British Archaeology, no 10, December 1995: Obituary


Harold Taylor

by Philip Rahtz

Harold Taylor had several careers, beginning as a theoretical scientist and mathematician. He was an expert in gunnery in the Second World War, and went on to be a senior university administrator, becoming Vice-Chancellor of Keele in 1962. The work for which he is best known in archaeology is his structural analysis of Anglo-Saxon churches; and the first two volumes of Anglo-Saxon Architecture, written with his first wife Joan, were published in 1965. They were the result of two decades of visiting, describing, and drawing over 400 churches with Anglo-Saxon features; and they were followed in 1978 by volume III, a series of essays on individual features. Both he and Joan hoped that meticulous synthesis would lead to a firm typology and chronology, but this did not emerge - if it is indeed possible with such inchoate material.

Taylor was not without his critics. His wholly objective and logical approach to Anglo- Saxon churches did not, in the opinion of some scholars, put them in their contemporary historical context; and it was no accident that he was not asked to write the chapter on churches in David Wilson's 1976 Archaeology of Anglo-Saxon England. As a man, and in his work, he was a model of integrity; and he was very willing to share his ideas with others, expounding theories or architectural sequences with cool and unemotional logic. As a devout Christian, he could not come to terms with the changing morality of recent decades, which made it difficult for him to be close to many of the younger generation. His life was marred by the untimely death of his first wife, who continued to figure frequently in his conversation in his latter years.

He was unfailingly elegant, witty, gracious and neat. Although he wore old clothes in the field, they were always pressed and clean. We could never understand how they remained so, even when he was clambering on dirty roofs or in and out of trenches. Taylor bequeathed to us the foundation for all subsequent studies of those `rude' buildings so scorned by some historians of `proper' architecture, notably Pevsner. Dedicating his third volume `TO THE GLORY OF THE ONE ETERNAL AND EVER-LOVING GOD', he would have liked it remembered that he compiled his great work not principally as an aspect of academic research, but as an offering of his faith.

Harold McCarter Taylor: born 13 May 1907; educated University of Otago, New Zealand; Fellow of Clare, Cambridge 1928-41; Treasurer of Cambridge University and Secretary-General of Faculties 1945-61; Principal of University College of North Staffordshire and Vice-Chancellor of University of Keele, 1962-67; CBE 1955; FSA 1961, Vice-President 1974-78; married Joan Sills (d 1965) (two sons, two daughters), married Judith Samuel 1965; died 23 October 1995.

Philip Rahtz is Emeritus Professor of Archaeology at the University of York


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