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John Taylor QC

I was very sad to hear last week that John Taylor passed away on Tuesday 6th May.

John was a great advocate and one of the most colourful members of the planning bar. He retired just over ten years ago after a splendid career in the course of which he not only had an influence on many barristers, solicitors, and planning professionals of every hue, but also of course on the landscape and townscape.

I first met John in 1985 when he was promoting the Centre Court development by Speyhawk at Wimbledon railway station, and I was acting for Greycoat who had a rival scheme designed by Terry Farrell. He was an opponent to be reckoned with. A couple of years later he was again on the other side from me, and inflicted on me my first ever defeat in a planning case. This time it was a minerals case.

John had great experience in minerals planning and had been a member of the Committee on Planning Control over Mineral Working (the Stevens Committee) which reported in 1978. I was next to encounter John and get to know him well on minerals cases. Quarries are controversial and rarely welcomed, but we were particularly successful in the case of Whatley Quarry, Hanson’s limestone quarry in the Mendips and the largest rail-linked quarry in Europe. Beginning in 1991, it turned out to be a nine year period of public inquiries and High Court applications. This time I had him on my side.  The case and the ambiance suited John well, and during the public inquiries we were lucky enough to be able to stay at Mells Park, the Lutyens house nearby which belonged to Hanson. We were looked after tirelessly by Jill, the housekeeper. John too was tireless in entertaining the team and clients from a huge reserve of stories and anecdotes.

A few years earlier, in 1989 I instructed John on the A45 New Settlements Inquiry in Cambridgeshire, to act on the Great Common Farm proposal of 3000 houses and a 1 million square foot business park. It was one of seven competing proposals investigated at a six month long public inquiry, marked by extremely good relations between all the parties. The Inspectors recommended that permission be granted for Great Common Farm. It was then the victim of a General Election clear out when the Secretary of State reversed his Inspectors’ recommendation. But after High Court proceedings, a resubmission and a deal with a rival scheme, it became part of Cambourne, now built out and occupied. Ironically, South Cambridgeshire District Council, which had opposed the scheme, now has its offices in the business park. John enjoyed the case enormously. We had some meetings at his home, especially if there was a landscape issue, when he and the landscape architect Pauline Randall would also take a tour around his own well landscaped garden, John seeking advice from her himself. His prowess in landscaping was recognised in a cartoon drawn by David Mole QC, as he then was, of The Head Gardener, Great Common Farm, depicting John despatching a mole, and exclaiming “I’ve had enough of bunds actually”. It became document UM 101 in the inquiry. photo (8)John’s bon viveur tendencies with the wine list at The Lamb in Ely where we stayed during the inquiry were instrumental in introducing me to Aloxe Corton, for which I have been grateful ever since.

John was a first rate advocate and like many at the planning bar was also active in the High Court. I saw him turn the Court of Appeal around one afternoon in the case of Durham County Council v. Secretary of State and Tarmac, a leading case on whether planning permissions can be abandoned. It had been obvious at the end of the morning that Durham’s advocate had convinced the judges of his case. As we walked back to John’s chambers at lunchtime he said to me, “I am going to have to give them a lesson in the planning system”. Deftly, fluently, with courtesy and firmness, and an encyclopaedic knowledge of planning law, he moved them from the view they had formed in the morning and in due course judgment was delivered for our clients, Tarmac.

John was of course famous for his probably unconscious verbal mannerisms. Sentences were peppered with “actually” and ”hmm, what”, and witnesses (whether on John’s team or from the opposition), clients and colleagues had their names recast (so guess what the Chief Planning Officer of South Cambridgeshire, Mr David Hussell became). And many of us heard the story of when “I stared death in the face, actually” when his Rolls Royce apparently drove itself forward and through the perimeter wall of a multi-storey car park. He did keep a smaller car – a Ford Escort at one time – which he called his “local authority car”. A keen wind-surfer, a hardy experience in Bedfordshire, he told me he kept his windsurfer on the roof of a BMW, so that he wouldn’t lose a moment when there was a suitable puff of wind.

Others will have their own cherished reflections on John.  He was courteous, tenacious and kind; he was encouraging, hard-working and generous. I count myself privileged not only to have worked with him but also to have been able to have counted him as my friend.

His funeral will be on 22nd May at 2:30pm at All Saints Church, Clifton, Bedfordshire.

18 comments to John Taylor QC

  • Victoria Gasson

    I was so sad to see that the lovely John Taylor had died – I was actually (and sadly) searching for him to let Mr & Mrs Taylor know that my mother had died as my parents (Mr & Mrs John Gasson) were both great friends with Mr & Mrs Taylor and we all enjoyed your wonderful, festive Christmas parties at Clifton. Sadly my mother lost touch with them a little after my father died (17 years ago). He was such an ebullient and larger-then-life character, reminiscent of literary figures from Dickens or Jane Austen (or even Shakespeare!) and he truly shone in company. My genuine sympathies to Mrs Taylor and Victoria – he will be greatly missed. Tora xxx

  • I am pleased to be able to report that UM101 has surfaced. I have inserted a copy into the text.

  • .I was Mr John Taylor’s gardener from 2008 to December 2010. He was the most friendly and loveable person I have ever met. I enjoyed every minute working in his garden and driveing him to different locations and listening to his stories from his fox hunting days and how he met his wife Jean. I have plenty of pictures of his garden which I will place on my web site in memory of Mr John Taylor QC who will be missed,but not forgot for all his hard work and advice and love that he has given to people over the years. God bless Mr John Taylor QC and his family.

    Sent from my iPad

  • Joe Krulder

    I only met John last year. As a budding historian, I found John to be the very definition of eighteenth-century virtue, a man of character, in both deed and thought. He will certainly be missed.

  • Victoria,

    Your father, Mr John Taylor QC will forever be remembered. I was very pleased to attend his funeral to pay respect to an extraordinary man.

    It was good to see the church so full on the 22nd May and the rain and thunder added theater and drama that would have amused him: for example, at an appropriate time of silence during the service, thunder made itself heard!

    Rev’d Anne Hindle and Rev’d Mark-Aaron Tisdale conducted the funeral as the team he no doubt would have approved. [It was Rev’d Mark-Aaron who initially introduced Mr Taylor to the Byng plight and that of seeking exoneration. More recently Rev’d Anne has lent mych support and conducted several services at All Saints’ Church, Southill, for John Byng’s annual memorial on 14th March.]

    The garden at The Grange was stunning and very well appreciated. Colin and his team could not have done The Grange more proud.

    Might it be an idea to ask those who took such care to prepare their eulogies if they may consider posting them here for all to read? They give a colourful picture of aspects of Mr Taylor’s life that many would be interested to learn.

    Your father is sadly missed.


  • Colin Smith

    I would like to thank my team of gardeners for all their hard work. Many who came to the funeral took time to appreciate the very high standard that we had sought to attain. I’m sure that Mr and Mrs Taylor would have been very proud to show them off. Colin.

  • Andie

    I was at John Taylor’s funeral today. The church was full. I am sure he was pleased about this.
    I had no idea about the various activities he was involved in, he certainly enjoyed life. I could see where Mark Aaron was coming from, when he spoke about the way a Bible passage should be read. Glancing through the service booklet, before the service began, I was not at all surprised to see the hymn Jerusalem, I could imagine him singing it with great gusto.
    Mr Taylor was always full of commitmentment. He was a very straightforward man. I remember him thanking me for not parking on his grass,on an occasion, when I had to park in Grange Street.
    Clifton has certainly lost a colourful character. Rest in Peace Mr Taylor. A

  • Colin, we met you in the kitchen one day quite recently while visiting The Grange. You offered to make us all tea and we shared our buns.

    The Garden at The Grange gave us tremendous pleasure. When we visited, Mr Taylor was always proud to show it to us. He told us that he was very touched by the extra ‘duties’ that you volunteered. Wish there were more like you.

  • Andie

    Your father was ever the gentleman. I fear he may be part of a dying breed,this is not my preferred description. I hope you understand what I am trying to convey.

    May anyone attend his funeral please?

    If Ofsted choose this week to visit us I may not be able to attend your father’s funeral.


  • Victoria Wolfe-Brown (daughter)

    Through the course of arranging his funeral, I have learnt a lot more about the man I knew and loved as my father. He was a kind and generous man especially to those he thought deserved a hand up in life and had many interests ranging from the Artistic to the sailing world. He was a showman and came alive in front of an audience whilst at the same time valuing his privacy and time spent with my Mother and I. He never really embraced the 20th Century in terms of technology. He did purchase a computer but it fast became a “dust catcher” as he could never overcome his hatred of typing – a fundamental issue with a computer. I considered getting voice recognition for him but there would have been too many “um, Ah, Actually’s” in any transcript. Thank you all for your kind words and he will be greatly missed.

  • Andie

    Well voiced Colin, I’m sure Mr T valued your work on his estate, as did his neighbours.

  • Colin Smith

    For the last two years, I have been head gardener at Clifton Grange, and also assisted around the house, cooking meals etc. I was very fond of Mr and Mrs Taylor, and they both treated me very well, and with the greatest respect. I hope that those of you coming to Mr Taylor’s funeral on Thursday will gain as much enjoyment from the gardens as John and Mrs Taylor did.

  • Colin Smith

    For the last two years, I have been head gardener at Clifton Grange, and also assisted around the house, cooking meals etc.
    I was very fond of Mr and Mrs Taylor, and they both treated me very well, and with the greatest respect. I hope that those of you coming to Mr Taylor’s funeral on Thursday will gain as much enjoyment from the gardens as John and Mrs Taylor did.

  • Andie

    Mr Taylor always responded to my requests about overhanging branches etc. I always found him to be a gentleman. My thoughts are with Mrs Taylor, Jean, and his daughter, Victoria.

    May he rest in peace.


  • Pat Thomas

    Some wonderful comments about John. Yes I remember his Ford escort which he also called his “people’s car” as we were involved in a controversial and lengthy inquiry where the arrival of the promoter’s QC in his Rolls Royce would have incensed the crowd of third parties. I always felt that the fsct that their numbers held up throughout the inquiry was due to their enjoyment of the entertainment value that John’s examination and cross-examination provided.

  • Nicola Raistrick

    David, this is sad news indeed. I worked with John on many minerals cases including the BG Aldborough Inquiry in which we successfully sought planning permission to dissolve caverns in the salt strata under Aldborough and use them for gas storage. John was so lovely to me and once gave me a lift home to my parents (who lived near Clifton) in his Rolls Royce. I remember discussing with him the difficulties of finding a wedding venue nearby and he said “well that settles it you must get married at Clifton Grange” – not an offer we could take up but so very kind. It was a long case and his entertaining stories over dinner each night were a most welcome break each evening. There must be a whole generation of us who still attempt to use the word “actually” in anything like as authoritative a way as he did. We were also inspired and encouraged by his example to seek to be excellent lawyers and courteous kind people.

  • John Taylor QC joined our ABC [Admiral Byng Committee]after initially stipulating that he was against the seeking of exoneration for our ancestor. However, after attending a meeting about Admiral John Byng and reading further and in more depth, Mr Taylor turned to me one day in the White Horse, Southill, Bedfordshire, and looked me straight in the eye with his characteristic manner and said: “I am pleased to report that you have a jolly good case and I will lend my time and support… what”. He kept to his word and we have had many very interesting and stimulating meetings at his splendid home and beautiful garden. His firmest advice to us was that we must never give up seeking exoneration for Admiral John Byng as his treatment was one of the worst miscarriages of British justice.

    Requiescat in pace

    Thane Byng [Acting Chair ABC] Collateral descendant of Admiral John Byng 1704 – 1757.

    Please post this information for all to see.

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