Murder discovered among the ruins of Taunton Priory

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By Western Daily Press | Friday, June 14, 2013, 05:00

It lay forgotten for more than 400 years, but when archaeologists began investigating the site of Taunton Priory they found evidence of past lives, and a possible murder.

The fascinating tale of the discoveries, under the disused County Garage, not far from Somerset County Cricket Ground, is told in a new book by the man who instigated the excavations. Steve Membery, senior historic environment officer with Somerset County Council, set the project in motion in 2005 after developers Gadd Homes applied to build 24 flats on the site. Excavations carried out in 1977 in an orchard east of Canon Street, had already yielded tantalising clues to the priory, including a cemetery and bell-founding pit.

When the Gadd Homes application was made Taunton Deane Borough Council, the planning authority, consulted the county Heritage Service. Evaluation was needed to show if the cemetery continued as far as the garage. Human burials were soon found and planning permission for the flats was given on condition that any further burials would be left in place or fully excavated if building work was likely to disturb them. Context 1 Archaeology was appointed as excavator.

When trial holes were dug fragments of carved stone were uncovered. Once the modern surface had been removed, a set of massive two metre-square Ham stone foundation pads were revealed. More were found which had clearly supported a substantial building. A column capital was found, along with stone carved in the Gothic style, tiles and fragments of medieval stained glass. It could mean only one thing, here, 400 years after its destruction on the orders of King Henry VIII, was the priory church itself.

"The church would have been the focus of monastic life for the canons, and a very important place for the people of medieval Taunton," writes Mr Membery.

The priory, founded in around 1120, was rebuilt in the 13th and early 14th century. The north wall, west entrance and part of the nave, 20.8 metres wide, were revealed, along with remains of a cloister. There were burials too, and here on-going analysis is providing tantalising glimpses into the lives of medieval inhabitants. Two young children lay hand-in-hand while the tip of a knife blade lay close to the throat of one man. A CT scan showed trauma to vertebrae, but it was impossible to tell if the injury caused his death.

Taunton Priory by Steve Membery is published by Somerset County Council Heritage Service, price £4.



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