Taunton is the county town of Somerset, England. The town, including its suburbs, had an estimated population of 61,400 in 2001. It is the largest town in the shire county of Somerset.
The town has over 1,000 years of religious and military history, and is now undergoing a regeneration project. It has various transport links which support its central role in economy and commerce.
Taunton is the main settlement and administrative centre of the local government district of Taunton Deane. The district was formed on 1 April 1974, under the Local Government Act 1972, by a merger of the Municipal Borough of Taunton, Wellington Urban District, Taunton Rural District, and Wellington Rural District. Taunton Deane was granted borough status in 1975, perpetuating the mayoralty of Taunton. The district was given the name of an alternate form of the ancient division of Taunton hundred.
The town name derives from "Town on the River Tone" — or Tone Town. Cambria Farm which is now the site of a Park and ride close to Junction 25 of the M5 motorway was the site of a Bronze and Iron Age settlement and Roman farm. There was a Romano-British village near the suburb of Holway, and Taunton was a place of considerable importance in Saxon times. The Saxon town was a burh with its own mint. King Ine of Wessex threw up an earthen castle here about 700, but it was destroyed by his queen Æthelburg of Wessex in 722, to prevent its seizure by rebels.
A monastery was founded before 904. The bishops of Winchester owned the manor, and obtained the first charter for their "men of Taunton" from King Edward in 904, freeing them from all royal and county tribute. At some time before the Domesday Survey Taunton had become a borough with very considerable privileges, and a population of around 1,500 and 64 burgesses, governed by a portreeve appointed by the bishops. Somerton took over from Ilchester as the county town in the late thirteenth century, but it declined in importance and the status of county town transferred to Taunton about 1366. Between 1209 and 1311 the manor of Taunton, which was owned by the Bishop of Winchester, increased two and a half times. The parishes of Staplegrove, Wilton and Taunton itself were part of the Taunton Deane Hundred.
In 1451 during the Wars of the Roses Taunton was the scene of a skirmish between Thomas de Courtenay, 13th Earl of Devon and Baron Bonville. Queen Margaret and her troops passed through in 1471 to defeat at the Battle of Tewkesbury. In the Second Cornish Uprising of 1497 most of the Cornish gentry supported Perkin Warbeck's cause and on 17 September a Cornish army some 6,000 strong entered Exeter before advancing on Taunton. Henry VII sent his chief general, Giles, Lord Daubeney to attack the Cornish and when Warbeck heard that the King's scouts were at Glastonbury he panicked and deserted his army. Henry VII reached Taunton on 4 October 1497 where he received the surrender of the remaining Cornish army. The ringleaders were executed and others fined a total of £13,000.
Taunton Castle changed hands several times during the Civil War of 1642–45 but only along with the town. During the Siege of Taunton it was defended by Robert Blake, from July 1644 to July 1645, with the town suffering destruction of many of the medieval and Tudor buildings. After the war, in 1662, the keep was demolished and only the base remains. On 20 June 1685 the Duke of Monmouth crowned himself king of England at Taunton during the Monmouth Rebellion and in the autumn of that year Judge Jeffreys was based in the town during the Bloody Assizes that followed the Battle of Sedgemoor.
The town did not obtain a charter of incorporation until 1627, which was renewed in 1677. The charter lapsed in 1792 owing to vacancies for the members of the corporate body, and Taunton was not reincorporated until 1877. The medieval fairs and markets of Taunton (it still holds a weekly market today), were celebrated for the sale of woollen cloth called "Tauntons" made in the town. On the decline of the west of England woollen industry, silk-weaving was introduced at the end of the 18th century.
Taunton was named as a 'Strategically Important Town or City' in the government's Regional Spatial Strategy, allowing Somerset County Council to receive funding for large-scale regeneration projects. In 2006, the council revealed plans which it called "Project Taunton". This would see the regeneration of the areas of Firepool, Tangier, the Retail town centre, the cultural quarter, and the River Tone, aiming to sustain Taunton as a central hub for business in the South West.
The Firepool area on the northern edge of Taunton town centre, adjacent to the main line railway station, currently includes a high proportion of vacant or undeveloped land. The Council is promoting a sustainable, high quality, employment-led mixed use development. The Firepool project is set to attract 3,000 new jobs and 500 new homes.
In Tangier, a brownfield area between Somerset College of Arts and Technology and the bus station, the project proposes to build small offices and more riverside housing.
The "Cultural Quarter" is the area along the river between Firepool and Tangier. The proposals have plans to extend riverside retail, an aim to attract more smaller, boutique businesses, such as those already found in the Riverside shopping centre.
Plans for the town centre include greater pedestrianisation and an increase in size and number of retail units.
Several sites along the River Tone are set to undergo renovation. Firepool Weir lock — long silted up — will be dredged during 2011 to allow boats to pass from the navigable section of the Tone through Taunton to the Taunton-Bridgwater canal. Goodland Gardens will receive a makeover. Projects to develop Somerset Square (the paved area next to the Brewhouse Theatre) and Longrun Meadow (country park near to SCAT) have already been delivered.
The government sees Taunton's traffic congestion problems as a serious obstacle to its continuing economic growth. An important part of the government's growth strategy for the town is new road infrastructure consisting of a new link road (Taunton's Third Way) which was completed 27 September 2011 at a cost of £7.5 million, and a second link road (the Northern Inner Distributor Road) planned for completion by the end of 2013 at a cost of £21 million. The road would link Staplegrove Road with Priory Avenue, running across Kingston Road.