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Taylor, Arnold Joseph [Joe] (1911–2002), historian and public servant, was born on 24 July 1911 at 36 High Street, Battersea, London, the youngest son of John George Taylor (d. 1942), and his wife, Mary Matilda, née Riley (1873–1965). As headmaster of Sir Walter St John's School, Battersea (1907–32), his father was preceded by his father (Taylor's grandfather), William Taylor (d. 1910), and succeeded by his son (Taylor's brother), John Edward Taylor (d. 1966).

Taylor was educated at Merchant Taylors' School (1922–30) and St John's College, Oxford, where he obtained a second-class degree in modern history in 1933. While at Oxford he was president of the university archaeological society. He then joined Chard School as an assistant master. In 1935 he was recruited into the ancient monuments inspectorate in the Office of Works, as an assistant inspector. In 1940 he published the Records of the Barony and Honour of the Rape of Lewes. He served in the RAF as an intelligence officer in the photographic interpretation branch between 1942 and 1946. Meanwhile, on 19 April 1940, he had married the twenty-year-old Patricia Katharine Guilbride, daughter of Samuel Arthur Guilbride. They had two children, John and Katharine.

Demobilized in 1946, Taylor was appointed inspector of ancient monuments for Wales, a post which included responsibility for the magnificent group of Edward I's thirteenth-century castles in north Wales. These became the cornerstone of Taylor's scholarship as a medieval historian and archaeologist. It led to the detailed examination of the surviving building accounts for these castles, which revealed the construction process and timetable of the operations. From this came the identification of Edward I's master mason, Master James of St George. Repeated excursions by car to Switzerland and Savoy traced the background of this inspired Savoyard ‘architect’ and his links with Wales. Such co-ordinated research was incorporated into a lengthy chapter in the initial two volumes of the History of the King's Works (1963), of which Taylor was a co-author (with H. M. Colvin and R. Allen Brown). This chapter was reprinted as The King's Works in Wales, 1277–1330 (1974). After retirement came Studies in Castles and Castle Building (1985), which brought together twenty-five papers touching on castle-building in thirteenth-century Wales and Savoy, and other related studies, previously published in various journals. Taylor had by then become one of the leading figures in medieval military architecture, on which he contributed many papers and articles in learned journals of both national and local societies.

Taylor's career in the ancient monuments inspectorate progressed with his appointment as assistant chief inspector (1954–61) and then as chief inspector (1961–72). This was a time when the responsibilities of the post were widening, and the general archaeological discipline expanding. During the 1960s the archaeology of the countryside was under threat from the plough and motorways as never before, while historic town centres were gutted for redevelopment. The concept of rescue archaeology to salvage information for understanding the past that was being lost became an urgent matter. Industrial archaeology was now recognized, and country houses and redundant churches needed help. Taylor and the inspectorate were at the centre of new pressures demanding an increased and specialist staff. He proved an effective and generous leader, stimulating and encouraging his younger staff while maintaining the traditional identity of the inspectorate, its professional standards, philosophy, and corporate sense.

While at the ancient monuments inspectorate, Taylor wrote ten guidebooks to monuments in England and Wales. His connection with Wales continued with his presidency of the Cambrian Archaeological Association, and as a member (1956–83) and chairman (1982–3) of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales and Monmouthshire. His most visible legacy at the ancient monuments inspectorate was the exposure of the thirteenth-century walls of Conwy by achieving the removal of various excrescences built against them. He also fought against the proposed bridge carrying the north Wales expressway, which would have dwarfed Conwy's walls, and helped to ensure instead that the road was set out of sight in a tunnel. He was awarded honorary doctorates by the universities of Wales and of Caen (1980). He was a leading contributor to the Colloque International du Château Gaillard and its honorary president (1992), and was a member of the International Castles Institute. Among many other honours, he was delighted, as a Londoner, to be made a freeman of the City in 1959. In 1988 he was awarded the médaille d'honneur de la ville de Saint-Georges d'Espéranche, in particular recognition of his work on James of St George. His election to the fellowship of the British Academy (1972) was a rare honour for someone outside university circles. He was appointed CBE in 1971.

Taylor was a committed member of the Church of England, and his concern for the preservation of England's medieval churches was another important feature of his life. He was a member of the Cathedrals Advisory Committee (1964–80) and the Advisory Board for Redundant Churches, becoming its chairman (1975–7), and was also a member of the Westminster Abbey architectural advisory panel (1979–92). Outside official duties, fellowship of the Society of Antiquaries of London was particularly important to him. A conscientious servant of the society, he was progressively secretary (1964–70), director (1970–75), and president (1975–8), and was honorary vice-president thereafter. He was awarded its gold medal in 1988. He was involved with many other historical and archaeological societies, becoming president of the Society for Medieval Archaeology, and the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society. He was afflicted in his final years by blindness and died on 24 October 2002 at a nursing home, Eastbury Manor, Compton, Surrey, of old age, and after cremation his ashes were interred at Chiddingfold. He was survived by his wife and their two children.

Andrew Saunders

Sources  

The Independent (8 Nov 2002) · The Times (14 Nov 2002) · Daily Telegraph (2 Dec 2002) · WW (2002) · personal knowledge (2006) · private information (2006) · b. cert. · m. cert. · d. cert.

Archives  

priv. coll.


Likenesses  

photograph, 1978, S. Antiquaries, Lond. · obituary photographs

Wealth at death  

£262,000: probate, 7 March 2003, CGPLA Eng. & Wales