‘It had the atmosphere of a magician’s lair…’

Posted 9th June 2020

The Taylor family were at the heart of life in Newport Pagnell for almost 200 years and their name is still revered. Sammy Jones takes a peek into their past.

We’ll never know for sure why William Taylor decided to relocate to Newport Pagnell, but the Berkshire-born businessman must have seen a special something in the small town when he arrived in 1825.

Small though it was, it was perfectly placed for business, and his legacy suggests that William had a keen entrepreneurial spirit.

His work as a chemist and druggist quickly placed him at the heart of his new community, and before too long he began quenching thirsts too; with a business selling soda water.

William left his original premises next to the old Fire Station at the top end of the High Street for a new base. He didn’t move far though; just to the other side of the road, where he founded a factory in Union Street.

Taylor’s famous mustard, the first ready prepared English mustard, was put on sale in 1830 and the top-secret recipe found royal favour with King William IV.

The mustard is known for its strong, hot taste which also made it a regular accompaniment during mealtimes for the Royal Navy; it was perfect for adding flavour and disguising any meat that might have seen better days!

In 1863, William passed the business to his sons, Thomas and Frederick James, and the partnership thrived as T & FJ Taylor.

The attractive red brick house The Limes served as a home for Thomas and his family, while Frederick purchased workshops and premises in Silver Street, and in 1877 Lovat Bank was built there. The impressive property – in the Domestic Revival style – is one of many splendid buildings designed by the Stony Stratford architect Edward Swinfen Harris.

Lovat Bank became a family home for Frederick, his mother, and his three sisters, and its splendid garden was said to be full of exotic plants and flowers.

Frederick spent a significant amount of time as chief officer with the town’s fire brigade before retiring in 1891, and his support allowed many modern fire-fighting appliances to be acquired.

The steamer fire engine, named Lovat after that family home, is now in the museum’s care and can be seen in our Transport Hall.

Frederick was a positive force in the town. He clearly also believed in giving back; sponsoring various annual social occasions, giving monetary prizes for swimming events, and many other acts of kindness; school pupils were given oranges before they left for the Christmas holidays. And during the food shortages of World War One, an orange would have been highly prized!

Poor health plagued Frederick for some time, and in March 1917 he succumbed. As a mark of respect during his funeral, all businesses in the town suspended trading.

Frederick had left his mark, and the people of Newport Pagnell were united in grief. On the evening of his funeral a full muffled peal rang out from the church of St Peter & St Paul. He had often made clear his love of the building, financing many improvements. Now, the religious hub was saying ‘thank you’ in its own beautifully haunting way.

The Taylor businesses, which also included properties and a chemist shop, would pass to Francis William Taylor, and then to Frederick Thomas Taylor who lived in The Limes with his wife Florence.

Frederick’s grandchildren Victoria and Susan spent their summer holidays there and collected many happy memories.

“We knew grandad was important, and he was quite strict too,” remembered Susan, “Florence was an amazing cook, and we were able to wander around freely. We had some very happy times.”

Victoria vividly remembers her privileged factory visits: “As a child I loved watching the two women Freda and Elsie sitting and stirring the two great mixing vats where the mustard powder was churned to the right consistency in one outbuilding.

“They were almost like two witches sitting over a cauldron which could make your eyes smart,” she recalled.

“Another building housed the making of the sodas and soft drinks, including my favourite, a fizzy orange concoction called Queen’s Toast in commemoration of the 1953 coronation.

“There was an assembly line filled with clanking bottles to be washed, filled, labelled and put into crates ready for distribution around the local hotels and pubs. The noise and activity fascinated me and I was allowed to stand on a box to observe the process.

“It is embarrassing to recall the deference I was given as a granddaughter of the Taylors. My grandmother in a regal way and probably without a thought would call the genial foreman by his surname without the courtesy of ‘Mr’ and it is only looking back at this that I realise how deep the class chasm was between the working people and the bourgeoisie.

“My Uncle Jim, who had suffered brain damage at birth, worked on the lorries and first my grandfather and then my Uncle Stephen managed the firm.”

Following the death of their grandfather in 1956, the business was split in two; Frederick’s son Stephen took on the drinks and mustard operation, and his sister Ann, Susan and Victoria’s mother, acquired several flats in the High Street, along with the family pharmacy – she soon set about overhauling the old fashioned store.

“Before my mother dragged it into the twentieth century, it was lined with richly-coloured mahogany shelving divided into bespoke drawers of different depths and widths on which the contents or drug’s names were written in gold which glinted at the back of the long counter.

“A small ladder was needed to reach some of the drawers and a thorough knowledge of where you might find what was required: from combs and cotton wool to Turkish opium for a painkilling remedy. Sweet scents of perfumes, cold cream and sandalwood permeated the air while the customers waited on carved mahogany chairs for their medicines to be made up.”

Mrs May Baxter
Mrs May Baxter working on the mineral water bottling production line. 1930
Picture courtesy Newport Pagnell Historical Society

It sounded like a magical place too…

“The pharmacy window held tall sinuous glass jars filled with liquids of improbable bright colours of purple, pink and green. Inside, beautiful white china receptacles decorated with heraldic motifs and gold lids lit up the dark wood and spoke of magic potions and elixirs.

“A far cry from antiseptic glass cases and racks of plastic. It had the atmosphere of a magician’s lair,” Victoria added.

More change was to come; in the 1960s, the drink side of the operation was merged with Aylesbury firm, North and Randle; in the 1970s they launched Dayla Drinks.

Liquid production ceased in Newport Pagnell in 1981, and five years later Stephen bowed out of the industry, although the fiery fabulous mustard continued to be manufactured in the town until 1990.

When production stopped, the once clanging units eventually became home to noise of another type when the space was taken over as a recording and rehearsal studio, and bands, not bottles, became the sound of choice.

The Taylor Monument in the Newport Pagnell cemetary

But on New Years Eve 2002, fire broke out. It silenced the music and decimated the old Taylor’s Yard and its building, taking 170 years of history up in smoke. A tragedy for the town.

The Taylor family no longer have a connection to Newport Pagnell, and yet their legacy is everywhere; in the goodness they sowed into the fabric of the place; in the yard – now redeveloped, but sensitively called Old Mustard Mews in a magnificent nod to the firm; and in the cemetery where the family generations rest quietly in the Taylor monument.

Despite some recipe tweaks and the fact it is now made in Glasgow, the Taylor name will always be known in Newport Pagnell, and by anyone anywhere who wants to shake awake their palate at mealtimes, because you’ll never find a better mustard!