TAYLOR, William I (?1753-1825), of Holywell, Hants.
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Family and Education
b. ?1753, s. of a tenant farmer on the estate of Troup, Buchan, Aberdeen. unm.
Capt. S. Stoneham vols. 1805.
One of the most extraordinary men ever imported from the north ... without a guinea or any connexion, he contrived at an early period of his life, to acquire the management and property, to a certain extent of the first theatre in the world.
Taylor, when he first came to London, was a clerk in Mayne’s bank, but after lending Richard Brinsley Sheridan* £1,000 became connected with the theatre. In 1781 he bought Sheridan’s share in the King’s Theatre in the Haymarket for £12,333 and transformed it into the Italian Opera House, with himself as manager and principal proprietor, under the patronage of the Prince of Wales. The concern had many vicissitudes: in 1783 he was confined in King’s Bench with debts of £16,000 and in 1785 deprived of the management until fire destroyed the theatre in 1789. When it was rebuilt he recovered the management, cocking a snook both at a rival establishment and at the trustees appointed to supervise the opera, but he remained insolvent.1
Not surprisingly he tried to obtain the immunity offered by Membership of Parliament. On 19 May 1796 he wrote to Pitt claiming that
Mr [George] Rose has been several months acquainted with my wishes of being in Parliament, as a friend of government; he promised to write you a particular note about me. He at the same time mentioned Evesham and Coventry as open places but with a great deal of fairness declined recommending either.
He added that he had been disappointed to hear from Charles Long that day, after he had ‘settled for a certain return with the condition simply of [Pitt’s] approbation’, that it was not being given to him, as, ‘conceiving it impossible that a friend of government and under such an arrangement would meet with any difficulty’, he had declined the two other openings. On 27 May he wrote again, naming Minehead, Colchester and Maldon as seats he had declined to contest and adding that, although he had been frustrated of a seat at the general election, he hoped the fresh vacancy at Great Yarmouth would provide him with an opening. Again he was disappointed, and when he came in for Leominster in the following year it was on the recommendation of the Prince of Wales and on the interest of the Whig Duke of Norfolk.2
There was allegedly some difficulty in finding two Members prepared to present Taylor to the Speaker and the duke soon regretted the return of ‘Opera’ Taylor, as he was called to distinguish him from Charles William Taylor* (‘the goose’) and Michael Angelo Taylor* (‘the chicken’). Taylor had appeared as a steward of the Crown and Anchor meeting of 18 May 1797 in favour of reform. He expected the Whigs to patronize his theatre.3 In the House he voted against Pitt’s triple tax assessment, 18 Dec. 1797 and 4 Jan., and for inquiry into the Irish insurrection, 22 June 1798. On 2 Mar. 1799 he wrote to the Prince of Wales offering to air his financial problems in the House;4 his own problems had been raised by Thomas Tyrwhitt on 23 Feb. in presenting Taylor’s petition for the widening of streets around the Opera House. All he could secure was the opening of Charles Street into the Haymarket. With his ‘harsh Scottish dialect’, he did not himself utter in the House. He reappeared in the session of 1801 voting with opposition on 2 Feb., 25 Mar., 14, 20 and 22 Apr. He duly voted for inquiry into the Prince of Wales’s financial claims, 31 Mar. 1802.
Taylor was ousted from his theatrical management by the end of 1801. His candidature at Leominster at the ensuing election, under the same aegis, was a forlorn hope and he spent £3,000 in vain. (By 1807, with interest, he owed nearly £5,000 on it, so he informed the Prince of Wales on whose protection he threw himself.) Having fled abroad after his defeat, then sold and mortgaged his interest in the theatre to Francis Goold in 1803-4, he offered £4,500 for a seat at Downton as Lord Radnor’s guest in July 1803. He contrived to regain the management from Goold’s death in 1807 until December 1813, when he was legally barred from any further interference after cumulative evidence of doubtful financial expedients. An opportunist bid to slip into Parliament again for Hedon failing, he sought refuge in King’s Bench, in company with Emma Hamilton, ‘a coterie being thus formed, which in point of vivacity and zest of enjoyment could not be excelled by the freest of the free’. He died 1 May 1825 ‘in his 72nd year’. He contrived to bequeath £6,000 to ‘Mrs Ann Dunn’ his common law wife since 1807, ‘during which time she has gone through a world of anxiety, trouble and fatigue’. The residue he left to his brother Capt. George Taylor of Dublin for the benefit of his relations.5
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: R. G. Thorne
- 1. Pryse L. Gordon, Personal Mems. ii. 84; Farington, i. 210; The Case of the Opera House (1784), 5; John Taylor, Recs. of My Life, i. 237; Survey of London, xxix. 230-9; Trans. relating to the King’s Theatre (1791), 2.
- 2. PRO 30/8/182, ff. 87, 89; NLW mss 7755, Norfolk to Rev. Llewellyn (copy), 27 Dec. 1801.
- 3. Farington Diary (Yale ed.), iii. 867; The Times, 13 May, 28 June; Blair Adam mss, Taylor to Adam, 10 Dec. 1797.
- 4. Prince of Wales Corresp. iv. 1426.
- 5. Ibid. vi. 2305, 2414; viii. 3149, 3240; The Times, 24 Dec. 1801, 7 July, 7 Sept., 31 Dec. 1802, 25 Nov. 1803; J. Ebers, Seven Years of the King’s Theatre, 27; Geo. III Corresp. iii. 2092, 2225; iv. 2693, 2695; Geo. IV Letters, iii. 1260; Gent. Mag. (1825), i. 476; PCC 346 St. Albans.