Memories of Taunton with Nick Chipchase
There are many images of The County Hotel from its days as The London Hotel around 1900. I have chosen this image as it shows the hotel in the mid 1920’s when it also incorporated a cinema. I love the film posters as they tell a story though I have not been able to trace the film mentioned. “ The Mormon and His Wives “. Most Mormon missionaries were recalled to America in World War One. In the mid 1920’s a large number returned to continue their work in the UK.
British folk were appalled at Mormon polygamy and public anger was stoked up by films such as the one in the image. In 1922 a silent film was released called “ Married to a Mormon “ whilst later another appeared called “ Trapped by the Mormons “. This hinted darkly at virginal young British girls being spirited away to join Mormon harems in the USA. The other poster in the image refers to the Home Secretary which, at the time, was Winston Churchill. Despite public pressure he refused to deport the Mormons or refuse them entry.
The earliest reference to a hotel or inn at this site was in 1528 referring to a house called “ Le Thre Cuppys “. John Benot the landlord. No doubt “ The Three Cups “ was a popular coaching inn being on the main route from London to Exeter. All was well until The English Civil War when Taunton suffered severely under the command of Robert Blake. In an effort to hold Taunton Castle and remove buildings which obstructed the outer wall part of “ The Three Cups “ and other buildings were removed. The sieges were relieved in 1644. It seems that by 1672 the Inn had been rebuilt and extended . Monmouth arrived in Taunton in 1685 where he lodged in a house opposite the inn. In 1786 the inn was re christened “ The London Inn “ and did a grand trade in coaching. In 1793 there was stabling for 50 horses, 3 coach houses and 20 good lodging rooms.
Moving forward to the 1900’s the inn was owned by Bristolian Ernest Claridge and sold it to local wine merchant Walter Whittingham in 1913. Around this time the hotel’s horse bus was replaced by a Napier motor bus. Both can be seen in early images. After Whittingham’s early death in 1919 his widow sold the hotel to Trust Houses and the name “County Hotel” was adopted. Claridge had installed a theatre and stage and many functions took place in The Assembly Rooms. Taunton’s first Cinema opened here under the name “ The Empire “ finally closing in 1934 with the film” Viva Villa “.
The County Hotel was a temporary home to many famous visitors including Winston Churchill, The Queen, William Booth and Margaret Thatcher. Today the premises operates as Waterstone’s book shop. A use far removed from its long use as a hotel and early coaching inn.
By Nick Chipchase