SKELDERGATE

1680-1709 TAYLOR John

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before 1719 after 1721
 

In 1972, a trial trench on this site, immediately north of the Bonding Warehouse, provided pottery from post-medieval levels that was later recognised as being sugar moulds and syrup jars associated with a sugarhouse.
"There were about 132 moulds, represented by 432 sherds ... they were in a red earthenware and unglazed ... a number have a smooth white-slipped finish to the interior, and many of the unslipped vessels also have trimmed and smoothed interior surfaces." The moulds varied in size from 17 to 44 cm rim diameter.
The collecting jars "which have heavy rolled rims and ring-foot bases" were in just two sizes. All were in red earthenware and internally glazed. "At the rim the glaze is often worn away on the interior, presumably by the sugar-loaf mould." "There were 268 sherds of this vessel form, representing about 65 jars. The group dates to the late 17th or early 18th century."
"There are wasters amongst the jar sherds, probably indicating very local production."

Lime and white clay ... both were essential ingredients for the early sugar refining process, and both were found during the follow-up excavations by YAT archaeologists in 1983.
The lime, for the initial clarification of the raw sugar, was found in a mixed dump on a mortar floor with an Elizabethan silver coin sealed beneath the dump. Adjacent to the dump was a cobbled floor. These surfaces had been cut by beam slots for a later substantial floor.
In the adjacent trench to the north, white clay, in one instance with oyster shells embedded, was found in both a layer beneath backfill and in pits. This material was for 'claying' the sugar loaves, which removed the molasses and whitened the sugar crystals. The same trench also produced an arched passage of steps down to a previously unknown watergate that had been backfilled with demolition material and sugar refining pottery when the Dutch-gabled warehouses were built.
Both trenches produced areas of burning consistent with the need for fires in almost every aspect of the refining process.

Each trench was over a 'room' about 5m wide (N to S) that stretched almost 25m between Skeldergate and the river wall ... indeed the eastern walls sat upon the old river wall. There were dividing walls across the width. In his unpublished report, Arthur MacGregor, the YAT archaeologist responsible for the earlier 1972 dig that uncovered the sugar pottery and prompted further excavation, speculated that with each 'room' just one pole wide, 4 'rooms' would make a unit of approx 22m (4 poles) being the width of the old medieval tenements in that part of York. So the Dutch-gabled warehouses took up just one of these 4 pole units, and the 1891 OS map shows the site to the north measuring a further 3 units to a return in the river wall and the Bonding Warehouse (1875) to the south measuring 2 units. I'm unsure of the size of the earlier sugarhouse for the evidence from the dig shows it certainly used the southern half (2 poles) of the area covered later by the Dutch-gabled warehouses, but no trenches were dug in the other half. Just 11m would have been enough for a small sugarhouse even including dwelling space ... the Pawson deeds' summary refers to "a house and premises near the Crane". John Taylor obtained the property in two batches but I don't know if this meant 2x5m or 2x11m.

John Taylor, a prominent Quaker, was imprisoned for his religious beliefs at least four times, sailed back and forth across the Atlantic five times and on one occassion lost his ship with his slaves, refined sugar in Barbados and appears to have eventually settled in York to refine sugar there in 1680. Four years earlier he had left instructions with a Friend, Edward Nightingale, to find a house for him in which he could start his business. This he obtained on 1st October 1680 and Taylor became the first, and only, cane sugar refiner in the history of York. He refused to take an oath to become a Freeman of the City, a necessity for trading in York, and not until 1681 did both parties eventually climb down and Taylor paid a reduced fine. This was the year he obtained part of the property on Skeldergate, and he obtained the rest in 1690. Unfortunately, all his notes regarding his business were excluded from his memoirs when they were published in 1710 and again in 1830, and as yet I've found no other source. John Taylor died early in 1709 and the property was left to his family. I'm unsure whether the business continued. However, by 1719 both his wife and his only surviving son had died and the property was held by his granddaughter, Frances Falconer, who disposed of it to Henry Pawson, the builder of the Dutch-gabled warehouses.
In 1736, the York historian Francis Drake wrote regarding Skeldergate's name deriving from the Dutch word keller (cellar), "But it has small title to that name at this time, except for the noble vaults built in it by the late Mr Pawson wine merchant ...". Pawson had died in 1730.

 

1718 - Robinson (YAT)
 

1721 - Buck 1735 - Anon 1745 - Buck & Buck
 

Only one representation of the area around The Crane at the lower end of Skeldergate, dated prior to the property transfer between Falconer and Pawson, has come to light so far the 1718 etching by Tancred Robinson. It shows a line of 5 pointed-gabled warehouses each with a number of small windows and more than one storey. These seem correct for the use of refining sugar a process that required considerable heat from open fires and stoves at most times as a number of shallow floors were easier to keep to temperature and tiny windows allowed some light whilst minimising heat loss. There is just too much difference between Robinson's warehouses and those photographed 135 years later by William Pumphrey (York Images, see research) for them to have been the same buildings. MacGregor wondered whether the shape of the gables may have been artistic licence, but why would Robinson, a physician and naturalist practised in studying and recording items in great detail, not draw what he saw, especially given the detail in the buildings beyond ?
Samuel Buck emphasised The Crane and the nearby buildings in his drawing of 1721, but he shows no line of warehouses gone, empty space which implies that the demolition of Taylor's sugarhouse and the other warehouses (if he did not use them all) took place almost immediately Pawson took ownership.
In 1735, around the time Drake was writing his history of York, an anonymous artist gave us a sketchy impression of the Dutch-gabled warehouses, and in 1745 Samuel & Nathaniel Buck showed them quite clearly. These latter two lack the detail of the 1718 etching, but certainly give the impression of just one or two larger openings, closer to Pumphrey's 1853 photograph (York Images, see research) and far more suitable for the movement and storage of wine than the making of sugar.

The archaeology and the images point to Taylor's sugarhouse and Pawson's noble vaults being totally separate and very different buildings, albeit on the same footprint. The two businesses had very different requirements for their premises, and it seems certain that the sugarhouse was demolished in 1719-20, and the wine cellars built soon after.
Of the original 4 Dutch-gabled warehouses, MacGregor points to the northernmost being demolished in the first half of the 19th century to make way for the expanding flour mills. The next two in line came down soon after 1920 when they were photographed by Arthur Finney (York Images, see research). Just one remained until demolished around 1970.
Pawson's designs for the gables appear to have thrown many an architectural historian during the 20th century !

 

1875 1950s? (YAT)
 

 

[My thanks to the staff, both past and present, of the York Archaeological Trust, and the staff of the York City Archives, for their invaluable assistance with this research.]

[Since completing this report, I have studied the 1710 (Sowle) edition of Taylor's Memoir. It is considerably less detailed than the 1830 (Alexander) edition. So Alexander had access to the original memoir with all the sugar trade info in it ... I wonder where it is now ?]

 

 

Research Notes and Sources ...

 

* Buildings, Skeldergate - west bank of R Ouse, immediately above Skeldergate Bridge -

a) A sugarhouse, possibly 1670s to 1730.
b) A Dutch-gabled warehouse, 17th century to 1970.
c) A bonded warehouse, 1875 to present.
d) City Mills sheltered housing, 1990 to present.

* Chronology of Evidence (at April 2012) -

? - "Amongst the Friends penalized in York during the 17th century [was] ... John Taylor, a prominent Friend who settled in York as a sugar refiner." [Protestant Nonconformity, VCH City of York, 1961]

1680/1 - John Taylor, sugar refiner, made Freeman of the City of York. [YCA Freeman's Lists]

1690 - "Further research in connection with the sugar-refining pottery from an excavation on Skeldergate in 1972 (YAT Interim 8/4 1982) has yielded some interesting results. Work by Sarah Croney, the Trust's historian, has revealed the existence of a sugar-refiner named John Taylor, who leased a property on this part of Skeldergate for 19 years until his death in 1709. This neat tying-up of historical and archaeological evidence, the former giving a precise date to the latter, is too rarely encountered in pottery studies." [Catherine Brooks, YAT Interim 9/2, 1983 - unreferenced]
"The York sugar house ... on Skeldergate, was leased by John Taylor, a sugar-refiner, for nineteen years until his death in 1709." [Catherine M Brooks, Post-Medieval Archaeology 17, 1983. YCA Deeds Acc No.203][York Archives have as yet been unable to locate these deeds]
"The refinery began operations in 1690 under its proprietor Mr Taylor." [Colin Briden, YAT Interim 9/3, 1983 - unreferenced]

1708 - John Taylor signed his will 15 November. [Borthwick Institute York Prob Reg 65 fo.209]

1709 - John Taylor's will proved 15 April, mentioning his occupation - sugar refiner, his house in Skeldergate, his wife Elizabeth, son Isaac, late son Jonathan and his daughter, and a friend Thomas Hammond bookseller. [Borthwick Institute York Prob Reg 65 fo.209]

1730 - "... the demolition of Mr Taylor's refinery in 1730." [Colin Briden, YAT Interim 9/3 - unreferenced]

1875 - The Bonding Warehouse - "The property comprises a part four storey, part two storey brick built Grade II listed former bonded warehouse (erected 1875). The property comprises a north building and a south building and its last use was as a nightclub and restaurant." [Eddisons, File Ref. 720.2959a. (their website 2012) - unreferenced]

1970 - "The old [Dutch-gabled] warehouse, Skeldergate is of the 17th century ... probably for a wine merchant ... a modern warehouse has been built against the N. side. A late 19th century bonded warehouse adjoins the E. half of the S. elevation. Demolished in 1970." ['Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the City of York', Vol III, RCHM. HMSO, 1972 - unreferenced]

1972 - "... from post-medieval levels on a site on Skeldergate excavated in 1972 have come a large number of vessels now seen to be connected with sugar-refining, indicating that an industry important to York today has quite a long history here. The two vessel forms represented are sugar-cone moulds and jars." [Cathy Brooks, YAT Interim 8/4, 1982]

1983 - "As excavation on the two adjacent sites at the south end of Skeldergate draws to an end, a review can be given of the very impressive results obtained from these excavations. On the first site immediately to the north of the Bonding Warehouse, [grid ref: SE60315135], two trenches were laid down through areas straddling the Trust's 1972 excavation (Interim 1/1). ... The purpose of our excavation eleven years later was to see something of a sugar refinery known to have existed here in the late 17th century ... . The basic outline of Taylor's refinery was clear to us although many of the detailed arrangements had been destroyed by later building. One large furnace was excavated, and rooms containing quantities of lime - used in the process - were recorded. Of particular interest to us, however, was the fact that the builders of the refinery had placed their rear building line along the top of the 14th century river wall." [Colin Briden, YAT Interim 9/3 - unreferenced]

1995 - "The greatest losses have been the late C17 Dutch gabled warehouses, ..." ['Yorkshire: York and the East Riding' Nikolaus Pevsner, 2nd edition]

2002 - "On a site adjacent to the Bonding Warehouse excavations in 1972 and 1983 uncovered the foundations of a 17th century sugar refinery whose rear wall was on the line of the 14th century river wall. A large furnace was excavated, together with rooms containing quantities of lime used in the refining process. Remains of the distinctive cone-shaped earthenware vessels used in the process were also found (YAT site code 1983.25; Interim 8/4, 43-5, 9/2, 28-30, 9/3, 6-9; YAT 1999, 36-7). The site was aquired in 1690 by John Taylor, a wealthy and influential Quaker who, after some years resident in America and the West Indies, had settled in York as a sugar refiner in the 1670s. The raw molasses was shipped to York from the West Indies and refined here until Taylor's death in 1709." ['The Fairest Arch in England', Barbara Wilson & Frances Mee, YAT 2002 - unreferenced]

* Observations -

Far too much of this 'evidence' has not been referenced. Whilst Sarah Croney's main facts have simply been copied from one author to another, little gems like "Taylor in America and West Indies" and "sugarhouse demolished in 1730" just hang there, unsubstantiated.

I find it interesting that E Ridsdale Tate in the early 1900s made a conjectural sketch of this exact section of riverside c1700 showing the Dutch-gabled warehouse with, abutting its south wall, a three storey building with crane and watergate ... the 1852 OS map shows it as The Old Crane. Did this building make way for the bonded warehouse ? ['The Fairest Arch in England' - above]

Catherine Brooks, in YAT Iterim 9/2 p30 prior to the 1983 dig, questions whether the sugarhouse would have been totally destroyed by the building of the 18th century warehouses !

After all those weeks of digging in 1983, there appears to have been no official, detailed report published - just the notes in Interim. Where are the records - the notes, the measurements, the photographs ?

* Questions for further research -

1) If John Taylor became a Freeman in 1680/1 following an apprenticeship (7 years) to a sugar refiner, it implies there was a sugarhouse in York back to the early 1670s. Did he actually lease the established sugarhouse in which he had previously trained and worked, and if so, who ran it before him ?

2) The same Freeman's List shows Taylor's son Isaac becoming a Freeman (merchant taylor) in 1705, suggesting he was born about 1684. He had an elder brother, so just when did John Taylor travel to America and the West Indies ?

3) What were the dimensions of the sugarhouse ? Did the archaeologists record them ?

4) What was the building that replaced the sugarhouse in 1730(?), and when was it demolished ?

5) My assumption had been that the sugarhouse sat between the Dutch-gabled warehouse and the north line of the bonded warehouse, yet the RCHM book (above) states that the Dutch-gabled warehouse and the bonded warehouse touched at the river wall. The archaeologists did not dig beneath the bonded warehouse, so how could the sugarhouse (demolished c1730) be beneath the 17th century Dutch-gabled warehouse ? ... unless, of course, it wasn't 17th century !

 

???
 

* The research continues (later 2012) -

Ailsa Mainman of YAT assures me there is an archive for the 1983 dig, but a lack of funding means there has not yet been the opportunity for a full report. It appears I'm only privy to published material.

My query on the Rootsweb's York Mailing List regarding the positioning of the buildings has provided two excellent replies from York folk ...
John Shaw remembers well the Dutch-gabled warehouse abutting the bonded warehouse, and referred me to Hugh Murray's book "Photographs & Photographers of York, 1844-1879" in which there is an 1853 photograph by William Pumphrey of the Dutch-gabled warehouse and the adjoining building (probably the source material for Ridsdale Tate's sketch).
Helen Speight kindly directed me to the York Images website on which I found both the previously mentioned photograph and one from 1920 that shows the bonded warehouse and the Dutch-gabled warehouse sitting snuggly together.

 
Sorry ... I sought permission to use the images, however City of York Council require a periodic reproduction fee,
which I consider to be unjustified ... hence the links.
 

... no room then for the sugarhouse between the warehouses, confirming my notional image above. So the Dutch-gabled warehouse must have been built after the sugarhouse was demolished, therefore 18th century but perhaps 17th century in style.

* - and regarding John Taylor -

A chat at the recent York Family History Fair (June 2012) has resulted in some excellent info sent me by Bobbie Bateman of the City of York FHS for which I'm very grateful ... and I've added further research (April 2013).
From two publications ... 1) Memoir of John Taylor [A Short Recital or Journal of some of the Travels, Labours and Sufferings of John Tayor late of York] held at York Minster Library and Univ of York Library, and 2) Quakerism in York 1650-1720 by David A Scott ...

- John Taylor was born in 1638 (by 1663 his father of the same name was living in Huntingdonshire, though I don't know if this location is relevant to young John's birth).
- By the age of 19 John was very much a Quaker, and was 'moved of the Lord to go to New England' which he did 3 years later.
- Over the next 20 years he made at least 4 more return journeys to N America and the West Indies, was captured at sea twice, was imprisoned in Jamaica for refusing to bear arms, and owned a 'shop' in Port Cagway (Port Royal), Jamaica.
- In the intervening years back in England he appears to have been imprisoned for his beliefs maybe 4 or 5 times.
- John Taylor first travelled to York in 1663 to meet the parents of Frances Rither, who was to become his wife later that year.
- In 1667, sailing from Boston (Mas) to Barbados - the ship "and my negroes ... reckoned to be worth about 500" were lost to privateers.
- Two of their three children were born in Barbados.
- In 1674 some 80 Friends in Barbados were fined for anti-war testimony. For the sugar refiners, the fines took the form of huge quatities of sugar.
- He returned via a very hostile Ireland to England.
- In 1676 he arrived in York, "and did intend to come to the city to set up the trade of refining sugar", and left instructions with Edward Nightingale that a house be found for the purpose, whilst he returned to Barbados to dispose of his affairs there.
- A few years later he returned to London with his wife and family (safely from Barbados this time), and probably late in 1680 arrived in York to begin his sugar refining business, as well as regularly attending Friends' meetings.
- 1681 saw him fined 140 for running a business in the city whilst not being a freeman. "Trading in York was confined to freemen and becoming free of the city required the taking of an oath. Only one Quaker, John Taylor, appears to have had any trouble taking out his freedom. In 1681 the corporation effectively fined him 140 for the privilege of trading in the city 'in regard he refuses to swear'. As the cost of his freedom alone this was extortionate but soon afterwards the corporation offered to abate the sum to 100 and exempt him from all municipal office - 140 being the usual 'fine' for exemption".
- In 1682 he was again imprisoned for his religious principles, though this time both witness and attorney were disgraced with the latter imprisoned for forgery.
- 1682, at the time of considerable dispute amongst the York Friends, his description read, "Taylor, a wealthy sugar refiner, was a rather domineering, self-righteous man ... very ready on all accounts to serve the truth".
- 1695 saw him visit the (new) King to thank him for his kindness to Friends.
- Frances died 14 Sep 1696.
- In 1698 John Taylor married Elizabeth Goddard of Houndsditch, London.
- John Taylor died 17 February 1708/9, aged about 71, and was buried in the Friends' burying ground in York.

[The above are mostly notes from John Taylor's Memoir, 1830 ed. The minutes of a Quaker meeting in York, 2 Sep 1709, show that the Quarterly Meeting considered Taylor's journal/manuscript for publication but "... the latter part of the manuscript contained many observations about trade, and a Committee of the Quarterly Meeting was appointed to revise and abbreviate it." ... and they edited out the lot !!!!      Some 100 copies were printed in 1710, with a later printing in 1830.]

... so cane sugar refining appears to have begun in York around 1680 and probably ended with John Taylor's death in 1709, unless of course his son or wife continued to fund the business beyond this date. Just the one business, run by Taylor, but no indication of the location prior to 1690. Taylor's freedom was by oath rather than apprenticeship, which makes more sense with respect to his age, and it looks as though he brought the skills for the trade with him from the West Indies.

* The research continues (Feb 2013) -

York City Archives have found an 'Abstract of Title Deeds' under the previously mentioned Acc 203 referring to the premises we know to be the sugarhouse, but not mentioning it by that name. The undated Abstract refers to six properties belonging to William and Samuel Pawson, I think, just prior to 1730 ...

"An Abstract of the Title Deeds relating to the Estates of Mr William Pawson situate in the City of York, and in Stillingfleet in the County of York Mortged by him and Mr Samuel Pawson his son to Miss Belts for Eight Hundred Pounds and Interest ..."

[Item 4]    "As to a House and Premes near the Crane
29th June 1671 - Lease and Release from Henry Dickinson to William Ramsden
First Oct 31st Car 2d [1680] - Lease and Release from William Ramsden to Edwd Nightingale
21st of April 1681 - Release from Edwd Nightingale to John Taylor
_7th Jan 1690 - Release from Thomas Hart to John Taylor Fine levied
_5th Nov 1708 - John Taylors Will devising sd Premes to Issaac Taylor
25th & 26th Sept 1719 - Lease and Release from Samuel Falconer and Frances his wife daur & heir of Jonathan Taylor to Henry Pawson - Art of Surr between same Parties Bond for Performance".

[Acc203d Skeldergate, York Archives and Local History] [I have taken the liberty of switching the 1680 and 1681 lines from the original for the sake of chronology.]

So John Taylor was living and refining in Skeldergate from at least 1681 ... the same year he was fined for carrying out a business without being a freeman of the City. I wonder if it's to do with this that the premises was first purchased by his, at that time, close Quaker friend Edward Nightingale in 1680 and then sold on to Taylor six months later. Within a couple of years Nightingale and Taylor would be in serious opposition regarding a Quaker marriage ordinance.
The document still does not tell us for certain where he was refining prior to 1681, but probably in the same premises whilst it was leased by Nightingale, making the start date October 1680.
Isaac Taylor inherited the property from his father, but by 1719 it was in the hands of his neice Frances, daughter of his late brother Jonathan Taylor ... I assume that both Elizabeth Taylor and Isaac Taylor had died.

* York (Apr 2013) -

I've added further notes regarding John Taylor (from his 'Memoir' at the York Minster Library). A search of the City Library and secondhand book shops produced a whole series of paintings, sketches, photographs, notes and maps dating from 1745 to the present. Nothing early enough to solve problems of location ... but Nathaniel Whittock's 1858 Bird's-eye View of York is hugely impressive and a joy to study in detail.

* In response to York visit (May 2013) -

Made contact with Colin Briden who managed the 1983 YAT dig. It's too far back for him to be certain, and so he suggests I read the field report at YAT, but he has the recollection that Taylor's refinery and the Dutch gabled warehouse were one and the same thing. That had not been something I'd considered ... was the 'demolished 1730' actually a reference to a change of use ?
So a visit to YAT when next in Yorkshire. Soon, I hope !

* York (June 2013) -

My thanks to YAT for allowing me to study their archive material for both the 1972 and the 1983 excavations ... and now a lot of new info to consider. My initial thoughts are that, yes, the sugarhouse and the Dutch gabled warehouses are one and the same, but that the sugarhouse was remodelled, both inside and out, to become the Dutch gabled wine warehouses run by the Pawson family. The continued search for pictorial evidence from the time that might assist with this theory has proved partially successful, and it seems my ??? sketch above may be quite close.
Now to work out how to write this all up, and maybe redesign this whole page .......

* (July 2013) -

Obtained a 'pod' copy of the 1710 (Sowle) ed of Taylor's Memoir. It is far less detailed than the 1830 (Alexander) ed implying that the original journal was available to Alexander. So where is it now ?

* (February 2015) -

This research into the York sugarhouse and Dutch-gabled warehouses on Skeldergate is to be placed in the English Heritage archives to accompany their own RCHME material.

* Hull (April 2015) -

An indenture regarding a mortgage dated 1703 shows the first party to be William Simpson of the City of Yorke sugar baker and his wife Grace.
I have always wondered who it was that ran John Taylor's sugarhouse whilst he was travelling the country being a Friend ... could this be his refiner ?
The indenture tells me no more, so back to the research again !
[U DDJ/14/67 - Hull History Centre]
... and ...
Marriage licence, 27 June 1698 - William Simpson, 46, & Grace Sherewood, 42, York St Olave ... but no bondsmen named (pity !!)
Marriage, 29 June 1698 - William Simpson, sugar boyler, & Grace Shere?, at St Olave Marygate York.
... with no other sugarhouse in York, I wonder if Wm Simpson was previously employed at the early (Trippet) sugarhouse in Hull, otherwise Taylor may have recruited him in London (if indeed he worked for Taylor !?!)

 

 

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