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John Taylor (c.1650–1716)

Mayor of Oxford 1695/6 and 1708/9


John Taylor (or Tayler/Taylour) was born in c.1650, the son of John Taylor senior, who was a limner (portrait painter) and his wife Jane.

It is possible that his father originated from Downham in Gloucestershire, as he left property there to his wife Jane in his will of 1680. His father's uncle, the water-poet John Taylor (1578–1653), was born in Gloucester in 1578 and died in London in 1653. Pope said of him: “Taylor, their better Charon, lends an oar / Once swan of Thames, though now he sings no more.”

John's parents had at least three other children: Anne Taylor (born c.1652); Mary Taylor (born c.1655); and another daughter, probably called Jane, who married and had a child but had died by 1680. It is likely that they lived in St Thomas's parish, as in 1677 John's sister Mary Taylor was married at St Thomas’s Church; but unfortunately the parish registers for that church around the time of the birth of John and his sisters are missing.

In 1655 John Taylor's father painted a self-portrait and also a portrait of his uncle the water poet, both of which he presented to the Bodleian Gallery. In 1659 he was commissioned by the city to paint portraits of John Nixon and his wife Joan; and in 1664, when Dr John Wall, Canon of Christ Church, presented money to the City “for certain pious uses”, the City paid Taylor £8 10s for painting Wall's picture as well.

Taylor’s family probably moved to St Mary Magdalen parish at this time, probably to the house on the site of Balliol College mentioned below. In 1665 two people in that parish called John Taylor paid tax, one on six hearths and another on three. The former may have been Taylor’s father, and the latter the tobacco-pipe maker of the same name who also lived in the parish. Similarly in March 1667 one John Taylor in that parish paid 5/- poll tax for himself, his wife, and his three children, and the other 3/- for himself, his wife, and his child.

John Taylor’s father was employed by Magdalen College to copy the portrait of the Founder in 1669 and of Dr John Warner in 1670.

On 24 January 1670 Balliol College granted a lease to “John Tayler, painter” of (1) a tenement on the site of its present college, lying between the Corner House on the West and the “New Buildings” on the east, with (2) a piece of waste ground measuring 24 ft north to south, and 6 ft. 6 in. east to west between the garden of the said messuage on the west, and the way leading to the New Buildings of the said master and scholars to the east. The lease was for 40 years, and the rent 14s. This lease was renewed on 24 June 1686, but with the proviso that if the college should be minded to build upon the said premises or any part thereof, Taylor would surrender the residue of his lease receiving from the College such payment as two indifferent persons, one chosen by each side, should decide. Ten years later on 3 May 1698 this came about, and on 28 May the pair chosen by the college and Taylor (Sir Robert Harrison and John Tibbetts, a gentleman of Oxford) decided that Taylor should surrender the lease and receive two guineas before 24 June and £169 on 25 March 1699. On 7 June 1698 Taylor surrendered to the college all his right in the premises.

John Taylor junior obviously inherited his father’s talent, as he too became a limner or portrait painter, and was admitted free for £10 on 9 December 1672. It is unclear whether it was he or his father who in 1674/5 was paid £5 for drawing a picture (now lost) of Alderman John Harris, and who in about 1680 painted Alderman Richard Hawkins (described by Taylor’s father in his will of that same year as one of his “loveing friends”).

John Taylor and his first wife Elizabeth had three sons, but they all died in infancy or childhood:

  • Edward Taylor (probably the Edward Taylor, son of John, baptised at St Giles' Church on 20 November 1673):
    died in February 1683/5 and buried at St Mary Magdalen Church on 19 February
  • John Taylor I (baptised at St Mary Magdalen Church on 26 June 1676;
    died on 13 December 1676, buried inside that church on 14 December)
  • John Taylor II (baptised at St Mary Magdalen Church on 14 November 1678;
    died on 1 June 1679, buried inside that church on 2 June).

His wife Elizabeth Taylor died on 31 July 1680, nineteenth months after the birth of her youngest son. She was buried inside St Mary Magdalen Church on 2 August 1680, and the following inscription is on the floor near the old chancel reads:

Here lyes interred ye body of Eliz Taylor, wife of Jo Taylor, junior – paynter. She died July ye 31st 1680.
With her lye two sonnes, both John’s, who dyed in theire infancy. Ye first dyed December ye 13th 1676,
ye other dyed June ye 1st 1679, she leaving behind her issue one only son.

The next month, on 24 September 1680, Taylor’s father John Taylor senior also died (notwithstanding the fact that he stated that he was “in good health” when he signed his will on 23 September, the day before his death). He was buried inside St Mary Magdalen Church on 25 September 1680, and the following words were added to the above inscription:

Also underneath resteth the body of John Taylor, senior … in hope of a joyful resurrection,
he died September ye 24 1680.

In October 1681 Taylor first came on to the Common Council. The following year the new Mayor, John Townsend, nominated him as his Child and obtained a Bailiff’s place for him.

John Taylor’s second wife was Denise (“Dennis”) Harrison, the sister of Sir Robert Harrison (Mayor in 1688 and 1699), and they had two children:

  • John Taylor III (baptised on 5 December 1682 at St Mary Magdalen Church)
  • Jane Taylor (baptised on 26 September 1689 at St Mary Magdalen Church).

On 29 January 1682/3 the council granted John Taylor, limner, his first lease of 47 Broad Street. The house had hitherto been leased to Edward Sellwood, and was then in the occupation of Dr John Luffe. When Taylor’s lease was renewed on 28 February 1695/6, it was occupied by Thomas Swift; and when it was renewed again on 18 July 1709 it was occupied by the victualler John Gibbens. John Taylor’s son of the same name was granted leases for this house jointly with the mercer Henry Wise in 1723 and 1735

On 23 February 1682/3 the Mayor informed the house that John Taylor had promised to give the King’s arms and a frame to be hung in the Council Chamber, and it was agreed that his name should be put in the benefactors’ book.

On 2 July 1683 his apprentice painter John Walls was admitted free.

On 19 February1683/4 his only surviving child from his first marriage Edward, described as “son of John, limner” was buried at St Mary Magdalen Church.

On 17 August 1686 Mrs Jane Taylor, widow, presumably Taylor’s mother, was buried at St Mary Magdalen Church.

In September 1687 Taylor was appointed Junior Bailiff, and in December 1694 one of the eight Assistants. In September 1695 he was elected Mayor of Oxford for the first time (for 1695/6), selecting Jeffery Clarke as his Child. At the start his year of office, on 20 September 1695, Anthony Wood reports in his diary that the men who supported the Recorder, William Wright, at the general election “went to Taylor the new mayor, and Wood the old mayor, and made a disturbance at their dores”.

During Taylor’s mayoral year King William III paid a visit to Oxford, and it was agreed that:

all the gentlemen of the Council Chamber resident within the City or suburbs on the day of His Majesty’s coming, at the ringing of the great bell of St Martin’s shall repaire to the Guildhall and from thence with the Mayor shall ride two and two to meet His Majesty according to their places, the Mayor in his scarlet gown on horseback with two footmen and footcloths handsomely suited, all the aldermen in their scarlet gowns with their tippets on horseback with each his footman and footcloth, and the assistants in their scarlet gowns with footcloth and footmen, and the bailiffs with white rods in their hands, and all the rest of the citizens except the Recorder, the townclerk, and the Macebearer, having comely suits of clothes with handsome gowns according to their places, with handsome horses and other furniture, shall also ride behind the Mayor and his company, and all that can procure scarlet gowns are desired to do so and ride next the bailiffs. All the company are to meet His Majesty at the furthest place of our liberties or in some convenient place near Wolvercote, where all that are in scarlet, and the Recorder, townclerk, and Macebearer, shall alight from their horses and the Recorder is hereby desired to make such speeches to His Majesty as he thinks suitable, and then the Mayor is to present to His Majesty such presents as the Mayor and his brethren provide, the cost of which presents, the conduit running with claret, and all other necessary charges are to be paid out of the City treasure.

In 1696 Mr John Taylor, Mayor, was listed as paying tax on ten windows in St Mary Magdalen parish.

His only surviving son John Taylor III does not appear to have inherited his father’s artistic skills, because in September 1696 when he was fourteen he was apprenticed as a mercer to his uncle, Sir Robert Harrison.

Taylor was elected Barge Commissioner in April 1701, and September 1708 he was chosen as Mayor a second time (for 1708/9), nominating his own son John, now a mercer, as his Child.

On 18 July 1709 John Taylor, described as a painter, was granted a lease of a shop in St Mary Magdalen parish occupied by the victualler John Gibbons.

His second wife Denise Taylor was buried at St Mary Magdalen Church on 23 April 1713.

On 2 May 1713 his apprentice painter Thomas Reeves was admitted free.

† John Taylor was still serving as a Mayor’s Assistant when he died in 1716. He was buried beside his wife inside St Mary Magdalen Church on 21 May that year.


John Taylor’s sisters
  • Mary Taylor (born c.1655) married Unton Bullin or Bulein of Marston at St Thomas’s Church on 12 June 1677. Their son John was baptised at Marston in 1678. Their next three children were baptised at Barford St Michael: Elizabeth (1680), Devereau (1684), and Richard (1688).
  • Anne Taylor (born c.1652) was still single in 1680.
  • Jane Taylor became Mrs Cox. By1680 she had given birth to a daughter called Jane and had died.
John Taylor’s two surviving children
  • John Taylor III, described as being of Woodstock, died a bachelor on 8 December 1744 at the age of 62.
  • Jane Taylor married the Revd William Scott, Rector of Bletchingdon, and they had one daughter, Jane, who only survived ten days.

The memorial below was put up on the wall of St Mary Magdalen Church in 1744 by John Taylor’s daughter Jane in memory of brother John, and includes the charities to whom he bequeathed money in his will:

Memorial to John Taylor's son

Near this Place lies interr’d with the Remains
of his Father & Mother the Body of John Taylor,
late of WOODSTOCK, Gent.,
Son of JOHN TAYLOR late of this Parish, Gent
(Several times Mayor of this City)
and DENNIS his Wife (Sister to Sir Robert HARRISON,
late of this City Knight & Alderman).
He died a Bachelor Dec ye 8th 1744, Aged 62.
His only Sister JANE, Relict of ye late Revd Mr William Scott,
Rector of BLETCHINGTON in this County, out of Gratitude to a Kind
Brother, caused this Monument to be erected in his memory.

There follows a list of the many charitable bequests in the will of her brother (whose name appears in a list of benefactions cut in stone near the vestry door for giving £100, the interest to apprentice a poor boy once in two years, 1645)

Then at the foot of the memorial Mrs Jane Scott remembers her own baby daughter, also called Jane, who died over thirty years earlier on 20 December 1713, aged just ten days.


See also:

  • Mrs Reginald Lane Poole, Catalogue of Oxford Portraits, vol. i
  • Portraits of John and Joan Nixon, and Dr John Wall hanging in the Town Hall
  • PCC Will PROB 11/369/72 of the father of the Mayor (Will of John Tayler, Painter of Oxford, proved 14 January 1682)

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 28 February, 2019

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