Taunton Castle: Standing Buildings of the Inner Court
- Heritage Category:
- Listed Building
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
- Date of most recent amendment:
- Statutory Address:
- Castle Green, Taunton, Somerset, TA1 4AA
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- Statutory Address:
- Castle Green, Taunton, Somerset, TA1 4AA
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 standing buildings of the inner court at Taunton Castle (excluding the Wyndham Galleries, the Welcome Building, and the East and West Passages). Established by the Bishops of Winchester in the late Anglo-Saxon period, with successive periods of remodelling in the medieval and post-medieval periods. Later alterations, rebuilding and repairs in the late C18 by Sir Benjamin Hammet, and in the C19 and mid-C20. A museum since 1899 which underwent substantial refurbishment in early C21.
The ruins, earthwork and buried remains of the castle, including those of both the inner and outer baileys, are a scheduled monument.
Reasons for Designation
The buildings of the inner court of Taunton Castle are listed at Grade I for the following principal reasons:
Architectural interest: * as a remarkably complete example of a high status residence combining domestic and military architecture of the medieval and post-medieval periods; * a significant proportion of historic fabric survives, providing evidence of the form and layout of the inner court and illustrating significant phases in the castle’s development; * for the extensive range of high quality fixtures and fittings, especially those within Castle House.
Historic interest: * for the site’s long documented history as an episcopal residence and administrative centre of the bishops of Winchester; * the history and evolution of these buildings is illuminated by historical documentation and recent scholarship, and together with the abundant surviving archaeological evidence, they form a resource of great significance.
Group value: * the inner court buildings have strong group value with the scheduled elements of the castle site, and with a number of other listed buildings including the two bays of the almshouses (Grade II) within the inner court, the former Grammar School (Grade II*), Castle Hotel (Grade II), Castle Lodge (Grade II), the Winchester Arms (Grade II) and, to the north-east, Ina Cottage (Grade II).
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 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. The castle underwent various 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. The overall form of the 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.
The castle appears to have fallen out of use by the early C16, but remained sufficiently defensible to become a Parliamentarian stronghold during the Civil War, and was besieged unsuccessfully by the Royalists in 1644. In 1649, it was confiscated from the Bishop of Winchester and was slighted on the orders of Charles II in 1662. It was, however, subsequently used as a prison and court, with the assizes and quarter sessions held in the Great Hall. In 1685, the trials following the quelling of the Monmouth Rebellion were conducted there. In around 1700 the eastern half of the south range was updated to provide substantial accommodation for the castle’s bailiffs and was renamed Castle House. In 1786 Sir Benjamin Hammet, MP for Taunton, acquired the castle and carried out extensive alterations in the Gothic style. Many of the walls were re-faced with chert and pointed-arched windows were added. The Great Hall was reordered and the judges’ lodgings in the west and south ranges were refashioned. Castle House entered a period of decline after the late Georgian period, with a succession of owners and tenants; its ground floor being used by a variety of schools from 1782 to 1901, but when the assize courts moved to the new Shire Hall in 1858, the castle lost its main role. The buildings subsequently fell into disrepair and the site was sold to the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society in 1874 which developed the museum. Repairs were carried out in the early C20 and new purpose-built galleries were added in front of and to the east (Wyndham Galleries) of the Great Hall in the 1930s. A major programme of refurbishment 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).
The standing buildings of the inner court at Taunton Castle (excluding the Wyndham Galleries, the Welcome Building and East and West Passages). Established by the Bishops of Winchester in the late Anglo-Saxon period, with successive periods of remodelling in the medieval and post-medieval periods. Later alterations, rebuilding and repairs in the late C18 by Sir Benjamin Hammet, and in the C19 and mid-C20. A museum since 1899 which underwent substantial refurbishment in early C21. The ruins, earthwork and buried remains of the castle, including those of both the inner and outer baileys, are a scheduled monument.
The history, evolution and a detailed description of Taunton Castle is beyond the scope of this document and is covered in Webster (2016) from which the following summary draws heavily.
MATERIALS The buildings are constructed of random freestone rubble, Hamstone, chert and some brick under plain-tiled pitched and hipped roofs, with metal sheeting and glazing to the roofs of the early-C21 additions. The dressings are mostly Hamstone and there are tall stone and brick stacks to Castle House. The fenestration is of various styles and dates, and includes mullion and transom windows and timber sashes with glazing bars.
PLAN The buildings form three sides of a roughly triangular-shaped courtyard. The north range contains the Great Hall; a shorter west range formerly housed the bishop’s chamber, while the south range contained a chapel and lodgings, and has a gatehouse at its centre. Castle House forms the east half of the south range.
DESCRIPTION The NORTH RANGE/GREAT HALL appears to have originally been a C12/C13 first-floor hall with an undercroft which was altered to a ground-floor hall in the mid-C13. Alterations were also carried out in the C16/C17 when it was also extended to the east; with further alterations, including re-roofing, taking place in the C19 relating to its use as courts, and again in the mid-C20. The external (north) wall incorporates a length of C12 curtain wall and reduces in thickness at the eaves level of the medieval hall. It has a chamfered plinth to all but the west end, four shallow buttresses, all in Hamstone, and a further buttress towards the eastern end of different materials. The westernmost buttress overlies a blocked window, and to its left is the stone jamb of a medieval window. Set high in the wall are heavily-repaired, mullion and transom Hamstone windows of four and five lights under catslide dormers which appear to be C16 or C17, though two are C20 replacements. The eastern end of the range was rebuilt in the C16/C17, but the north-east corner appears to be original and retains a Hamstone clasping buttress. To the far left, in the set-back, upper part of the wall is an infilled oval window within a surround of brick headers. It is one of six that were added to this elevation in the C18; the others are no longer visible externally or not extant. The east elevation of the hall has a pair of timber mullion and transom windows of C16/C17 date which appear to have been re-sited here. The south elevation, facing onto the courtyard, has five oval windows set high in the wall, dating from around 1700 and repaired in the C20. A sixth window has been replaced by a doorway (infilled). Most of the hall elevation is obscured by the 1930s former museum entrance block and the flanking single-storey lean-to additions which were substantially rebuilt in the early C21, however, a number of former door and window openings of various dates are visible from within these buildings.
INTERIOR: the Great Hall is a single open space with an early-C21 steel-framed gallery at first-floor level. The roof dates principally to 1816, though the central truss may be mid-C19, and it consists of king post trusses with angled struts, strengthened by modern timbers.
The WEST RANGE is a rectangular, two-storey block, formerly comprising the Bishop’s apartment or Camera and an undercroft, which structurally forms part of the Great Hall. It has C12 origins and was extended to the south (the Gray Room) probably in the mid-C13, although on a slightly different alignment on its west side. It was raised in height in the C18 and underwent substantial refurbishment in the late C18. Its shorter, north elevation has a plinth which is a continuation of the plinth on the Great Hall, clasping corner buttresses, an inserted, late-C18 ground-floor window with wooden Y-tracery set within a round-arched brick surround and a crenellated parapet. At first-floor level are two lancets; one has been restored and the other rebuilt in the late C19. At the north-east corner is a square stair turret which breaks forwards slightly and has slit windows; its upper section was rebuilt in the mid-C20. The plinth continues along the west elevation which has been re-faced in chert and has two short buttresses; the southern one aligning with quoin stones and a vertical joint in the masonry which marks the earlier extent of the range. There is a tall round-headed opening which has a panelled door surmounted by a window with vertical glazing bars, all set within a brick surround, and accessed via stone steps with metal handrails. To the right is a pointed-arched sash window, previously a doorway, also approached from similar flight of steps. The first floor has four sash windows in Hamstone surrounds. The courtyard (north-east) elevation has a high parapet and C12 buttresses. The C19 entrance, which occupies the position of an earlier doorway, has paired wooden doors and strap hinges set within a recessed semi-circular surround with engaged columns and cushion capitals. The first floor was lit originally by four narrow windows with deep reveals; of which one window and the jamb of another are visible externally. A larger C18 window of four lights which contains fragments of earlier windows has been inserted in the position of one of the original windows. There is a drip mould and a relieving arch above. The original entrance located in the south-east wall is visible internally, but is not centrally placed relative to the structure and this may indicate the presence of an external stair to the first-floor room.
INTERIOR: the undercroft has an inserted barrel-vaulted ceiling and a mid-C20 concrete floor. Two fireplaces have previously been uncovered in the west wall; one is probably C17 and has Hamstone jambs with chamfer and roll stops, and the other is a late C18/early C19 insertion. A segmental-arched doorway in the south wall leads into the mid-C13 extension (the Gray Room) to the south. The room over the undercroft (the Somerset Room) has splayed stone reveals for three of the four original windows in its east wall; the larger fourth reveal is that of an inserted C18 window. The reveals of the two tall lancets in the north wall are also visible. The range has a flat, sheet-metal roof of early-C21 date.
The SOUTH RANGE/CHAPEL BLOCK to the west of the gatehouse is rectangular on plan and built on the line of the south curtain wall. It dates largely to around 1500, as evinced by the roof timbers, although it has earlier origins. It originally contained a first-floor chapel which was converted in the late C18 to a dining room for the judges (the Adam Library). To the south-west corner is a probable late-C13 circular tower which butts against the wall of the Gray Room to the north-east. Between the south range and the gatehouse is a narrow block of one bay which is for the most part later, probably post-medieval, infill. The south range was substantially remodelled in the late C18, at which time the tower was largely rebuilt. The outer (south) wall is faced in chert and has a battered plinth. The tower has late-C18, pointed-arched sash windows to both floors, and the conical roof was re-slated in the late C20. To the right (east) of the tower, the ground floor has a mullion window of two lights, three mullion windows with Caernarfon surrounds which were inserted in 1874 and 1910, and the remains of an earlier square-headed, two-light window (infilled). To the upper floor are a late-C18 quatrefoil window and a three late-C18 sashes. To the far right, at ground- and first-floor level are further blocked openings. The ground floor of the courtyard (north) elevation has two mullion windows of three lights which appear to be C16 and were reset here in the late C18. To the right is a blocked single window, an altered medieval doorway with modern timber doors and a relieving arch above, and a C13 lancet which may have been lowered. Four relieving arches are visible at first-floor level, and to the far right is a re-used Perpendicular window of four lights with a drip mould to the right-hand end. The narrow infill bay which is adjacent to the gatehouse has a pointed-arched doorway with chamfered jambs, traces of a window to the right of this, and a mullion window with leaded lights set in a square-headed surround of Hamstone to the upper floors.
INTERIOR: the interior of the south range is accessed from the altered medieval doorway at the east end of the range and also from the door in the narrow infill bay to the west. The main ground-floor room (the Coin Room) has a brick-built east wall which contains an infilled fireplace and a round-headed niche. At the west end of the range is a C18 open-string staircase which has slender, turned newels, a ramped handrail and metal balusters. The principal first-floor room (the Adam Library) is accessed from doorways at either end of the room. The door in the east wall dates probably to the C15 and has a stone surround with roll mouldings and a segmental pointed head. The room itself has late-C18 decorative scheme with an Adam-style fireplace at the east end, blind arcading of three arches carried on four wooden, fluted pillars to the west wall, and a barrel-vaulted ceiling with plasterwork panels and radial fluting to the tympanum at either end. The wagon roof dates to around 1500; it has been strengthened with additional timbers and a small section is exposed at the west end of the range. The first floor of the tower has a decorative plasterwork scheme, including a dentilled cornice, moulded dado with fluting, raised architrave and shutters to the windows and a fireplace with a decorative surround that has a frieze with foliate festoons and a central classical figure and a Greek key moulding and fluting to the mantel. The ground floor of the infill bay to the east has a short corridor containing an early-C20 cast-iron spiral staircase. A door in the corridor’s south wall leads into a brick-vaulted former strongroom that was inserted in 1910. The spiral staircase leads to the first floor, but not to the second floor, although a late-C19 plan shows a circular stair in the thickness of the south wall. It is now accessed from the gatehouse. The roof to the infill bay was previously hipped, but was replaced with a gabled roof prior to 1933. The south elevation of the GATEHOUSE has a C13 or C14 plain chamfered, segmental-pointed archway with a portcullis slot. The upper part was rebuilt in 1495-1496 by Bishop Langton whose arms are displayed in a plaque above the arch. The first floor has an inserted, probably late C18, square-headed, two-light window with moulded jambs and a drip mould. Inset into the parapet is a further, repaired plaque containing a much-eroded relief carving of the arms of Henry VII. The passage has a blocked doorway in its east wall and a flat, plaster ceiling. The courtyard (north) elevation appears to be late C15 and of one build. There is a plaque over the archway and a blocked opening above this. The stair turret was rebuilt in blue lias in the 1880s. It has a chamfered plinth and lancet windows to each floor, rising to a string course and crenellated parapet. To the west wall of the turret is a doorway above which is a stone plaque that records the rebuilding.
INTERIOR: the room above the gateway is entered from the stair turret and also from the south range. It retains a boarded-over fireplace with moulded timber surround and mantel and a low, panelled wooden partition screen with a door at one end which divides the room.
CASTLE HOUSE is to the east of the gatehouse and lies along the inner face of the south curtain wall. It is a two-storey, four-and a half-bay range that was built as lodgings in the late C15, upgraded and converted to the single dwelling in the mid-C16, and remodelled around 1700. At the south end of the building is a cross wing that is considered to date from the second half of the C16 (Keystone, see SOURCES). It seems likely that it was originally two storeys, possibly a kitchen range with accommodation above, which was raised to three storeys around 1700. A two-storey extension (East Block) under a hipped roof was added in the C18. Castle House underwent sympathetic repairs and renovation in the early C21. The entrance front of the former lodgings faces onto the courtyard and was originally symmetrically fenestrated. It has a two-stage plinth to all except the left-hand bay and the scars of two buttresses. A third buttress is buried in the return wall of the cross wing. The entrance is to the right of centre and has a C18 door frame and C19 paired doors. The early mid-C18 shell canopy on carved brackets above the entrance does not align with the doorway. There is also evidence that the doorway been widened. To the left of the entrance is an inserted window of five lights under a concrete lintel and to the right are two, C20 two-light windows and a late-C19 mullion window of two lights. The stone jamb of an earlier window is visible to the right of the entrance. To the first floor, above and to either side of the door are three square-headed, Hamstone windows with arched lights and spandrel carving, which are probably late C15. The two other first-floor windows are post-1874 copies. The rear (south) elevation of the lodgings has two ground-floor timber mullion and transom windows of around 1700 with ogee moulding to the inner faces and a single timber window. To the far left, there is a 1930s two-light window in a Doutling stone frame. The parapet is crenellated. The cross wing breaks forwards of the former lodgings. It has windows of various styles and dates, including timber-framed mullion and transom windows of around 1700, as well as late-C19 and early-C20 copies and early-C19 sash windows. Most of the elevations of both the former lodgings range and the cross wing retain evidence of earlier openings that have been infilled or partially overlaid with inserted windows.
INTERIOR: the former lodgings has a good survival of fixtures and fittings which pre-date the refurbishment of around 1700, and its principal first-floor room (formerly two rooms) retains the best-surviving evidence of the building’s early history. It has a mid- to late-C16 fireplace with moulded surround, and to the left of this, set low in the wall, is a pointed-arched recess which has re-used C12 beakhead decoration to its north (inner) face. A fragment of a C16 wall painting is exposed in the west wall. A C15 doorway within this wall has a C20 door. Elsewhere, within the lodgings are C15 and C16 deeply-chamfered axial ceiling beams, some with stepped stops, though some have been re-used. A small closet on the ground floor contains oak small field panelling, some re-used, of early- to mid-C17 date. The lower two floors of the cross wing also retain some early fittings such as C16 chamfered ceiling beams and a large fireplace with timber lintel. Throughout the entire building there are fixtures and fittings dating from the refurbishment of about 1700. These include the main staircase located in the cross wing which has an open string, plain newels and a flat-moulded handrail; the balusters are turned except for the upper part which has stick balusters. In addition, there are bolection-moulded fireplace surrounds, one with a later C18 hob grate; timber bolection-moulded wall panelling; round-headed doorcases with panelled jambs, moulded imposts and keystones; moulded plaster cornices and two-panelled doors with H-hinges. There is also some C18 joinery such as fielded panelled doors and architrave. The roof timbers of the lodgings have been dated by dendrochronology to 1480 to 1482. They consist of three arch-braced trusses, with cranked collars to the outer trusses, a flat-topped collar to the central one which was formerly a closed truss and trenched purlins. The cross wing has late-C17/early-C18 collared trusses and a single row of purlins.
The former museum ENTRANCE BLOCK in front of the Great Hall was constructed in 1931-1932 on the site of the early-C19 Jury Room which had an open-colonnaded ground floor, but was found to have significant structural problems. The replacement building was designed by Stone and Francis and is a symmetrical composition in the neo-Georgian style, with a central entrance under a Hamstone triangular pediment, two timber mullion and transom casements both sides of this, and five matching first-floor windows. There is currently (2018) a café on the ground floor along with a rotative beam engine (museum exhibit), and the upper floor contains office accommodation.
Pursuant to s1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 ('the Act'), it is declared that the late-C20 portrait bust of Baron Harding of Petherton, the mid-C20 Wyndham Galleries and the early-C21 Welcome Building and East and West Passages are not of special architectural or historic interest.
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Books and journals
Orbach, J, Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England. Somerset: south and west, (2014), 615-619
Webster, CJ, Taunton Castle, (2016)
Somerset Historic Environment. 44204: Taunton Castle, accessed 1 November 2018 from https://www.somersetheritage.org.uk/record/44204#
Architecton, August 2011, Castle House, Taunton. Design & Access Statement for Somerset Building Preservation Trust
Keystone Historic Buildings Consultants, August 2011, Castle House, Taunton, A History for Somerset Building Preservation Trust
This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.
The listed building(s) is/are shown coloured blue on the attached map. Pursuant to s1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) structures attached to or within the curtilage of the listed building but not coloured blue on the map, are not to be treated as part of the listed building for the purposes of the Act. However, any works to these structures which have the potential to affect the character of the listed building as a building of special architectural or historic interest may still require Listed Building Consent (LBC) and this is a matter for the Local Planning Authority (LPA) to determine.
End of official listing