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Taunton retold through town centre display

04 March 2022 : Council news, Community, Business

A graphical timeline illustrating Taunton’s history from the Anglo-Saxon period to the 20th Century will be displayed on the front of the former Debenhams store in North Street, week commencing 7 March.

Somerset West and Taunton (SWT) Council’s Emergency High Street Recovery Group in Taunton, which consists of local businesses representatives and ward councillors, commissioned the timeline with funding from the Emergency Town Centre Recovery Fund to improve the appearance of the town, attract visitors and boost the local economy.

The timeline has been collated and arranged by the South West Heritage Trust using early oil paintings, watercolours, engravings and vintage photographs within its own archives and that of the Somerset Archaeological & Natural History Society.

50 panels have been assembled into linear sections to reflect seven significant themes in Taunton’s development. Between them, they depict historic churches and buildings, personalities including Judge Jeffreys and the Duke of Monmouth, markets of old and one of the back-street slums that Victorian Taunton was keen to conceal.

The imagery, which was printed by AP Signs and Print of Weston-super-Mare, needed to be digitised and greatly upscaled to meet the 2.44m height of a 12 x 8ft standard billboard. Consequently, the watercolour paintings produced by Taunton’s very own artist, Harry Frier (1849-1921), worked particularly well. There are also watercolours from the 1830s and ’40s by John Buckler and his son, and photographs dating from the 1850s onwards.

Production of the panelled sections commenced mid-February and at a finished length of 62m (203ft), it challenges any other artwork as the longest in the South West.

Cllr Marcus Kravis, Executive Member for Economic Development at SWT, said: “When the Emergency High Street Recovery Group and I heard that the Debenhams flagship store would be closing, we wanted to do something positive for the town to improve its appearance and increase footfall through the unveiling of this incredible exhibit.

“It will be great to see the fruits of our labour and I’d like to extend my thanks to all the stakeholders involved, especially South West Heritage Trust for their design input.

“We hope it supports local shops and businesses as well as highlighting Taunton’s rich and turbulent past which is perhaps less well known.”

Tom Mayberry, Chief Executive at the South West Heritage Trust, said: “The collections cared for by the Trust include thousands of images that reflect the history of the county with Taunton particularly well represented.

“It is hoped that the timeline will be a reminder to Taunton people and visitors to the town of a rich and turbulent past that deserves to be better known.”

The installation will be on display until such time as the former Debenhams store is reoccupied.