Taunton Unitarian Chapel
Somerset TA1 3PE
This historic chapel in Mary Street, has hardly changed since it was built in 1721. It still has its original internal structure and oak furnishings. The chapel has retained its unusual Flemish oak square pillars with Corinthian capitals, the oak galleries and carved wooden pulpit.
There is also a fine early 18th century brass chandelier, donated by Taunton Member of Parliament, Nathaniel Webb who was noted for having sat in the House of Commons for 7 years and never once said a word!
Externally, the building has a number of interesting features. Each floor is split by a number of Corinthian pilasters, and the doorway is framed by two pairs of similar identical pilasters, and topped by a triangular pediment. On the ground floor, there are four round-headed windows, while the first floor has five round-headed window bays, though the outer pairs are blocked.
The Window Tax
These blocked windows are a reminder of a bizarre 17th/18th century property tax levied on houses built with a certain number of windows. To avoid the tax some houses from the period can be seen to have bricked-up window-spaces (ready to be glazed or reglazed at a later date).
The levy was designed to impose tax relative to the prosperity of the taxpayer without the controversy that then surrounded the idea of income tax. In England and Wales the tax was introduced in 1696 and was repealed in 1851.
In the latter part of the 17th century, Taunton had two dissenting places of worship: "Paul's Meeting" and the Baptist Meeting. After Mayor Timewell sacked both Paul's Meeting and the Baptist Meeting in 1683, the dissenters were driven to worship in private houses on the outskirts of Taunton, where their assemblies were regularly raided by the Justices.
“Paul's Meeting” survived attempts to turn it into a workhouse and, with the coming of joint monarchs William and Mary, followed by the Toleration Act 1688, was reopened.
The “Baptist Meeting” became the Baptist New Meeting and was registered in 1691.This led to the erection of a permanent Baptist Chapel in Mary Street in 1721. When some Non-Conformist sects amalgamated to form the Unitarians, this chapel was renamed the Taunton Unitarian Chapel.
This chapel is famous because of Taunton’s traditional history as the centre for The Dissenters (Non-Conformists), and because of its associations with poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and preacher John Wesley.
While living in Nether Stowey, 16 miles (26 km) away, Coleridge walked to the chapel to preach on several occasions. In particularly bad weather, John Wesley was forced to abandon his outdoor meetings and use the chapel instead.
The chapel welcomes all visitors whether believers or non-believers to their services. A service normally consists of music, hymn-singing, readings (from many sources and from many faiths), an address, prayers or meditation and a few minutes silence for personal reflections.
Services are held on the 1st and 3rd Sundays of the month at 11:00 am. Services are followed by socialisation and light refreshments in the Manse behind the Chapel.
Contact & Further Information
+44 (0)1823 282 953
Google Map - Taunton Unitarian Chapel