TAYLOR, Peter (1714-77), of Burcott, nr. Wells, Som. and Purbrook Park, Hants.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
b. 11 Nov. 1714, 2nd s. of Robert Taylor, grocer, of Wells. m. 1740, Jane Holt,1 at least 1s.
Dep. paymaster in Germany 1757-63.
Peter Taylor described his early life in a letter to Henry Fox, Lord Holland, 4 Nov. 1765:2
It was my misfortune to lose my parents at the age of thirteen. I was turned into the wide world without a friend, without learning, with a small fortune to begin with. By my honest industry and perseverance I brought myself into some reputation in my profession, had the very good fortune to be known to your Lordship, which I thought the most fortunate circumstance in my life.
In 1755 Taylor was in trade as a silversmith at Cecil Street, Strand.3 By 1756 he was well acquainted with Henry Fox and John Calcraft: Newcastle was told that he was ‘a great confidant of Mr. Fox, and always employed about his private business’. On the outbreak of the seven years’ war he was appointed a deputy paymaster in Germany, and spent the next five years on the continent. This was the chance Taylor had been waiting for: at the height of the war £150,000 a month was passing through his hands. There were many ugly rumours in circulation. To General Mostyn Newcastle wrote, 28 Mar. 1760:
By the by, the proceedings of this Mr. Taylor are something mysterious, the length of time that the money is coming from Amsterdam to the army, the payment in light dollars instead of heavy ones ... has some mystery in it which I cannot yet fathom.
Mostyn’s answer was blunt: ‘I don’t think there is quite so much mystery in the affair your Grace mentions, of light ducats, as roguery.’ And on 4 Aug. 1760 Calcraft wrote to Taylor himself: ‘Your getting rich, which makes other people envy you, gives me infinite pleasure.’4
Taylor returned to England in 1763 with a large fortune and a bad reputation. James Harris, meeting him over dinner at Lord Shelburne’s, heard him hold forth at length about the war in Germany:
Many facts he related, and had an openness in his manner and a freedom of speech, which had carried more conviction, had he not overpraised himself, and had not the idea of £400,000 got in four years been perpetually present to my mind’s eye as he talked.
Taylor now settled down to enjoy his wealth. He purchased the estate of Burcott, near his native city of Wells, and in 1764 another estate at Purbrook, near Portsmouth, where he began to build ‘an elegant mansion’, improving the site ‘at enormous expense’.5 To set the seal on his success, he needed a seat in Parliament.
On 4 June 1765 Lord Ilchester told Lord Holland that Taylor was ‘very angry’ that William Hussey had been brought in for St. Germans, claiming that he had been promised ‘the first vacancy in a court borough’.6 But his strongest ambition was to represent Wells itself, and when the sitting Member, Lord Digby, Holland’s nephew, was given a British peerage, Taylor declared himself a candidate. His opponent, Robert Child, was brought in by the Tudway family, in collaboration with the dean of Wells and Lord Digby. Taylor hoped that Holland would support him, but Digby was anxious that Holland should take no part against the dean. The campaign lasted several months, and developed into a contest of great ferocity. To Holland, Taylor complained that the dean had called him a ‘Pasha’. Holland, trying to quieten him, replied, 25 Sept. 1765:
’Tis a speech very like one where you say ‘’Tis a most shameful outrage to bring Mr. Child or any one to oppose me here’ ... Don’t say such things as these, which are very liable to ridicule at least ... Lord Pembroke has been opposed at Wilton, the Duke of Bridgwater at Brackley by strangers ... But ‘tis a shameful outrage to oppose Mr. Taylor at Wells! No, Peter, but ‘tis what I hope to God they won’t succeed in.
The following month, Digby wrote to Holland:
Taylor’s conduct is to me incomprehensible ... his enemies say he gets drunk once a day and his son twice. This is I suppose an exaggeration, but I believe he keeps himself heated with liquor ... He lays such a prodigious stress upon his being a native of Wells as to think it an unheard of thing to be opposed by one who is no native.
Events led to a complete breach between Taylor and his former patron, Holland, who wrote, 31 Oct., demanding that Taylor should publish the letters which had passed between them:
They will show that you do not understand English, that you have no truth, that you have no gratitude, that you are all that I have heard you called and would not believe, but now I must.
When the election came on, Taylor’s party was able to gain possession of the writ, since Taylor’s son was sheriff of the county. Rival polls were held and Taylor returned. The House unseated him, 15 Jan. 1766, and his petition was rejected. He stood again for Wells in 1768, but his opponents had taken advantage of the interval to create a large number of honorary freemen, and he was defeated after another expensive contest.
When a vacancy occurred at Portsmouth in March 1774, Taylor gained the support of Administration and declared himself a candidate. He was opposed by J. Iremonger, but defeated him on 29 Mar. 1774, and again at the general election.
Taylor’s ambition was to be in Parliament, rather than to do anything there, and there is no record of his having spoken. He died 3 Nov. 1777.
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: J. A. Cannon
- 1. Reg. of Marriages in Somerset House Chapel 1714-75.
- 2. Hen. Fox mss.
- 3. Complete Guide to London, 1755, p. 156.
- 4. Add. 35416, f. 158; 32904, ff. 78, 329; 17495, f; 92; 24 July 1763, Malmesbury mss.
- 5. Gent. Mag. 1800, ii. 729-31.
- 6. Hen. Fox mss. All subsequent quotations are from this collection.