Heritage, South West

Taunton’s ‘best kept secret’ opens up to the public

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Castle House- Somerset

The majestic Grade Listed medieval building, Castle House is set to open its doors to the public for the first time after a magnificent restoration by the Somerset Building Preservation Trust, with grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Viridor Credits Environmental Company,  English Heritage the Architectural Heritage Fund and the Garfield Weston Foundation.
Dating back to the 16th century, Castle House, which was built by the Bishops of Winchester, is situated within the curtilage of Taunton Castle.  There have been no significant changes to the building in its history and it is perhaps one of the most significant buildings in the South West of England.

During its long history, Castle House has endured the English Civil War, hosted the infamous ‘hanging judge’ Judge Jeffreys, has been used as a lodging house for visitors to Taunton Castle and at one time was a school. Despite Judge Jeffreys, the building has a warm and welcoming feel to it and feels comfortable sharing its past with the present.

However over the past few decades the house had fallen into a state of dilapidation and was on the English Heritage Buildings at Risk Register.  As a result Somerset County Council , who lease the House from the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society, invited the Somerset Building Preservation Trust Ltd, a registered charity which restores derelict historic buildings in Somerset, to seek a financially sustainable future for Castle House and to restore the building.

Castle House- Somerset

The trust set the wheels in motion; raising funds to restore the building and project manage the restoration.  Over £1million was raised to carry out the works and Architect, Robert Battersby was appointed along with contractors, Coombes of Ilminster.  Both are very experienced in the restoration of historic buildings.

Lime plaster and mortar are being used in the restoration and wherever possible repairs are being undertaken rather than replacements made.

The Ground Floor Area of Castle House will be transformed into a Discovery Centre, where great heritage can be shared with the general public.

Activities will range from learning opportunities for all age groups linked to the broad spectrum of the history of the House, including its fabric and history, music, drama, crafts, literature and the politics of the times. In addition to this members of the public will be invited to take a stroll, accompanied by volunteer stewards and enjoy the chance to absorb the rich history that is Castle House Taunton.

Learning opportunities for students have been put in place by the Somerset Building Preservation Trust during the restoration of the House. Students from Somerset College have been assisting in the photographic recording of the building not only for archive purposes but for interactive display in the House once it is open to the public.

Castle House- Somerset

Speaking about the development, Erica Adams, Somerset Building Preservation Trust Secretary, said:

“The SBPT has been enormously grateful for major donations from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Viridor Credits Environmental Company, English Heritage, Architectural Heritage Fund and the Garfield Weston Foundation as well as other major generous donations from individuals. Their generosity has enabled SBPT to achieve its goal and get on with the restoration and conversion of the building.

“This is a project of major importance, with Castle House, Taunton being one of, if not the, most important medieval buildings in the South West.  Those involved in the project are devoted to making Castle House somewhere that people of all ages and abilities will enjoy visiting on a regular basis.”

Chris Sidaway, Chairman of the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society which owns Taunton Castle and leases it to the local council, added:

“We are delighted that the fund raising for the restoration of Castle House has proved so successful. We are confident that the restored building will enhance the cultural life of Taunton.”

For more information about Castle House please visit: www.sbpt.info.

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