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Churches of Somerset

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Churches of the British Isles

Gallery: Churches of Somerset

by Peter Kessler, 6 September 2019

SW&T (Taunton Deane) Part 1: Churches of Central Taunton

St Mary Magdalene Church, Taunton, Somerset

St Mary Magdalene's Church in Taunton occupies a churchyard on the northern side of Magdalene Street, with Whirligig Lane on its western edge and overlooking Hammet Street for this famous view of the tower. The church's foundations were probably laid in the early eighth century when Ina, king of the West Saxons, established Roman Christianity in Taunton. That early church was replaced by a stone building by 1180 under the bishop of Winchester's direction.

St Mary Magdalene Church, Taunton, Somerset

St Mary's became the town's parish church in 1308 (long before Taunton was the county town) when Bishop Hazelshaw of Winchester changed its legal standing from a chapel of Taunton Priory (see below) to a church with its own living. The building is mainly of sandstone with a painted interior, except for the 'forest' of pillars which line the four aisles - a rare feature in a parish church. Most of the statues and stained glass date from the Victorian restoration.

St Mary Magdalene Church, Taunton, Somerset

Revd Dr James Cottle was mainly behind the 'improvements' in the 1840s: high box pews were replaced with the present ones. A later successor, Dr William Robinson Clark, introduced more high church features such as the raised chancel floor. The tower was added in stages in the 1400s and 1500s, financed by wool trade prosperity. It was rebuilt in 1858-62 (in replica) under the guidance of architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. At fifty metres tall it is a local landmark.

Taunton Vineyard Centre, Taunton, Somerset

Taunton Vineyard Centre is at 2a Church Square, on the western side of Whirligig Lane opposite St Mary Magdalene (see above). Taunton Vineyard was planted in 2000 as an extension of Exeter Vineyard (see related links). A small group of people who lived in Taunton but who worshipped at Exeter Vineyard began feeding the poor on the streets of Taunton, and this evangelical Christian church grew from there, with Truro Vineyard's pastors moving here to lead.

North Street Church, Taunton, Somerset

North Street Church, otherwise known as the Taunton Independent Congregational Church is set back deep on the eastern side of North Street in Taunton, opposite the southern corner of Debenhams, and backing onto Whirligig Lane. The building was erected in 1843 in the then-popular twelfth century Gothic style. Probably independent from the beginning, it was apparently formalised as Congregational in 1873. The building is now Grade II Listed.

Octagon Gospel Chapel, Taunton, Somerset

The former Octagon Gospel Chapel is on the southern side of Middle Street, just visible between the frontage, about sixty metres from Canon Street. It was opened in 1776 by John Wesley himself. In 1809 the Methodists moved to The Temple but kept the Octagon for Sunday School work until it was sold in 1832. Bible Christian Methodists used it until 1840, after which the Christian Brethren held it until 1965 when they moved to their New Octagon Chapel on East Reach.

St James Church, Taunton, Somerset

The Church of St James sits on the northern side of St James Street, with The Ring O'Bells pub and Coal Orchard on its western flank. Its dedication is for St James the Greater, brother of John and first of the apostles to be killed by Herod in AD 44. He later became patron saint of Spain and the centre of a flourishing pilgrimage trade, making him a popular choice for the canons of Taunton Priory (below) when it came to dedicating their new church for northern Taunton.

St James Church, Taunton, Somerset

A church on this site was first erected by Taunton Priory in the tenth century. The current building replaced it in the fourteenth century with a surviving fifteenth century font. The south aisle and the south porch were rebuilt between 1836 and 1837. The west tower received the same treatment in the 1870s, and the chancel in 1884. Today the church backs onto Somerset County Cricket Ground instead of Taunton Priory and forms part of the ground's recognisable backdrop.

Taunton Priory, Somerset

Taunton Priory, otherwise known in full as the Priory of St Peter & St Paul, formerly occupied grounds between the medieval town of Taunton and the River Tone for which the town is named. Its location was due in part to the fact that Taunton was a manor of the bishops of Winchester. An Augustinian monastery, it was founded around 1115 by William Gyffarde (also spelled Giffard), bishop of Winchester and chancellor of England, supported by his eventual successor.

Taunton Priory, Somerset

A charter of Edward the Elder in 904 proves that a settlement of clergy existed by then, but any early priory buildings were probably swept away by the Norman rebuild. The priory was dissolved in 1539, and was entirely demolished except for its barn (seen here) which dates to the late 1400s or early 1500s. This now stands on the south-eastern corner of the County Cricket Ground, at the top of Priors Walk. The medieval fish farm, or vivarium, is now the site of Vivary Park.

Nine photos on this page by P L Kessler. Former Taunton Deane area church names and locations kindly confirmed by South West Heritage Trust, with additional information from The Chapels Society visit to Mid-Somerset, 28 September 2013, by Peter Daniel, David Dawson, and Roger Thorne.

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