Taunton Castle: a relic restored
The Somerset Building Preservation Trust has been working on the restoration of one of the South West’s most important medieval buildings. With the assistance of grants from English Heritage, the Architectural Heritage Fund, the Heritage Lottery Fund, Viridor Credits Environmental Company and the Garfield Weston Foundation, they have undertaken the restoration of Castle House.
Castle House, which sits within Taunton Castle’s curtilage, was built by the Bishops of Winchester. It dates back to the 16th Century and has a fascinating history. Taunton Castle was repaired in the English Civil War, but the keep was demolished in 1662 after the war. The Bloody Assizes were held here in the Great Hall following the Monmouth Rebellion, when the infamous Judge Jeffreys sentenced around 200 of Monmouth’s followers to be hanged. According to Gilbert Burnett’s History quoted on the BBC programme This Sceptred Isle, Judge Jeffreys was perpetually drunk or in a rage.
The building has also been used as lodging for visitors to the castle and a school. The house was placed on the register of Buildings at Risk by English Heritage because it had become dilapidated. Somerset County Council invited a registered charity, the Somerset Building Preservation Trust Ltd, to seek a solution and restore the house.
More than £1 million was raised for the restoration, and an experienced architect and building contractors were appointed. The architect is Robert Battersby, who has worked on previous historic restorations. Coombes of Ilminster, founded in 1871, will be the builders. The historic nature of the building means that repairs are preferred over replacement whenever possible, and lime plaster and mortar are being used.
It is not clear whether the finished project will be available for venue hire in Taunton, but there are a number of historic buildings that can be hired for events such as weddings, along with venues such as County Ground Venue Hire in Taunton.
A Discovery Centre will be established in the ground floor area, allowing people of all age groups to find out about the history of the house and enjoy many different activities and learning opportunities. During the restoration, Somerset College students have been helping to document the work in photographs, which will be used for an interactive display when the house is opened to the public.