Life of Dan Taylor

From birth to baptism

Dan Taylor was born at Sourmilk Hall, 16 Horley Green Road, Claremount, Halifax on , the son of Asa and Hannah Taylor.

He started work as a miner at the age of five and appears to have received no formal education.

He attended and, at the age of sixteen, was confirmed at Halifax Parish Church but remarked that he had never heard the gospel preached. He had already been drawn to the Methodists and listened to William Grimshaw of Haworth and often walked long distances to hear his favourite preachers, John and Charles Wesley and George Whitfield.

In he took his first service in Hipperhome but in less than a year had become dissatisfied with what he saw as the authoritarianism of the Wesleys and, when he came across William Wall’s The history of infant baptism, he became convinced that it was wrong.

In 1762 he gathered with John Slater, John Parker, William Crossley and a female whose surname is unknown to form a new group, preaching at The Nook, Wadsworth, the district above Hebden Bridge where Wainsgate Particular Baptist Church was also situated, buying Wadsworth Lanes house and registering it as a meeting house.

He approached Richard Smith, the minister at Wainsgate and a convert of Grimshaw at Haworth, for baptism but he would not baptise him because of his Arminian views and told him about William Thompson, the General Baptist Minister of Boston.

On he set off for Boston with John Slater; they slept under a haystack that night and reached Gamston, near Nottingham, the following evening. Discovering the next morning that there was a Baptist church, but too late to attend the morning service, they attended the afternoon service taken by the assistant minister, John Dossey. After questioning him for three days, Joseph Jeffery, the senior minister, baptised Dan Taylor in the River Idle on .

The Hebden Bridge years

In he attended the Lincolnshire General Baptist Assembly and met William Thompson of Boston; he accompanied him to Wadsworth, baptised fourteen people who formed a church and administered the Lord’s Supper. That autumn Dan Taylor was ordained by Gilbert Boyce at Conningsby when John Dossey preached on 1 Timothy 3:1.

Dan Taylor was making a living running a farm and a school but, the following year, he acquired the land and began the construction of Birchcliffe Chapel, becoming its first pastor. He attended the General Baptist Assembly and visited various churches in order to raise funds for Birchcliffe. He was also invited by William Thompson to preach at the opening of Boston’s new building on . In 1765 he was appointed the Lincolnshire delegate to the London General Assembly and in 1767 he deputised for William Thompson at the Assembly.

Meanwhile Richard Smith had died in 1763 and in 1764 Wainsgate invited John Fawcett, a young man from Bradford, to become their minister. Dan Taylor quickly struck up a friendship with John Fawcett and with Henry Foster, a trainee Anglican priest, and the three used to meet for bible study. They also formed a reading society in Heptonstall, across the valley from Wadsworth.

Among other groups which had sprung up around this time was a group of independent Methodists centred on Barton in Nottinghamshire. At a meeting in December 1769 there appears to have been an attempt to broker a deal between this group and the Lincolnshire General Baptists which foundered because some General Baptist churches were becoming more tolerant of Unitarian views.

This was followed up by a meeting on the 6 June 1770 at Church Lane, Whitechapel attended by Samuel Deacon (Barton), John Tarratt and Nathaniel Pickering (Kegworth), John Grimley (Loughborough), William Smith and George Hickling (Longford), Francis Smith and Thomas Perkins (Melbourn), Dan Taylor (Wadsworth), William Thompson (Boston), John Brittain (Church Lane), William Summers (The Park), John Knott (Eythorn), James Fenn (Deal), J. Stanger (Bessell’s Green), David Wilkin (Halstead), Charles Parman (Castle Headingham) and R. French (Coggeshall). Eight came from the Barton group and the remainder from Lincolnshire, Essex, Kent, London and Yorkshire.

This group laid the foundations for what was to become the New Connection. After the few years the groups from the south of England dropped away leaving only those in the Midlands and Yorkshire.

Two years later, in 1772, Dan Taylor persuaded the New Connection to pass a vote giving women equal rights in the church, making the New Connection possibly the first denomination in England formally to do so.

The following year, after fruitless attempts to start a church in Halifax, he was able to start one in Queenshead, now Queensbury, between Halifax and Bradford led by his brother, John Taylor.

Four years later, in 1777, this church spawned Haley Hill, the first General Baptist Church in Halifax. In 1780, he was able to start a church in Burnley and in 1783 he accepted an invitation to leave Birchcliffe and become minister at Haley Hill. But this was a brief stay as he had caught the eye of John Brittain, the minister at Church Lane, Whitechapel, and he was invited to move to Whitechapel, which he did, along with his wife and nine children in 1785. On both these occasions, Dan Taylor had not taken the decision on his own but had sought the advice of the New Connection Assembly.

London and the Academy

The next fifteen years saw Dan Taylor engaged on the one hand with the General Baptist Assembly which made several attempts to heal the rift with the New Connection churches and, on the other, with Andrew Fuller, who was leading a softening of the high Calvinism of some of the Particular Baptist Churches.

In fact, Dan Taylor may have played a part in this because, when John Sutcliff, an assistant teacher in his school in Wadsworth, decided to become a Particular Baptist minister in 1769, he taught him Latin while John Fawcett taught him Greek before sending him off to Bristol Baptist College. It was John Sutcliff who arranged in 1784 for the republication of the arguments of the New England preacher, Jonathan Edwards, for abandoning strict Calvinism.

In 1793 Dan Taylor marked the death of his wife, Elizabeth, with a sermon on equal rights for women in church; she had borne him thirteen children.

In 1797 a proposal for a General Baptist Academy which had been floating around for some years came to fruition when Dan Taylor opened it, taking in his nephew, James Taylor, as his first student.

The admission of William Vidler, a supporter of Unitarianism, to the General Baptist Assembly in 1801 led to Dan Taylor finally breaking with the General Baptist Assembly in 1803.

His final years were marked by tragedy and financial difficulties. In 1809 his second wife, Elizabeth, and a daughter died; in 1810 the church reduced his salary, possibly because of the amount of time he was spending away from the church, and he had to sell his library to defray expenses. In 1811 he got married for the third time, this time to a much younger women who, sadly, died within a year. In 1813 the trustees of the Academy decided he was no longer up to it and the Academy was moved to Wisbech. However, the same year the New Connection formally banned Unitarianism and in 1816, at his last New Connection Assembly, the establishment of the General Baptist Missionary Society was approved.

He died on .

Bicentenary conference

A conference to mark the bicentenary of the death of Dan Taylor was held on Saturday, at Regent’s Park College, Oxford. The paper, Dan Taylor: a mature evangelical, was written as a response to this conference.