John William Augustus Taylor
The Revd John William Augustus Taylor (1818–1886) lived at the Rookery and then Stoke House in Headington. Not only is he responsible for the way that the Highfield area of Headington is laid out, but he also gave it the social character that it still has today. By means of restrictive covenants, he engineered an upmarket estate, with no pubs, intended to be superior to the adjoining village of New Headington.
J. W. A. Taylor (“J.W.A.T.”) was born on 3 February 1818 at Upper Dorset Street, Dublin, the fourth and youngest child of John Taylor (a Calvinist evangelist and inventor who established Dublin’s first Sunday School) and Rebecca Maria Ann Spilsbury Taylor, who (under the name of Maria Spilsbury) was a famous artist and often exhibited at the Royal Academy (see one of her paintings in the Tate). The family had moved to Rossana in County Wicklow from London in 1814, at the invitation of a family friend, the Honourable Mrs Tighe, and J.W.A.T. was born at her town house in Dublin. His mother died in 1820 when he was only two, and in the autumn of that year his father returned with the children to England, to 5 St George’s Row, Hyde Park. A year later he also died, and J.W.A.T. went to live with his uncle and aunt, Mr & Mrs Walter Kingsbury, at Twyford in Berkshire.
J.W.A.T. matriculated at Queens’ College, Cambridge in Michaelmas Term 1836 at the age of 18, but transferred to Trinity College, Cambridge at the end of his first year. He took his BA in 1840 and in the same year married Jane Mould, born in 1820 at Stoke Damerel, near Plymouth, Devon and the daughter of a naval captain. Their first three children were born in quick succession: Maria Spilsbury (1842), Sarah Mary Louisa (1844) and Theodore Chapman Mould (1845).
In 1845 J.W.A.T. was ordained deacon at Gloucester, and from 1845 to 1846 was curate of Framfield in Sussex, under the Revd E. W. Hoare. In 1848 his fourth child, Alfred Augustus, was born, and in that year he opted for the teaching career that he held for the rest of his life: from 1848 to 1852 he was Theological Tutor at Cheltenham College, and from 1853 to 1858 Head of Portswood Preparatory School in Malvern.
On 26 May 1859 J.W.A.T. was ordained as a priest, and shortly afterwards he was admitted ad eundem at the University of Oxford, purchasing the Rookery from the Finch family as well other land that they held in Headington, including Highfield Farm (also known as Rookery Farm. He started up the Rookery School in 1859 as a preparatory school for Eton and Harrow, with the boys boarding with him in his large home. His fifth and youngest child, Arthur Mould Chapman Taylor, was born there in 1863 and baptised at St Andrew’s Church on 7 February 1864.
J.W.A.T. was a very learned man, with a knowledge of Hebrew, Latin, Greek, Sanskrit, Arabic, German, and French. In 1874 he published a book of poems, containing verse written as early as 1837. He also translated several of Luther’s hymns.
J.W.A.T.’s wife died on 15 April 1877 at the age of 57, and it was around this time that he started to sell off his land, offering substantial lots in Old Road and London Road carved out of Highfield Farm. Business was slow, and by November 1878 only two houses were built: Ellerslie, set in an acre of land with two carriage entrances on the London Road (now Dorset House) and Highfield Cottage in a garden measuring twenty poles on Old Road (now 61 Old Road). He decided to go for a more modest market, and laid out a new street, Lime Walk, in 1881 from Old Road to just north of the present All Saints Road, after which it petered out to a footpath through the Britannia Field. He did not want the piecemeal development that had occurred in New High Street and so imposed restrictive covenants: the building line had to be maintained, the house plans were to be signed by the vendor’s solicitor before building could commence, all front fences were to be built to the same design, the street was to be planted with lime trees, and no building was to be used for the sale of intoxicating liquor or “for any immoral purposes so as to become a nuisance”.
In 1883 J.W.A.T. sold the Rookery School as a going concern to Dr Walter Sumner Gibson, and moved across the road to a smaller house, Stoke, that he had built for his retirement and named after Stoke in Plymouth, where he had married his late wife. Still living with him were his youngest son Arthur and his daughter Sarah, who inherited her grandmother’s talent and was a painter in oils who also exhibited at the Royal Academy: she had opened a studio for ladies at 114 High Street in November 1881. In 1886 Sarah was married at Bicester to a teacher at the Rookery School, Robert Henry Dockray.
J.W.A.T. did not live to see the full development of his estate, which happened at the very end of the nineteenth century when Bickerton, Stapleton, and Latimer Roads were laid out. He died at the age of 68 at Stoke on 10 April 1886; his death was announced in The Times on 13 April; his obituary was published in the Guardian on 14 April; and he was buried with his wife in St Andrew’s churchyard on 16 April. Their gravestone reads:
The Rev. JOHN WILLIAM AUGUSTUS TAYLOR
of Stoke, late of the Rookery in this Parish
Born February 3 1818
was led through life suffering, loving and working
by the Good Shepherd
and died in Faith April 10 1886
aged 68 years & 2 months
MY GRACE IS SUFFICIENT FOR THEE:
FOR MY STRENGTH IS MADE PERFECT IN WEAKNESS
GOD IS LOVE
There is nothing irretrievable with God
wife of the Rev. J. W. A. TAYLOR, of the Rookery, in this Parish,
and daughter of CAPTAIN JAMES MOULD, R.N.
Born August 6, 1819
was led through life in patience, humility and charity
by the Good Shepherd
and died in faith April 15, 1877
aged 57 years and 8 months
BLESSED ARE THE POOR IN SPIRIT
FOR THEIRS IS THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN