Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Taunton, Somerset

Light thrown on the familiar

A brief stop in Taunton on my way deeper into southern Somerset a while ago saw the south facade of the castle bathed in sunlight. I took time to pause for a few minutes and take in some of the details. The gatehouse, accessed by a bridge over a dry moat, still boasts work of the 13th or 14th centuries, when the castle belonged to the bishops of Winchester. It was apparently more a centre for running the large estates of the diocese than a military fortress, although later, in the mid-15th century, it was strong enough to be worth besieging, and later still its garrison put an end to the uprising of Perkin Warbeck against Henry VII. Henry’s coat of arms can still be (just) made out at the top, above those of Bishop Langton over the archway. The upper part of the gatehouse dates to a remodelling of the late-15th century.

What we can see from here of the rest of the building looks the way it does thanks to another set of alterations, this time between the 1790s and c. 1816, when Sir Benjamin Hammet (a banker, building contractor and MP for Taunton) rebuilt parts of the structure to accommodate Assize Courts and judges’ lodgings. The facing of the wall and the pointed windows are from Hammet’s time; the smaller mullioned windows downstairs are later still.

One hopes that the judges appreciated the efforts made on their behalf, with well-lit upgraded accommodation very close to the courts where they worked when the Assizes were in session. Those who were not judges but also needed somewhere to stay had a choice of two gothic-style inns that are still there, very close by but out of my photograph. These are still impressive but much altered compared to the castle, so for now at least, I’ll let this building have its place in the sun.

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