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Fred J. Taylor, MBE - July 2008

Fred J. Taylor, MBE


Frederick James Taylor, MBE, died on the 7th May, 2008 at the age of 89. Some might say he'd lived a long life; for others, it wasn't long enough, but he has left a literary legacy which will surely endure, as readers of his books and articles re-read and enjoy them for many years to come. And with the foundation of a charitable trust in his memory, Angling Heritage (UK), future generations will also be able to listen to the reminiscences of this elder-statesman in the world of angling and country writing.

In November 2006, a recording was made of his recollections, along with those of another highly respected angling writer and historian, Fred Buller. Keith Elliott, editor of Classic Angling conducted the interview, which was a joy; it lasted for most of the day, and so much remained untold. Fred J. reminisced about school days and said: 'I hated school. I hated it with a passion. I used to daydream. I wanted to be out climbing trees, walking the stream with my catapult [],' but despite his aversion to academia, he won a scholarship to Aylesbury Grammar School, after his father promised him a bike if he sat the exam. He also said he needn't go to the school. So when forced to attend, Fred J. became a rebel, frequently playing truant; but he was an intelligent boy who excelled in languages, and years later, this natural flair became the foundation for his success as a writer.

I recently received a parcel of books - nothing unusual in that you might think as I run a bookshop, except for the fact that they were Fred J's schoolbooks, and they had been sent to me by his daughter Valerie for conservation. It made me smile to see his name, school, and form number written on the fly-leaves, and it set me thinking about what he would have read as a boy; what inspired him to follow his chosen career as a countryman and author of renown?

Contained in this box of delights were language books: A French course for schools (Collins, 1930), Junior English Grammar (Morgan, 1930), Easy steps in French composition (Horsley & Bonne, 1931) and Tristapatte et Goret et autres contes (Published by Mills & Boon no less, and edited by R. R. N. Baron, M.A. in 1921); A French Course for Today, Part II (K.G. Brooks & H.F. Cook, [1939] reprinted 1954 this book was inscribed: 'I used this book from Xmas 55,' but that surely wasn't written by him, as he would have been 36 at the time, and I know for a fact that he left school at the earliest opportunity. He wanted to get on with life, and yearned for freedom to roam the countryside and fish the rivers and streams of his youth. But each title indicates Fred J's love of language.

His interest in botany was evidenced by A School Flora for the use of elementary Botanical Classes (W. Marshall Watts, D.Sc. (Lond.) B.Sc. (Vict.) - this book bears the inscription: 'F. Taylor. Form IVA,' and: Botany for schools a textbook suitable for school certificate and similar examinations (Spratt, E.R. & Spratt, A.V. 1932) is also inscribed with Fred's name and form number. Another title: Heat and Light Part II, Light, for school certificate students (Nightingale, E. 1927) inscribed No. 13 in brown ink, it bears a blue Aylesbury Grammar School stamp, and the content shows an interest in the sciences.

A small volume of 'Birds in a Village,' by W. H. Hudson, published by J. M. Dent in 1921, shows an interest in the countryside - this book is inscribed: 'F. Taylor A.G.S.' and another book by the same publisher: Gulliver's Travels, 1927. This book is incribed: 'F. Taylor, Aylesbury Grammar' and bears two of his signatures: 'F. TAYLOR' - he appears to have been practicing writing in ornate capitals. Since Fred J. did indeed become a 'travellin' man,' and wrote a book of that title, one can't help wondering if the latter fuelled his youthful imagination and seeded the desire to travel the world.

Each book is indicative of Fred J's academic ability, and despite the fact that he often bunked off school, his natural enjoyment and flair for languages provided the foundation for his development as a highly-readable writer. But what of his tastes in fiction. In addition to the two mentioned above, the books in my safe-keeping appear to be prizes awarded to him, and not necessarily chosen, but they do appear to be well-read. The Boys of Fellingham School (Rowe, J.G. 1928) bears an inscription in brown ink: 'Fred Taylor. For attending The Mission Sunday School every Sunday in 1933.' Well, at least he didn't bunk off that!

Another title is: Ernest Fairfield or two terms at St. Andrews. This book was written by the Rev. A. N. Malan, M.A., F.G.S. and bears the following printed dedication: to Eagle House Boys, past, present, and future, this story is dedicated by The Author Floreat aeternum stans aquiline domus, (and I'd welcome a translation of that from scholars of Latin!) The book bears the inscription (again in brown ink) 'Fred Taylor The Mission Hut. January 1933.' (Incidentally, the 'J' did not find its way into his signature until his fame began to spread, and he found it necessary to differentiate his name from that of a tackle dealer).

The House Prefect (Coke, D. rep. 1928) though sadly lacking its spine, also appears to have been well-read; a little surprising given his aversion to school, although, in the recorded interview for Recollections (November 2006) Fred does say that he loved St. Marys, Church of England, which was the first school he attended. The front end-paper bears an ornate label inscribed: Presented to Fred Taylor, St. III. Aylesbury St. Marys School, and it is signed T. Walker. And finally, Penlune (Burrow, S.E.- undated) - this book has a tattered dust wrapper and page 76 is detached, otherwise, it looks virtually unread. Maybe the sea did not inspire him; it clear from his books that his roots were very firmly planted by the river, and in the countryside. There is a hand-written inscription on the front end-paper: 'To Fred Taylor with best wishes Christmas 1935' - but there is no indication of the donor.

These books do not have a commercial value, but they are, in my view, a real treasure. They are surely an important part of angling history, for they tell us something of the early academic life of this irreplaceable man and as such, are an integral part of the very foundation of his development as a renowned writer.

Stu Mackay, when speaking of Fred recently, said: 'You're not dead until you're forgotten.' Based on Fred J's literary output alone, he will live forever in the hearts and minds of those whose loved his books and articles.

Sandra Armishaw

July 2nd, 2008