Market town and administrative headquarters of Somerset, southwest England, 50 km/31 mi northeast of Exeter, on the River Tone; population (2001) 58,200. Products include cider, leather, optical instruments, computer software, aeronautical instruments, and concrete; other industries include light engineering, and there is a weekly cattle market. Taunton is the main market centre for west Somerset and east Devon. The remains of Taunton Castle include the Elizabethan hall in which Judge Jeffreys held his Bloody Assizes in 1685 after the Duke of Monmouth's rebellion.
Location Taunton is situated in the heart of the fertile valley of Taunton Deane, and is sheltered on the north and south by the Quantock and Blackdown hills.
Features The large Perpendicular 15th-century church of St Mary Magdalene has double aisles and an elaborately sculptured tower which is 49 m/163 ft high. Taunton Castle is a Norman and Edwardian building built on the site of a Saxon fort; it now houses the county museum. Other features include Priory Barn, a 12th–13th-century leper hospital, which formed part of a 12th-century Augustinian priory, and Gray's Almshouses (1635). The Admiralty Hydrographic Establishment is located at Taunton. The town formerly had army barracks, but these have now been converted to flats. There is a Marines base nearby at Norton-Fitzwarren.
History Taunton existed as a West Saxon stronghold in the early 8th century, and had a market before the Norman Conquest, receiving its first charter in the reign of Stephen. During the Civil War Taunton was held by the Parliamentarians and its castle held out against a Royalist siege. In 1685 the Duke of Monmouth was proclaimed king here before his defeat at the Battle of Sedgemoor, and inhabitants of Taunton were among the rebels executed following the assizes of Judge Jeffreys.