Bishop William Giffard – Born 1038 in Longueville, France and Died 1128 in Brimsfield, England
– Henry de Blois (Henry of Winchester) – Born 1096 in France and Died 1171 in Winchester, England
– Bishop Peter des Roches – Born e. 1175 in Touraine, France and Died 1238
– Walter Langton, Bishop of Lichfield – Born 1243 and Died 1321
– Lord William (1st Baron of) Bonville (link2) – Born 1393 in Shute, England and Died 1461 in St. Albans, England
– (Hanging) Judge George (1st Baron) Jeffreys – Born 1645 in Acton, England and Died 1689 Tower of London, England
– Sir Benjamin Hammet – Born in 1736, Became a Member of Parliament, and Died 1800
Located in the depths of picturesque Somerset, this Norman fortress has witnessed over nine centuries of turbulent history and has undergone a myriad of changes since the 12th century. Although the castle’s origins are obscure, it is generally believed that the castle in its present form began to take shape under Bishop William Giffard (1107-29), when it served as the centre of the Norman bishop’s estate. The building we see today, lovingly renovated and maintained by the Chapman family for the last seventy years, is a Grade II listed reconstruction of the original Norman castle that charmingly incorporates many of the castle’s original features.
It is widely believed that, towards the end of the 12th century, Henry de Blois built the ‘Keep’ of the castle – the strongest portion of the castle’s fortification, and the place of last resort in case of siege or attack. This structure would prove key to this castle’s history, as it had a largely defensive function throughout its existence and underwent numerous sieges, including during the Civil War of 1644. However, the castle’s role as a defensive structure came to an end in 1662, when orders were issued to destroy its Keep. Following its demolition, the Keep was used as a garden until it was taken over by the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society in 1873 who have ensured its preservation to this day.
As time went on, the castle increasingly became utilised as the centre of the Bishop’s courts for Taunton Manor, with its buildings being used as a court and prison throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Perhaps the most notorious and bloody incident that took place within the castle occurred in 1685 following the Monmouth Rebellion – also known as the Pitchfork Rebellion. The rebel forces had united in order to revolt against King James III; however, they were quickly defeated by the King’s army and the rebels were held captive in the castle until the infamous Judge Jeffreys arrived to conduct their trials. In what became known as the Bloody Assize, Judge Jeffreys issued severe sentences to almost all defendants; 300 were hung, drawn and quartered and another 900 were transported to the West Indies to work on the sugar plantations. It’s no surprise then that Judge Jeffreys garnered a reputation as ‘the hanging judge’.
Ever since this rather gory period in the castle’s history, this landmark has certainly lived more peacefully with itself – no more so than under its current ownership of the Chapman family. Peter and Etty Chapman arrived at this wisteria-cloaked structure in 1950 and soon began thoughtfully restoring and renovating the historic building. Over the past seventy years, the castle has been passed through three generations of the Chapman family and the hotel’s developments have been continual and significant, such as the creation of the award-winning restaurant, Brazz, and the transformation of the iconic Garden & Wisteria Rooms.
As the Chapman family have dedicated themselves to the success of the Castle Hotel, they were thrilled to find out the ethos of hospitality seems to have played a role in the castle’s identity than they once thought. Following a brief investigation into the castle’s archives, they found the following advertisement that appeared in a local newspaper in March 1786:
“The Nobility, Gentry and Gentlemen in Trade, who may travel thro’ the West of England, are most respectfully inform’d, that the above well-known Inn is taken by William Sweet, who has fitted it up in the neatest and most comfortable manner for their reception, and earnestly solicits their patronage and support.”
And so it appears that the Castle Hotel in Taunton has a rich history – not only of battles and prisoners – but also of offering its guests the warmest of welcomes, and the Chapman family will ensure it continues to do so for many years to come.