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Understanding Taunton’s Civic Heritage

Although not recognised as such today, the stature of civic Taunton (the County Town of Somerset) was once clearly expressed in a grouping of significant buildings on the western edge of town, not far from its medieval castle.  Taunton gaol was built in 1754 at Wilton beside a new turnpike road known as Shuttern.  Over the next century, the prison expanded greatly, becoming the County Gaol in 1841.  By then, the town’s Police Station had come to occupy an adjoining site.  In 1858, an elegant mansion, Grove House, directly across Shuttern from the County Gaol, was bought and demolished, making way for Shire Hall, which would house the new County Assize Courts and its Judges’ Lodgings.  Somerset Constabulary took over the whole Gaol site for its County headquarters in 1911, after the prison was closed.  The old police station site and the town’s Crescent Fields next to Shire Hall were then incorporated within the 1933 County Hall and public gardens by E Vincent Harris, the country’s foremost inter-war civic architect.  Shire Hall, County Hall, and the remains of Taunton’s County Gaol are all now Grade II listed buildings.

In three separate commissions, Heritage Places has prepared statements of significance and/or heritage statements for the three civic sites, providing heritage input into design and planning processes and assessing potential impacts on significance that might result from development proposals.

Clients: Avon and Somerset Constabulary; Somerset County Council; Southwest One