John Taylor was the son of a Northampton printer and publisher of the same names; he was born in Northampton on April 13th, 1831. John was educated at Northampton Grammar School, at a private school run by a Mr Emery, in College Street, Northampton, and for two years at the Castle Hill School operated by the Rev. William Jarrom, for two years the General Baptist minister in the town. When Mr Jarrom left for work in China, John was sent to James Linnett’s school at Towcester. Apprenticed to the printing trade in Northampton and London, he returned to Northampton in 1853, joined his father in business, and added a second-hand book line to the business at the premises at 22, Gold Street. His father retired in 1862, and after his father died in 1864 John succeeded to the full control of a printing and stationery business. Unfortunately for his business success, but happily for Northamptonshire bibliography, John Taylor’s love of books and an ever-present anxiety to collect every scrap of Northamptonshire’s history, overshadowed everything else.
His father was one of the promoters of the General Baptist cause in Northampton which met for some years in the Kingswell Street chapel. When the General Baptist cause in Northampton ceased to function, John Taylor joined the College Street Baptist Church, and it was he who was largely responsible for raising the funds which put up the new chapel in College Street1 . His connection with the Baptists all his life made him keenly interested in the history of the denomination. He was the best authority on early Baptist history in this part of the country, and for very many years he worked at an important volume on Confessions of Faith. A copy of “The Faith and Practise of thirty Baptized Churches” in the Midlands (dated 1651) was to be the centre of an exhaustive collection of Confessions of Faith from all parts of the world, and the basis for biographies of the signatories, and histories of the Churches they represented, but he died with the work incomplete2.
In 1884 Taylor moved his business to premises at 9 College Street and bought a private house in York Road, Northampton, where he lived until his death on August 25th, 1901. John Taylor was twice married. His first wife, who died in 1891, was Miss Sarah Scott, of Leicester. His second wife, who survived him, was Miss Ellen Colson, of Rushden. He left no children.
A Liberal in politics, John Taylor did not take a prominent part in local public affairs; although he had his windows broken over the Bradlaugh disputes, and although he sometimes wrote a critical letter to the newspapers on municipal matters.
His first passion was to buy and handle, and frequently to retain specimens of Northamptonshire printing, or rare volumes of Northamptonshire history. In the long years of his collecting, a copy of almost every known Northamptonshire book, no matter how large or how small or insignificant, passed through his hands. He was at every public sale of books in the district, and he spent much time at the British Museum Library, the Bodleian at Oxford, and the University Library at Cambridge, carefully collating rare specimens of Northamptonshire works. In the course of nearly forty years, he collected and put into type for his Bibliotheca the title page and collation of 30,000 Northamptonshire books. Only six copies were printed, one of which was acquired by the Northampton Public Library3.
Naturally, in the course of his investigations, he came across many unknown items of Northamptonshire history. These he collected and printed, but, curiously never issued until a few weeks before his death, when they were published under the title of “Antiquarian Memoranda.” In 1884 he commenced the “Northamptonshire Notes and Queries” which, issued for twelve years, forms six unique and valuable volumes.
Taylor was a lover of books, and he only parted with his choicest acquisitions with the greatest reluctance. The majority of his collections of books and manuscripts of John Clare and miscellaneous Northamptonshire books are in the Northampton Central Library. He possessed, at the time of his death, unique collections of rare sixteenth-century tracts, Baptist historical literature, Baptist Missionary literature, Northamptonshire engravings and portraits, Northamptonshire poll books and election literature, and historical notes on every village and town in the county. He was a source of reference to others engaged in local history research, knowledge that was willing shared and often writing updates and responses in the local newspapers.
One of his greatest achievements was as part of a group in the 1860s that formed the Northampton Free Library, evolving as the Northampton Public Library and today is still a significant proportion of the local studies collection of the Northampton Central Library.
Death of John Taylor, printer and book-lover, Northampton Mercury, Friday 30 August 1901
John Taylor obituary, Notes & Queries Sept. 14, 1901, vol 8 p 223
Northamptonshire Notes & Queries, second series, vol. 1, pp 13-16
Roger Hayden, “John Taylor and the Records of Northants Nonconformity,” Baptist Quarterly 24.7 (July 1972): 342-344
© 2018, Graham Ward. All rights reserved.