The History of Taunton, in the County of Somerset, England

Preface to First Edition

The history of a particular town, though it cannot, in the variety of the events it comprehends, or the grandeur of the subject it bandies, be compared with that of a nation or empire, yet connects with it importance and utility. It is peculiarly interesting to natives; and it furnishes for their younger years a proper introduction to more general and extensive history. Here may, advantageously, commence their researches into the state and events of past ages. A taste for historical reading may be easily and agreeably given to youth, by beginning with facts taking place at home; and the connexion of them with national affairs will awaken a curiosity to become acquainted with the revolutions their country hath seen.

The history of a town is united with that of the kingdom to which it belongs, and with that of the ages through which it has stood. Publications of this kind are, particularly, serviceable towards an accurate and complete provincial history. They should not, there, fore, because they are local, be neglected and overlooked. The history of a town constitutes a part of that whole, which commands attention by the magnitude of the object; and they, who, by birth, or residence, or any other circumstance, are connected with it, feel a peculiar concern in a review of those actions of which it has been the theatre.

In these views the History of Taunton may claim attention. Few towns, in this kingdom, have had a larger share in events of national importance; orcan furnish a detail of transactions, more adapted to give lessons, on liberty and virtue, to the rising generations.

But though Taunton is, on these accounts, a very proper subject for the purpose, its history had never been attempted, till, about the year 1780, Mr. Locke, of Burnham, published proposals for it. From his ingenuity, and the attention he had given to the subject, the friends of his design promised themselves information and entertainment. But the multiplicity of his engagements, some unpleasant incidents, and his removal from the town, after he had for a short time been a resident in it, led him to drop his purpose; and, in a friendly manner, to give the materials which he had collected for It^ to the printer.

The author of this work, after Mr. Locke had entirely relinquished his design, yielded to the inclination which he had felt, before Mr. Locke's proposals appeared, to draw up a History of Taunton. His papers afforded a clue to direct enquiry, and appeared to offer ample materials; but, as the authorities quoted will show, he has by no means confined himself to them. In reality, he has executed his work according to his own ideas, and availed himself of Mr. Locke's manuscript only as he has of any other writer from whom he could borrow information. On this account he has found it a work, which required more industry in collecting, and more labour in composing than he, at first, conceived would be necessary.

The impatience, with which this publication has been expected, he owns, is encouraging to him; but though he ought not to affect a modesty, which becomes authors on their first appearance before the tribunal of the public, yet he cannot, on the present occasion, divest himself of all timidity and diffidence, lest expectation should be disappointed. It is the first essay of the kind from his pen. His pretensions to the character of an antiquary are very small. And some particulars, proper to be enlarged upon in such a history, will not entertain or interest many.

He hopes, however, that he has not given his attention to useless trifles, nor directed his thoughts to subjects totally foreign from the nature of the profession in which he appears. He has brought forward some curious particulars, which in a few years more, for want of being recorded, would be irrecoverably lost. His work will bold up many instances of exertion, directed to the benefit of the town, as domestic examples, to awaken a spirit of emulation. And it will display before the reader a scene which must instruct and affect every one who has any idea what liberty, civil or religious, mean: Liberty, that best birth-right of Englishmen, and, next to Christianity, the most precious gift of heaven.

It has given him pleasure to hold up to remembrance the names of those gentlemen, who have, in any respect, rendered public services to the Town of TAUTON. This he, will be hold to say, he has done, with candour and impartiality. It is scarcely necessary, he would hope, to caution the reader against considering such a tribute of praise, paid where the author conceived it was merited^ as pledging himself to any character; though it is a point of virtue with him to do justice to all.

He cannot conclude this preliminary address without testifying the lively sense he has of the honour done him, by the ready and free patronage and numerous subscriptions, with which this work has been encouraged; for which he returns his sincere and cordial thanks. The gentlemen, whose obliging communications he has noticed in the proper places, are requested to accept his grateful acknowledgments: amongst them the Rev. Mr. Collinson, from whom the public expects the History of Somerset, deserves particular mention. He has a very respectful and grateful sense of the attention paid to his design, by other gentlemen, to whom the pages of tho history do not gWe him an opportunity to refer; of the politeness with which James Bernard, esq. of Crowcombe, offered him a free access to the valuable library of the late Thomas Carew, esq. of the friendship of William Hawker, esq. of Poundisford-lodge, for pointing out, and lending him some writers, who would not have otherwise fallen in his way, and from whom important information was to be derived; of the handsome manner, in which the learned Dr. G. Moore, archdeacon of Cornwall, not only favoured him with admittance to the library of the cathedral of Exeter, but personally attended him in his researches; and of the readiness, with which sir Thomas Gunston furnished him with the use of an authenticated copy of the charter of Taunton.

He likewise feels himself much indebted for many observations and considerable assistance to the ingenious and learned Mr. Henry Norris. In the enumeration of the people of the town, besides the aid he received from Mr. Norman and Mr. Weekes, through their respective neighborhoods, he owed much to the share, which the Rev. Mr. Darracott obligingly took in this part of his undertaking' by accompanying him through the town, and assisting his enquiries through the whole of the survey.

He reflects on all these assistances with pleasure, as marks of personal respect, and as the testimonies of approbation given to intended work, which inspire him with some degree of confidence, in submitting the execution of it to the candour of his friends and die public.

 

Table of Contents

Chapter I.
Ancient state of the town.

Chapter II.
Account of the public buildings and charitable institutions of Taunton.

Chapter III.
Civil constitution of the town.

Chapter IV.
The trade and manufactures of Tauton.

Chapter V.
Political transactions in which Tauton has been the scene of action.

Chapter VI.
Hamlets.

Chapter VII.
Present state of the town.

 

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Preface to Second Edition

is upwards of thirty years since the late Dr. Toulmin published the History of Taunton, which has now been long out of print, and has become extremely scarce. Towards the close of his life, he himself had meditated a new edition; but before his design was completed, the world was deprived of the labors of the venerable and learned author.

The great interest which the public has lately taken in topographical history encouraged the Editor to prepare a new and enlarged edition of Dr. Toulmin's work. There are not many towns in England that afford more abundant materials for history than that of Taunton, whether it is considered in its ancient state under the West Saxon monarchs, previously to its being annexed to the episcopal see of Winchester, or in modern times for the part it has taken in the political transactions of the reigns of the Tudors and Stuarts. The great changes and improvements which have taken place in the last fifty years in every principal town in the kingdom, whether we admire the architectural embellishments displayed in private and public edifices, or the improvement of roads, and the consequent increase and facility of intercourse between the more distant parts of the empire; whether we look at the increase of commerce and manufactures, and their constant attendant luxury; whether we contemplate the extension and progress of science and the arts, and every branch of learning, or regard the rapid march of intellectual power; every thing exhibits, that, in this country, the human mind, during the above-mentioned period, has attained an elevation of grandeur unknown to former ages, and not paralleled by any nation of the world.

In these improvements in the extension and progress of human knowledge in the advancement of science and literature and in the increase of trade and manufactures Taunton, as compared with the rest of the kingdom, has borne its full share; which the following pages will most amply testify.

The additions made to the text of Dr. Toulmin's work are marked by an inverted comma; the notes which were in the former edition are distinguished by the initial letter T; the others, except those to which Home initial letter is annexed, are by the present Editor. The additions which have been made from Dr. Toulmin's manuscripts are referred to as such at the bottom of the pages where they occur.

The most pleasing and grateful duty of the Editor is to return his warmest thanks to those gentlemen who have been so obliging as to render him assistance by the contribution of materials for the improvement of this work, or in the exercise of their influence in procuring him additional names to his list of subscribers. Among these, the first place is due to Dr. Blake, of Taunton. To this gentleman, who unites the love of science and literature with the most active benevolence and humanity, the Editor is indebted for the manuscripts and other papers of the late Dr. Toulmin, of which he has largely availed himself in the following pages.