Alfred Edward Taylor [1887-1959]: a homage to “old time cartographers”

Mention the name of early 20th Century English artist & mapmaker Alfred Edward Taylor or just plain “A E Taylor” and even the most knowledgeable of map collectors will probably look blank.

Sadly Taylor’s remarkably long & successful career as a commercial artist, book illustrator & pictorial cartographer has passed almost entirely unnoticed & under the popular radar, an undeserved oversight & biographical omission that we hope finally to rectify herewith.

Visit any provincial second hand bookshop and make a cursory search of the “British Travel” Section. You will undoubtedly come across many of those now fusty popular classics of 1930s literature which almost always clog the shelves  – the likes of In Search of England, …Scotland, …Wales or …Ireland by Henry Vollam [H V] Morton [1892-1979] or the similar peregrinations & musings of his great friend & contemporary rival, Stuart Petre Brodie [S P B] Mais [1885-1975]…

A Map of England – pictorial map endpapers by A E Taylor for H V Morton’s In Search of England [1927]

….or perhaps take a quick perusal of some popular inter-war editions of  the great literary classics – Samuel Pepys’ Diaries, James Boswell’s Life of Johnson or William Cobbett’s Rural Rides……and chances are that the illustrated endpapers of each of these books will be decorated with exquisitely designed pictorial maps by the hand of Alfred Edward Taylor – almost always neatly signed “A E Taylor” and dated in one corner.

Such decorative book work became Taylor’s personal trademark and the bread & butter of his métier as a commercial illustrator throughout much of his life. But Alfred was far more than a one-trick pony and, as we shall see, his skills and talents touched & encompassed many different spheres of British visual art and graphic design.

Alfred Edward Taylor was a product of Victorian London’s East End. He was born on March 18th 1887 at 16 College Avenue, Hackney within a stone’s throw of the Eastern (“Fever”) Hospital (now Homerton Hospital), and christened seven months later, on Oct 30th 1887, at the local parish church of St.John. He was the youngest son of local carpenter & clerk of works, Joseph James Taylor [1845-1932] and Harriet Taylor [née Bowell] [b.1853]. Joseph was a native of Hertfordshire and had married Harriet at the Church of All Saints, Paddington in August 1870. The couple had subsequently settled in Islington, before moving to Hackney shortly before Alfred’s birth. Alfred was the youngest of six siblings: Joseph Arthur [b.1871]; (Harriet) Edith [b.1872]; Charles [b.1875]; Kate [b.1877]; and Millie [b.1883].

We know little of Alfred’s early life or upbringing, but he clearly had artistic talent & aspirations. There is nothing to indicate as much in the 1901 Census but a decade later, now aged 24 and living in the parental home at Tresham Avenue, Hackney, still close to Homerton Hospital, with his father and mother & two unmarried elder sisters, Harriet (known as Edith) & Kate, a local school headmistress, he describes himself as “Artist – Designer”. Where he was working at this time and how he might have acquired such training and skills currently remain a mystery.

The First World War intervened and Taylor enlisted in April 1915 as a mechanic with the Royal Naval Air Service. His naval records reveal he was just over 5ft 9 inches tall, had brown hair, grey eyes and a fresh complexion.  Between 1915 & early 1918 he was attached to RNAS base President II in Anglesey and then in March 1918 transferred to Daedalus, the main RNAS headquarters in Northern France at Dunkirk. The RNAS & RFC services were merged in April 1918 to form the Royal Air Force (RAF) and Taylor then joined No.11 Squadron for the final six months of the war, more than likely servicing the squadron’s new offensive & ground attack biplane, the so-called “Biff” or “Brisfit” Bristol F2 Fighter, at its airfield bases on the Western Front. Just prior to his transfer to France in early 1918 he married Florence (Flora) Elizabeth Cochrane at Finsbury Park in London. The couple had one child, (Margaret) Alison (b.1922)

After demob, one wonders if it is this same Alfred Taylor who joins the staff of the well-known Goldsmiths’ Art College in South London, where he appears alongside the likes of the renowned mural & poster artist Clive Gardiner [1891-1960] in the College’s 1920-1 Prospectus, teaching students in the newly established subject of “Commercial Art”.

In any event by the mid-1920s Taylor was certainly beginning to make a name for himself as a commercial illustrator and decorative cartographer.

One of his first commissions seems to have been for train company, LNER, for whom he produced several poster designs, including this one which first published in 1924 and which formed part of an Exhibition of Pictorial posters displayed in the Company’s Board Room at King’s Cross Station in June that year:

Take LNER trains & avoid the rains!

In 1925 Taylor produced a stunning large-scale pictorial World map, a promotional piece for the renowned Fruit Salt manufacturers, J C Eno Ltd. Eno’s Fruit Salt was a Victorian quack medicine, originally patented by James Crossley Eno [1827-1915], a Newcastle pharmacist. Made up largely of sodium bicarbonate, it became especially popular with late 19th & early 20th Century explorers &  mariners as a effervescent mixture to maintain health and well-being during expeditions to remote corners of the globe & on long sea voyages. It became an internationally recognized brand which unusually for a Victorian patent medicine still survives to this day and is especially popular as an ingredient of Indian cuisine!

Alfred E Taylor’s decorative pictorial Map which illustrates the World-wide distribution of Eno’s Fruit Salt [1925]

Measuring just over a metre wide, Taylor’s map folded into card covers illustrated with a decorative cartouche entitled The Eno Map of the World, Done in the Manner of Old Time Cartographers by Alfred E Taylor. A World map on the Mercator projection its actual title noted that This Map illustrates the World-wide Distribution of Eno’s Fruit Salt. One of the few known examples was donated to the Victoria & Albert Museum by Messrs J C Eno in 1926. In 1930 Taylor produced an equally striking companion map of the British Isles entitled “A Map of Gt Britain showing divers Sports and pastimes therein practised”:

A Map of Gt Britain showing divers Sports and pastimes therein practised

Alfred E Taylor’s striking pictorial Map of the British Isles for Eno’s Fruit Salt [1930]

Some of Taylor’s earliest book illustration work can be seen in the decorative cartographic endpapers that embellish the 1926 Everybody’s Pepys [G Bell & Sons, London]:

They appear alongside the fine illustrations of Punch cartoonist, E H Shepherd, probably best known for  bringing to life the characters of A Milne’s Winnie the Pooh during this same year.

Inevitably Taylor work also attracted the attentions of London Underground supremo, Frank Pick [1878-1941], for whom he soon produced a pictorial map showing routes of the Greater London omnibuses. Signed & dated ’27 it was in fact first published as Map of The General Omnibus Routes No.4 in 1928-29. Other examples of Taylor’s map  labelled “No.6” & “No.9” were also issued in 1928-29:

It was most probably through Pick’s patronage that, in 1928, his services were engaged by the short-lived Empire Marketing Board [EMB] [1926-1933], for whom fellow artist-cartographers and poster designers, Pat Keely and Leslie MacDonald Gill also worked during this period.

The result of his efforts was a splendid and sadly little-known untitled World map poster centred on the Americas and highlighting Canada’s importance in the nexus of imperial maritime trade routes. The example held by Archives Canada is unfortunately miscatalogued. Despite being clearly signed by Alfred, it has unfortunately been wrongly attributed to his namesake and contemporary, Fred B Taylor [1906-1987]

By the early 1930s Taylor’s professional star continued in the ascendant.

Distillery Map of Scotland by Taylor from Aeneas Macdonald’s Whisky [Porpoise Press, Edinburgh, 1930]

His growing reputation was enhanced by a series of hugely popular pictorial road maps commissioned by the Anglo-American Oil Company (soon to become Esso), the producers of a new brand of high grade petrol known as Pratt’s High Test.

The 1930s was undoubtedly a decade of hardship, social unrest & economic Depression, but Taylor’s rising star had aligned perfectly with the arrival of the new Motor Age. Car prices were falling rapidly, by the early 1930s declining to almost half those of the previous decade. New models were hitting the road: the first £100 car – the Morris Minor – rolled off British production lines in 1931. Car engines became more reliable – aided and abetted by better refined & higher grade engine oils and by better-equipped garages & petrol stations which now dotted the roads and thoroughfares of the country. In 1932 Anglo-American claimed that it had some 20000 pumps across the country. Yet British roads were increasingly dangerous – the 1930 Road Traffic Act had abandoned the traditional 20 mph speed limit due to its widespread flouting by road users and a vast backlog of speeding prosecutions (- it was eventually raised to 30 mph under the new 1934 Road Traffic Act). Several thousand pedestrians a year were being killed by cars on British roads, especially in built-up areas. Britain’s first dual  carriageway, the London end of the Great West Road had opened in 1925, but despite a national road network of over 250,000 miles, the country had failed to match the 1930s building programme of autobahn or autostrada in Continental Germany & Italy.

Britain’s longest thoroughfare, the 276 mile Great North Road still remained exclusively single lane. In spite of this, automobile ownership continued to grow & rapidly came within the reach of a new and increasingly affluent middle class. By 1937 the Automobile Association (AA) could claim to have well over half a million paid-up members.

And in an attempt to bring down the level of road fatalities, 19000 amber “Belisha beacons” (named after their creator, transport minister, Leslie Hore Belisha) made their first appearance beside special pedestrian road crossings in 1934.

In April 1930 Anglo-American Oil initiated a major national advertising campaign for its new Pratts High Test Petrol, a brand noted for high volatility that ensured easy starting and efficient carburation – supposedly overcoming the prevailing obsessions of “knocking” & “pinking” that seem to have hitherto dominated the contemporary discourse amongst both manufacturers & new car owners  in this era. It also offered increasing mileage per gallon at no extra cost, making it especially popular amongst the new breed of penny-conscious motorist. For several weeks a convoy of eight Thornycroft tankers processed around the country – no doubt clogging up the roads even more – promoting the new petrol, the column headed by an Austin Seven driven by “Mr High Test”, a 6 foot 8 inch giant clad in bright orange uniform! Not only was it the dawn of a new Motor Age but of a new Advertising Age as well!

Detail of Taylor’s Pratts High Test Map of the Great North Road [1930]

Pratts High Test UK Tour proved so successful that Anglo-American quickly commissioned a commemorative series of pictorial road maps, amongst them Taylor’s scroll-like map of the Great North Road, whose publication was extensively advertised in the national press in June & July 1930, with a limited number of free copies available upon application by post to Anglo-American’s London headquarters.

Anglo-American Oil’s summer 1932 press campaign to promote the British “staycation”

Two years later, in May 1932, Anglo-American Oil launched another summer advertising campaign again targeting the British motorist, but this time appealing to their patriotic duty during this period of economic depression and cleverly promoting the idea of the British “staycation”. Instead of travelling abroad and spending hard earned British Pounds on the Continent it was suggested British car owners might this year holiday at home, thereby supporting British businesses, hotels and restaurants and also taking the opportunity to explore the undiscovered beauties of  our native countryside. As Anglo-American’s advertisements noted:

Britain is a veritable paradise for the holiday maker…the open road abounds in romance, variety and charm. British holiday resorts are incomparable in their beauty and their facilities for healthy recreation. British hotels are world-renowned for their hospitality and reasonable charges…and remember, the British Pound is still worth twenty shillings here…In order to make your holiday more interesting we have published a series of Pictorial Road Plans by the famous cartographer, Alfred Taylor…

Taylor’s initial series of seven Pictorial maps were now available in two formats: a monochrome series available to all motorists for a price of one and half pence, post free or a larger sized 8-colour edition, printed on heavy toned paper and more suitable for framing, a pleasing souvenir of your tour, available for 1/- each post free. The maps offered were:

  1. The West Country;
  2. Scotland;
  3. The Great North Road;
  4. Bath Road;
  5. Watling Street;
  6. The New Forest;
  7. Roads of the South Coast

A Roman Triumph (motorcycle) meets a Roman Triumph on Watling Street!

Humorous detail from Pratts High Test Plan of Watling Street [(1930)1932]

A large poster version of Taylor’s West Country map survives in the Collections of the V&A, exhorting the viewer to take A British Holiday this Year!

By July, two new maps had been added to the complement, Pratts High Test Map of The North – Moor, Mountain & Lake District and  Pratts High Test Plan of the Eastern Counties & the Midlands, Anglo-American now enlisting the additional services of the popular journalist, author and broadcaster, S P B Mais [1885-1975] to provide accompanying descriptions of these latest Taylor designs. The latter two maps were offered for a price of sixpence, post free.

A prolific author who published over 200 books during his lifetime, Mais had already written several travelogues and walkers’ & rambling guides by the early 1930s. He had become especially popular in the wake of his series of BBC radio broadcasts entitled Unknown Island in early 1932, programmes that introduced many British listeners to the hidden beauties of the British landscape for the first time and had led to his being acclaimed by some as the new “ambassador of the countryside”.

SPB Mais in the mid 1930s

Further maps of Wales & Ireland by Taylor had been published by the summer of 1933 and many of the original series reissued in  larger format, with each region described “in Picture and Story”. This new edition of the maps was separately published with decorative card wrappers, the folding map inside backed by Mais’s description on the reverse of the sheet.

In 1934, Frederick Muller, formerly a director of book publishers Methuen & Co, founded a new Company called Frederick Muller Ltd, with its head office at 29 Great James Street, Bedford Row, WC1. Taylor was brought in as a director of the new firm with special oversight of the production side of the business. He appears to have remained involved with Frederick Muller until his retirement in the early 1950s.

Not surprisingly, several of the books which he would illustrate over the next quarter century would be published by the firm. Amongst the first of these was Henry Mond, Baron Melchett’s Thy Neighbour [1936], a history of Jewish persecution & Zionism, for which Taylor designed the pictorial endpaper maps depicting Palestine & Trans Jordan and Carel Birkby’s Zulu Journey [1937] which also features Taylor’s cartographic endpapers.

In 1936 The Anglo-American Company re-branded several of its UK oils including Pratts under the Esso label (a phonetic of its New Jersey parent company Standard Oil (SO)) and in early June published a splendid Motor Gazetteer of the British Isles entitled Pictorial Britain and Ireland – The Roads of Great Britain and Ireland showing the Principal Places of Interest. Widely praised by enthusiastic journalists, highlighting the old world charm & wit of Taylor’s maps and Mais’ wonderful & revealing stories & anecdotes, it was offered for a price of just 8/6. Seven of Taylor’s original Pratts maps were included, printed in colour, on a smaller scale & with revised Esso titles. Included also was a new additional map of the Islands of Britain. Twenty five small pictorial town and city plans by Taylor were also incorporated within the text, again supplied by SPB Mais.

As Mais noted in the Foreword:

None of us can ever hope to do justice to the beauty of Britain. Even the map-maker is sorely tempted to overcrowd his canvas in anxiety lest you should miss this and that. But I ask you to pause over Mr Taylor’s judicious selections and having paused, and paused lovingly, I think you will agree that he has hit not only on the right places but on the “mot juste” for the right places. I have seldom, if ever, seen a happier blending of the artist and wit in a cartographer. I am not in the least doubtful about your reception of the maps. They are jolly, they are informative, they are original, and they have a magic enticing quality about them that can scarcely fail to lure you out onto the open road at once….

Titlepage to Taylor & Mais’ Pictorial Britain & Ireland [1936]

Note the bowler-hatted figure (lower right) of Transport Minister, Leslie Hore-Belisha & his famous “Belisha beacon” a new safety feature at pedestrian road crossings introduced after the 1934 Road Traffic Act

Mais recognized the latent tensions between the new Motor Age and the potential spoliation of the peace & beauty of the British countryside. G K Chesterton was one contemporary increasingly horrified by its predations, likening the growing hordes of private cars speeding into the countryside at weekends to the tanks of an invading army. In 1933, he wrote an introduction to the CPRE’s Penn Country of Buckinghamshire, complaining that the car completely “shuts in” the motorist, looking “inward at his speedometer or his road book” driving on solitary journeys along country roads not “to places” but simply “through places”. It was perhaps Chesterton’s complaints that Mais had in mind when he highlighted that the key to discovering the British countryside lay in getting out there by one of the main roads, then turning off on to a country lane or bye road & simply abandoning the car:

This leaving of the car is one of the most important parts of motoring and requires an unusual strength of mind. So insidious is the appeal of the motor that most of us are far fatter and more scant of breath than we should be if cars had never been invented. For our health’s sake and for our soul’s sake and to see Britain aright, we should learn to use the motor car and the road as they should be used….

A prescient warning that the modern motorist might do well to reflect upon too!

In the same year as Pictorial Britain, Taylor was commissioned by the Post Office to create a new design for their Greetings Telegram service:

Post Office Greetings Telegram design by Alfred E Taylor [1936]

In 1939, Taylor’s cartographic designs reached ever greater heights & a new American audience when his specially constructed Wall map of the British Isles formed an important feature of the British Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair.

The modernist British Pavilion at the 1939 New York World’s Fair

As one contemporary report noted:

Railways at the New York World’s Fair

The centrepiece exhibit which the British railways, in co-operation with the Travel and Industrial Development Association of Great Britain and Ireland, are providing for the Fair consists of an ingenious map, 10 ft. 6 in. wide by 7 ft. 6 in. deep, on which the land areas of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales are represented by superimposed plywood on a pale blue background. There are 190 thumbnail illustrations of places of interest and landmarks for various localities, and the railway routes are shown in red. Four corner panels bear the arms of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales and the following quotations:

England. – “This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.”

Scotland. – “From scenes like these old Scotia’s grandeur springs.”

Ireland.  – “For dear is the Emerald Isle of the ocean.”

Wales. – “Among our ancient mountains and from our lovely vales.”

The panels are illuminated from behind, and the lighting is controlled by an automatic fading device. The whole map is floodlit from the front by concealed lights, and has been designed by Mr. Alfred E. Taylor, N.R.D.; the construction, lighting, and mechanical effects have been carried out by the Thorp Studios, Battersea, London, and the production was under the direction of the Publicity Officers of the British Railways.

The fine pictorial map of the British Isles that formed part of the publicity brochure for British & Irish Railways  widely distributed at the Fair is, in fact, a reduced-scale version of Taylor’s larger mural map.

After the end of the Fair Taylor’s mural map was placed on display at the New York Offices of the Associated British & Irish Railways in Rockefeller Plaza:

A reduction of Taylor’s mural map displayed in the British Pavilion at New York World’s Fair 1939

In the final years of his life, Taylor’s professional work seems to have focused increasingly on book illustration. Amongst the books to which he contributed were Michael Padev’s Marshal Tito [Frederick Muller, 1944]; Henry Baerlein’s Romanian Scene [Frederick Muller, 1945]; Patience Strong’s Round of the Year [Frederick Muller, 1945]; Laugh and Grow Fit and Say 99! by The Laughing Leech [Chevron Books, c1950]; Authors I Have Never Met by Frank Swinnerton [Frederick Books, 1956] and The World’s Greatest Wonders [Odhams Press, 1958]

Pictorial Map endpapers for The World’s Greatest Wonders [1958]

Alfred & his wife appear to have moved to North Cornwall at some point in the late 1930s. They are recorded there in the 1939 National Register, with their 17 year old daughter Margaret and three members of Alfred’s wife’s family, the Cochranes.  Given his previous military experience & mechanical expertise, Alfred is listed as a volunteer with the local Padstow Fire Brigade.

Their home in the final years of their lives was the wonderfully named Golden Patch, perhaps now renamed or no longer in existence. The 1939 Register suggests that Golden Patch was originally located in very close proximity to Trevone Farm (now part of the expanding property portfolio of celebrity chef, Rick Stein & ex-wife Jilly) in the beautiful coastal settlement of Trevone, near St. Merryn, close to the Camel Estuary & Padstow, an area portrayed in Taylor’s earlier pictorial map of the West Country.

Trevone, Cornwall (courtesy of Wikipedia (Public domain))

Alfred Edward Taylor passed away at Truro Royal Infirmary on December 13th 1959 at the age of 72. A notice of his death appeared in The Times of December 15th. His wife Florence (Flora) died at Golden Patch, Trevone just four months later, in April 1960.

Even though written some eighty years ago, SPB Mais’ Foreword to Pictorial Britain offers a fitting epitaph to Taylor and an insightful recognition of the enduring appeal of his maps:

I have seldom, if ever, seen a happier blending of the artist and wit in a cartographer. I am not in the least doubtful about your reception of the maps. They are jolly, they are informative, they are original, and they have a magic enticing quality about them that can scarcely fail to lure you out onto the open road at once….

This blog post is a long overdue tribute to this fine artist & illustrator whose influence & impact on early 20th Century British pictorial cartography cannot be overestimated.

Refs: David Rumsey Collection

July 2024 Postscript

I am delighted to have been contacted by members of the Taylor family recently, who have provided me with some fascinating additional information regarding Alfred and his family & about some of his original designs & surviving artworks. And perhaps most pleasingly, they have unearthed the first known photograph of Alfred, for which I have been searching far and wide for many years. I am so delighted that they have agreed to allow me to publish it here. The photo shows Alfred with his only daughter Alison [b.1922], apparently seated on the steps of the family’s home, Golden Patch, in Trevone, Cornwall. It probably dates from around 1945/1950.

Alfred & his daughter Alison outside the family home in Trevone, Cornwall, c.1945-1950

(courtesy of Taylor family & heirs ©2024)

The photo is copyrighted to the family and so may not be reproduced or re-copied without their prior agreement & permission. Please contact me if you should wish to do so and I will forward your enquiry/request to the family. Thank you.