle, accessed 5 December 2018 from https://www.somersetheritage.org.uk/record/44204#


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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