Our green and pleasant town
Somerset Life|May 2020
CATHERINE COURTENAY takes a look at Taunton’s green spaces and discovers a legacy that’s continuing into the future
CATHERINE COURTENAY

It’s a shopping destination, it has restaurants, cafes and entertainment, it has a fascinating history and heritage, but Taunton is also home to award-winning parks and green spaces.

Somerset’s county town has an enviable horticultural heritage. Close to the centre of the town lies Vivary Park, so named because in Medieval times it was the site of a fish farm, or vivarium, for the priory and castle.

Although it didn’t become a public park until it was sold to the council in 1894, it had previously been used for various events, including the first Taunton Flower Show in 1851.

At that time the land was owned by Mr Kinglake of neighbouring Wilton House, who’d bought the site in 1810. In her book, Taunton Flower Show, author Anne Leamon says that previously, ‘the public were able to stroll through the fields and Mr Kinglake allowed the area to be used for public entertainment and cricket matches at times’.

That first flower show at Vivary saw a large marquee set up to house the various plants, flowers and fruit. Anne says that the show, which was attended by nurserymen from the surrounding area, including Mr Kelway at Langport, opened at 1 pm with an admission charge of 1s. By the end of the day, the grand sum of £16 had been raised.

The show has continued to this day, in Vivary Park, making it the oldest and longest-running flower show in the country.

After it was sold by Mr Kinglake to the council in 1894, Vivary was laid out as a formal park with the planting undertaken by the famed Veitch & Son of Exeter. It provided 1,325 plants and shrubs at a cost of £128.10s, reports Anne. The original layout included the front gates, bandstand and a shelter which can still be seen. In 1907 the park’s fountain was unveiled, a memorial to the late Queen Victoria.

A garden town

Taunton was awarded Garden Town status by the Government in 2017. It’s a funding scheme linked to housing plans drawn up by Somerset West and Taunton Council for around 11,000 new homes focusing on developments at Monkton Heathfield, Staplegrove and Comeytrowe – as well as in the town centre.

The idea is to create ‘garden communities’ in the suburbs, designed with landscape and wildlife in mind and creating high quality, self-sufficient communities for people to live in. Within Taunton town centre itself, there are plans to create more pedestrian and cycle links between the various green spaces and to promote the River Tone as a ‘green corridor’, recognising its benefits for wildlife and people.

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