Wednesday, 25 April 2018
An enquiry from Australia concerned an elderly man’s mother. It seems he knew little about her background, but he did remember her telling him that she went to boarding school from a very young age. Instead of sleeping in the school, she stayed in the house of a mysterious Dr Taylor, who may have been the Head of the school. The enquirer wondered whether Dr Taylor might possibly have been his mother’s birth father. My immediate thought was that it could be difficult to discover any evidence regarding this conjecture. So I began with the school side of things. Just before she died, this man’s mother asked him to promise that he would take her ashes back to England and place them on the grave of Dr Taylor in Steyning churchyard. This promise he fulfilled many years ago.
After some considerable research in the Museum’s archives, combined with some local hearsay, later substantiated, I was able to piece together quite a story. The little girl's name was Dorothy. Only two schools in around 1915-25 fitted the description. They were the Tryon School, of which quite a bit is known, and I found just one mention of a school in Jarvis Lane called ‘Mrs. Taylor’s School’. This latter school seems the more likely, in view of the Taylor name, but sadly no records of it remain.
Next, I delved into various of our archives and began to assemble a picture of the life of this Dr Taylor. Dr Henry Herbert Taylor had been medically trained and was a pathologist in Brighton for most of his working life, giving evidence at the trial of the infamous Dr Crippen, who was hanged in 1910. I found various documents that showed Dr Taylor living at Jarvis House (now simply ‘Jarvis’) in Jarvis Lane, Steyning from the 1890s to 1934. The current owner of Jarvis was very helpful in assisting me to fill in some of the details of Dr Taylor’s life. He was a wealthy man whose first wife had been disabled. He had one of the world’s first domestic mechanical lifts installed for her in Jarvis. After her death he remarried to a much younger wife. He gave generously to various charities and to our own parochial funds on a regular basis. He owned several properties in the area and endowed several local causes.
It seems Dr Taylor also had a particular charitable cause of his own. He endowed a number of local houses and a couple of railway carriages at Steyning Station. One of these houses was Jarvis Lodge, opposite Jarvis, which he specifically established for the housing of ‘impoverished widows’ - in other words, unmarried young girls who had ‘got into trouble’. Local hearsay appears to confirm this, as do a variety of Australian records. It seems very likely that Dorothy’s mother was one of these girls, many of whom were given free passage to Australia with their illegitimate offspring, presumably organised by Dr Taylor.
As to Dorothy’s paternity, it is possible that Dr Taylor could have been her father but, in view of his advanced years by this time, it is more likely that her father was the un-named reason why Dorothy’s unmarried mother had come to Dr Taylor’s in the first place. We shall never know with any certainty.
When I related all this information to Dorothy’s Australian son, he was delighted to find that his initial enquiry had inspired such an interesting story of social history. Thank goodness we have moved on since those difficult days just 100 years ago! His partner produced the wonderful painting above showing the churchyard where his mother's ashes were placed. We are fortunate to be able to reproduce it.