Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Taylor, Robert (1714-1788)

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TAYLOR, Sir ROBERT (1714–1788), architect, was born in 1714. His father was a London stonemason, who made a considerable fortune, and wasted it by living beyond his means at a villa in Essex. He apprenticed his son to Sir Henry Cheere [q. v.] the sculptor, and sent him to study at Rome. Returning to England on receiving the news of his father's death, Taylor found himself penniless; but he had good friends in the Godfrey family of Woodford, Essex, who enabled him to make a start as a sculptor. The monuments to Cornwall and Guest at Westminster Abbey (1743–6) and the figure of Britannia in the centre of the principal façade of the old Bank of England are his work. So is the sculpture in the pediment of the Mansion House, of which Lord Burlington bitterly observed that ‘any sculptor could do well enough for such a building as that.’ His practice was to hew out his figures roughly from the block, and leave the rest to workmen, with the exception of a few finishing touches. The Mansion House was completed in 1753, and about that time Taylor gave up sculpture for architecture. His first architectural design was a house, formerly No. 112 Bishopsgate Street Within, for John Gore of Edmonton. He then built a house at Parbrook, Hampshire, for Peter Taylor; a house in Piccadilly for the Duke of Grafton; Gopsall Hall, Atherstone, Hertfordshire, for Lord Howe; Chilham Castle, Kent, with a mausoleum, for James Colebrook, 1775; a house at Danson Hill, near Woolwich, Kent, for Sir John Boyd, and Stone Buildings, Lincoln's Inn, 1756. He became architect to the Bank of England, and was occupied in 1776–81, and again in 1783, in making additions to the bank, which included the wings on either side of George Sampson's original façade (1733), the four per cent. reduced annuity office, the transfer office, and the quadrangle containing the bank parlour. The whole of the façade, extending from Prince's Street to Bartholomew Lane, was removed by Sir John Soane [q. v.], who succeeded Taylor in 1789; but the quadrangle remains almost unaltered, showing a very tasteful use of the Corinthian order. Taylor built Ely House, Dover Street, for Edmund Keene [q. v.], bishop of Ely, about 1776, and did some work at Ely Cathedral. He built in 1775–7 the six clerks' and enrolment offices, Chancery Lane; 1776, Long Ditton church, Surrey; 1778–85, Gorhambury, near St. Albans, Hertfordshire, for Lord Grimston. Heveningham Hall, Suffolk, Normanton Hall, Rutland, Harleyford, Buckinghamshire, and Copford Hall, Essex, are among the country seats which he erected. Clumber, near Worksop, Nottinghamshire, built by Taylor for the Duke of Newcastle, was destroyed by fire and rebuilt in 1879. About 1780 he built the bridge at Maidenhead, Berkshire, at the cost of 19,000l. Taylor was one of the three principal architects attached to the board of works. He was surveyor to the admiralty, and laid out the property of the Foundling Hospital, of which he was a governor. He succeeded James (‘Athenian’) Stuart as surveyor to Greenwich Hospital, and was surveyor and agent to the Pulteney and many other large estates. According to Thomas Hardwick (Memoir of Sir William Chambers, 1825, p. 13), Taylor and James Paine the elder ‘nearly divided the practice of the profession between them, for they had few competitors till Mr. Robert Adam entered the lists.’ Taylor was sheriff of London in 1782–3, when he was knighted.

He died at his residence, 34 Spring Gardens, London, on 27 Sept. 1788, and was buried on 9 Oct. in a vault near the north-east corner of the church of St. Martin's-in-the-Fields. He left an only son, Michael Angelo Taylor [q. v.] The bulk of his fortune of 180,000l. was left for a foundation at Oxford for teaching the modern European languages. Owing to certain contingencies the bequest did not take effect till 1835. The lecture-rooms and library which compose the Taylorian buildings were built in 1841–5, in combination with the university galleries, from the design of Charles Robert Cockerell [q. v.]

Thirty-two plates of Taylor's designs, drawn and engraved in aquatint by Thomas Malton, were published in 1790–2. He is commemorated by a tablet in Poet's Corner, Westminster Abbey. An anonymous half-length portrait of Taylor belongs to the Institute of British Architects (Cat. Third Loan Exhib. No. 886). An anonymous stipple portrait of Taylor, printed in colours, is in the Crowle Pennant in the print-room at the British Museum, vol. xii. No. 93.

[Gent. Mag. 1788, ii. 842, 930, 1070; Builder, 1846, iv. 505; criticism by J. Elmes in the Civil Engineer, 1847, x. 340; Dict. of Architecture; Blomfield's Hist. of Renaissance Architecture in England, ii. 260.]

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