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The Somerset Inn c 1902

The Somerset Inn c 1902 Taunton Somerset

I thought this one to be topical as it was mentioned with a photo in a recent edition of our local newspaper. I rather think that the story was in error as it said that the property had been empty for fifteen years.

I knew the family that lived there and ultimately just the father lived there pretty much in obscurity. I was shown the lovely brick arch cellars some years ago. The drayman’s access can be seen in the photograph.

In the doorway can be seen Alfred Jennings who held the licence from 1902. He died aged sixty four leaving a widow and eight children after having held the licence for twenty four years. Also seen in the photo is Mr Baker from the butchers next door and a policeman from the station across the road. Mr Jennings was the High Sheriff’s Trumpeter at the Assizes at Shire Hall and had achieved the rank of Bugle Major in The Somerset Light Infantry later the Territorial Force.

The funeral was conducted with full military honours, with the coffin being carried on a gun carriage to St. Mary’s Cemetery. Prior to entering the public house trade Mr Jennings was a professional cornet player.

The Somerset Inn was owned by The Charlton Brewery Company. In 1902 Taunton was served by ninety public houses for a population of 22,500. That’s a ratio of around 250 people for each pub. With closures and the population today we are a long way from that. 
In 1902 there were six licensed houses between the Compass Inn at Shuttern and the park gates including The Bear Inn, Tailor’s Arms Inn and The Bank Tavern. There was another Somerset Inn in Alfred St. Mr Jennings pub had a good reputation and gained trade from The Shire Hall across the road. Pubs early in the Twentieth Century served a different purpose back then.They were partly a place of refuge from poor living. Somewhere with a warm fire, free lighting and people to chat to. The alcohol for most was almost secondary. Today we are used to having ‘disposable income’ but that’s a relatively new concept. In 1900 a quarter of the UK population were living in poverty.

The average age at death for a man was under fifty. Time moves on. Hopefully for the better. Fingers crossed.

By Nick Chipchase

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