Nos. 74–78: The Taylorian

Taylorian in 2011

The Taylor Institution (or Taylorian) forms the east wing of the Ashmolean Museum. It is jointly Grade I listed with the Ashmolean (List Reference No. 1047111). It lies in St Mary Magdalen parish.

It was built in 1841–5 to the designs of Charles Robert Cockerell by Baker & Son of Lambeth. The image below, taken from an old postcard, dates from about 1900. It shows the entrance to Wyatt’s Yard and part of No. 73 St Giles's Street on the right.

Taylorian in 1900

The building is named after Sir Robert Taylor, an architect who died in 1788 and bequeathed a considerable sum

“to the chancellor and scholars of the university of Oxford and their successors, for the purpose of applying the interest and produce thereof in purchase of freehold land within, or if possible, to be made within, the jurisdiction of the said university, for the erecting a proper edifice therein, and for establishing a foundation for the teaching and improving the European languages, in such manner as should from time to time be approved by the said chancellor and scholars, in convocation assembled.”

Taylor’s son contested the will, but when the son died in 1834 the money went to the University. The University Registrar, Philip Bliss, had the idea of combining the building with new University Galleries. He launched a competition in 1839 for a “Grecian” design, which Cockerell won.

Gardner’s Oxford Directory for 1852 had this to say of the Taylorian when it was still very new:

The entrance to the Taylor Institute … is adorned with four detached Ionic columns, with a block of the entablature over each, bearing elegantly sculptured figures, emblematical of European languages; and on the bases are engraved the names of the most famous literary characters of the countries which they represent, viz., Germany, France, Italy, and Spain….

The Taylor Institute comprises five excellent lecture rooms, a spacious library, with a professor’s apartment and lodgings for the librarian. The institute has been opened under the auspices of a professor of European languages, and two teachers in French and German; tutors in Spanish, Italian, and other modern languages will be added from time to time, as the funds will allow a gradual increase in the means of endowment. The classes are open to all members of the university.

Taylorian in 1853Above: Taylorian at the Installation of the Earl of Derby as Chancellor of the University, June 1853.

Nos. 74 and 75 St Giles’ Street came into the ownership of George Neville, Bishop of Exeter, and he gave them to Balliol College. They remained in the ownership of that college until 1804, when they sold them to Worcester College. The University bought all Worcester College’s property here in 1838 for £4,550, so it could build the Taylorian.

H. E. Salter in The Oxford Deeds of Balliol College lists all the occupants of Nos. 74 and 75 for the period for which it owned the two houses, and also lists the neighbours at No. 76 to the south.

A forthcoming auction of the property in St Giles' on the corner of Beaumont Street including the yard behind (on the instruction of the executrix of Mrs Cox) was advertised in Jackson's Oxford Journal for 28 July 1838:

Extensive & very valuable Freehold Property,

Abutting on the North-East entrance to Beaumont Street, and very desirable for the improvement of the same, or well calculated for the erection of Buildings, extensive Livery Stables, Timber Merchants, or Builders' Premises, extending in depth, from the front in St. Giles's to the West end, 265 feet, and in width about 38 feet....

A substantial DWELLING HOUSE, fronting the street, near Magdalen Parish Church, in the best part of St. Giles's, in the occupation of Mr. Grimbly [= Grimsley], sculptor, containing an entrance passage, front parlour, 20 ft. by 12 ft., kitchen, with entrance to the same from the gateway, and other conveniences, on the ground floor; to dining rooms on the first floor, one 17½ ft. by 14½ ft., and the other 20½ ft. by 16½ ft. ; and two large rooms over the same, one 20 ft. by 17½ ft. and the other 20 ft. by 18 ft.; excellent coal and beer cellars in the basement, and other conveniences.

A DWELLING HOUSE, behind the above, lately occupied by Mrs. Cox, deceased, containing an entrance hall, parlour, kitchen, wash-house, coal ditto, with loft over, three bed chambers, detached stabling, and other out-buildings, large yard, &c.

Also all that extensive YARD adjoining the same, lately occupied by Mr. Banting, builder, deceased, approached by a spacious gateway entrance from St. Giles's, and abutting at the west end upon Beaumont Street.

The disposal, by public competition, of Freehold Property in Oxford, so very eligible either for improvement or for the occupation of persons requiring extensive premises, and in so good a situation, rarely occurs, and consequently offers to the consideration of speculators and the public unusual opportunities for the investment of their capital.

William Tuckwell states in Reminiscences of Oxford that the Taylorian was built “on the site of a lofty edifice, once a mansion, afterwards decayed, and let out in poverty-stricken tenements”. Robson’s Commercial Directory for 1839 lists the following businesses in the five small shops at 74–78 St Giles’ Street that had to be demolished in 1841:

Wyatt’s Yard
(The entrance was between 73 and 74, but as the yard itself actually lay behind Nos. 60–73, it survived until 1891. It was given the spare number 74 after the demolition of Nos. 74-–8 in 1841)

74: John Cox, Tailor

75 ) Thomas Tomkins, Broker
76 ) Thomas Grimsley, Sculptor


77 ) ?
78 ) Robin Hood Inn

Beaumont Street

The newer part of the Taylorian to the north

Website of Taylor Institution Library

St Giles’ home

Stephanie Jenkins

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