Two James Taylors?

For my first blog post, here’s an interesting puzzle that someone out there might have an answer for. Wading through boxes of prints at the Laing Art Gallery with John Millard, looking for portraits by North-East Victorian artist Ralph Hedley, I came across two pictures. Both are signed by Hedley, with his trademark “R.H.” monogram. The first portrait on the left here, the gentleman with a goatee beard, intrigued me right away: the clear late 19th century American influence of his dress – ribbon tie, Confederate style double-breasted suit- has echoes of General Custer, Buffalo Bill or a Barnum and Bailey style showman. Incidentally, the portrait is reproduced back to front, (look at the R.H. monogram). The name James Taylor is stamped on it in bold capitals. The second portrait below it, also with Hedley’s monogram, shows a man in similar dress, but no goatee and a wide cravat instead of the ribbon tie. And this portrait is signed “James Taylor” at the bottom right

So, in the time honoured tradition of Crimewatch UK, the question is begged, firstly, are they both the same man, drawn by Hedley at different points in his life? And more to the point, who was James Taylor? (Google is no help, obviously- just brings up loads of You Tube music videos of Carole King’s ex-husband…).  Except it has led me on a brief foray into Tyneside rowing history: there was a James Taylor, a Tyneside rower, who coached for the Tyne Rowing Club in the 1860s/70s and was cox for the renowned Tyne Champion Four Crew which included legendary local rower James Renforth. I believe Taylor accompanied the crew on at least one of two important rowing challenges in Canada, the latter which led to Renforth’s tragic death during a race in St John, New Brunswick. Perhaps the Canadian visit influenced Taylor’s dress style? The portraits were presumably drawn back here in the Newcastle area.

If anyone can shed any light on either of these portraits, please let me know. Particularly if you have any knowledge of local rowing history: that’s providing my hunch is not a complete red herring.

4 Responses to Two James Taylors?

  1. Liz Rees says:

    There’s a photograph of James Taylor at,6083971. I suggest these portraits actually look more like Renforth himself ( though I can’t throw any light on why they are titled James Taylor

    • Ian Whitehead says:

      Hi Daniel

      I think I can help out here. The top drawing is definitely of the famous Newcastle rower and coach James Taylor. I have two photographs of him taken in 1871, on his second visit to North America, that show him with the same hairstyle, beard and ribbon tie.

      There is a great deal about this James Taylor in my biography of James Renforth, “James Renforth of Gateshead – Champion Sculler of the World” Tynebridge Publishing 2004. Incidentally, as well as being a rower and coach, he was also a successful publican, owning the Trafalgar Inn, New Bridge Street. If it had been 1870 when you were going through the boxes at the Laing you could have nipped across the road for a pint and to compare the drawing with the face of the landlord!

      The link to a Pittsburgh newspaper that Liz Rees posted has delighted me because it confirms a story I had heard from somebody working on a family history of the Taylors, that James had eventually settled in America.

      Finally it’s my view that the other drawing is of another James Taylor, both the hair and the shape of the face differ from that of the Newcastle rower.

      All best wishes

      Ian Whitehead

  2. Daniel Hershon says:

    Thank you both for those very interesting responses. As to who the second portrait is of, I am none the wiser…yet. Although last week, while working on some of Ralph Hedley’s correspondence, I came across a third James Taylor who had penned a couple of letters to Hedley in connection with some lithoprinting work that Hedley was involved with for the Theatre Royal in Preston. Perhaps no connection- it’s a common enough name after all, but hopefully more information will turn up to identify the second portrait before long. In the meantime I’ve probably had enough jokes about the James Taylor Quartet for now….

  3. David Dunn says:

    No help with the photo. Through genealogy I am led to believe that I would be the great great grandson of James Taylor and my father was named after James Renforth because of their friendship

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