Sir Robert Taylor, Architect
died 1788

The following note has been supplied by Richard Garnier.

Sir Robert Taylor arrived back in London from study as a sculptor in Rome in 1742 to discover that his father had died insolvent.  In the 1740s Robert practised as a sculptor, but by 1750 had turned to architecture, initially in tandem with being a sculptor which he gave up about 1760. 

Despite such an inauspicious start, he died in 1788 the most successful English architect of all time, worth £180,000.  By way of comparison, one of his patrons, the Lord Mayor Sir Charles Asgill, died the week before him worth only £120,000.  Taylor’s wealth is about the best known thing about him today, as he had until recently rather dropped below the radar, yet in his day he was described as having, until the arrival of Robert Adam from Rome in 1758, with his fellow architect James Paine ‘nearly divided the practice of the profession between them’.  In other words, Taylor got many of the architectural commissions of the 1750s, a period in which there was a building boom in England, following the cessation of the war against France of the 1740s.  He was quintessentially the City’s architect, appointed architect to the Bank of England from 1764.

I suspect the reasons that so many of Taylor’s buildings are no longer associated with him is that he never signed his architectural drawings, nor published a book on his body of work, unlike all his leading contemporary architects such as Paine, Chambers and the Adam brothers.  He left his fortune to Oxford University, leading to the foundation of the Taylorian Institute, but his own office drawings are not there and have disappeared.

Taylor’s patrons were largely of commercial rather than long-standingly landed background.  I have sketched his clientele in various articles I have published on Taylor as including:

City men, particularly bankers and directors of the Bank of England, directors or officers of the East India Company, men with interests in the West Indies, government financiers and army contractors, soldiers and sailors of fortune, lawyers, and political clients of two Prime Ministers, the Duke of Newcastle and of the third Duke of Grafton.

Although James Caldwell is slightly too late in date, he sounds like he would have been just the sort of man who would have commissioned Taylor if he had been around slightly earlier !!

As for Taylor’s style in the 1750s, it has a characteristic combination of the rather old-fashioned and bang up-to-date with William Kent inspired architectural fittings combined with Rococo decoration.  The fittings comprise door and window frames and their mouldings which look at first more like 1740s or even 1730s work, the 1750s-looking Rococo decoration being applied to doorhead and chimneypiece friezes and in plaster motifs on walls and ceilings.  This is another reason why Taylor’s hand has so often lain unrecognized: it being assumed that such features must date from two building campaigns and not due to one man all at the same time. Indeed, I have by now shown in several buildings how work assumed to date from before his time is really due to Taylor.

Considering how much architectural work he was reputed in his day as executing, there are far fewer buildings known today by him than all the other leading architects of his time.  I hope this begins to put in context the importance of finally establishing the Barlaston Hall was designed by him - Thomas Mills (the builder of Barlaston and father of the Mill with whom Caldwell stayed there), was from Leek, and although a lawyer, seemed to have no known links to Taylor's known clientele, yet the house looks absolutely in his style.  The question of authorship at Barlaston, which dates from about 1755, is now definitively solved.

 

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