John William Taylor (1854-1921), builder and timber merchant, was born in Geelong, the eldest son of John Charles Taylor, timber merchant, joiner and builder, and his wife Sarah Ellen, née Skingley.
When John Charles purchased a small piece of land to establish a sawmill in Geelong during 1854 it was the humble beginnings of a building dynasty. The firm of J.C. Taylor & Sons was founded in 1860. John Charles later took two of his sons, John William and Henry Alfred, into partnership with him. At that stage the business encompassed the original saw and planning mill, and the joinery factory; later there was an extension to include a carpentry and staircase building. The family business continued on the Gheringhap Street site for over 130 years. They had to rebuild in 1924 after a fire destroyed the mill.
John Charles retired in 1904, and the running of the business passed to his two sons, John William and Henry Alfred. On the death of John Charles in 1906 and Henry Alfred in 1910, John William purchased the whole of the business, land and buildings. His son Ernest John was in charge of the joinery section and his two daughters Clarice and Doris, were in charge of the clerical work. In 1915 the firm was incorporated as a Proprietary Company with a nominal capital of £15,000. John William was the Managing Director, Ernest John Director and Clarice Secretary.
For many years John William was President of the Geelong Master Builders Association, and in the business field directed the operations of the Company in projects of some magnitude, particularly in the wool store field, also school buildings, factories, hotels and larger residences.
John William, a keen fisherman, would often stay at Torquay in a small humpy. He was a committee member of the first Spring Creek Progress Association (later to be Torquay Improvement Association) and Trustee of the Torquay Public Reserves (1893 – 1921). John William bought an allotment in the Spring Creek Estate between Boston Road and Anderson Street in 1891 building his house almost immediately, a pre-cut two-roomed home which John William called ‘Puebla’ after the parish. Unfortunately, the fine home was destroyed in the disastrous 1940 fires. John Anderson Taylor writes that he gave the humpy to Felix Rosser, a local fisherman after he built his house.
John William would remain on the Torquay Improvement Association (TIA) and Trustee of Torquay Public Reserves committees for many years serving as President and Chairman respectively, from 1908 until his death in 1921. In 1916 the Lands Department wanted to subdivide and sell the land known as the golf links and reserve. , The TIA and the Trustees of Torquay Parks and Reserves, under the leadership of John William Taylor, were instrumental in having that land, now known as Taylor Park, proclaimed a reserve for ‘golf and recreation’ the following year.
The original Torquay Hall was built in 1892 at the cost of £300 which was financed through the bank. The depression of the nineties made repayments impossible and the bank foreclosed putting the hall up for auction. J.W. Taylor purchased it for the Torquay residents and the TIA took on the task of clearing the debt by running a variety of social activities .
According to James Baines, in March 1920 Taylor and Parker Streets were given their names. Then after John William’s death in 1921 the name “Taylor Park” was given to the reserve area – a fitting memorial to a man who had worked so hard to have the space reserved for all time. A memorial plaque is attached to the gates at the south-east corner of the park (cnr Esplanade and Zeally Bay Road). Subsequently Taylor Street became Rudd Avenue in 1939 just before the death of Harry Rudd, recognising the work of another TIA pioneer.
John William was an environmentalist, who fought for the public use of land in the township. However, the bowling green area was established from the efforts of Arthur Taylor, brother of John William. Arthur was also known as a mechanical man. Arthur had two daughters, Winnie and Elma. Together with their cousins Nellie, Clarice and Doris (John William’s daughters) became well known, not only in the Torquay area but in Geelong for their fundraising benefits during World War 1.
John William was very friendly with Felix Rosser, one of the early Torquay fisherman. Felix had a hut on Yellow Bluff. John A (grandson of J.W Taylor) remembered sitting many times in the shed with the beautiful smell of Stockholm tar of his nets and his boat rigging. He hand made his nets, rigged and maintained his own fishing boats. On occasions when heavy Southerlies or Westerly weather occurred, and Felix was known to be out in his boat, John A and his father would wonder to Point Danger to see that Felix was safe. Felix never found himself in trouble because he was an excellent seaman.
Shortly after John William approached the Land’s Department about Taylor Park remaining Crown Land for public use, the construction of the Great Ocean Road was announced. This construction included the extension of The Esplanade from Zeally Bay Road toward Beach Road, subsequently altering the seaward boundary of Taylor Park and eliminating the area occupied by Felix on Yellow Bluff. Felix was very upset, so John William built another home for Felix. Not long after Felix wandered way into the bush toward Jan Juc and died.
The Taylor family did more for the development of early Torquay than any other. The Taylor brothers, John William (d 1921) and Henry Alfred (d 1909) were still active members of the Torquay Improvement Association (TIA) when they died. Frederick ‘Arthur’ continued as an active member of the TIA, serving as president from 1941 until 1943 before his death in 1948 at 80 years of age. Arthur was made a life member in 1945. Ernest John Taylor, son of John William, was elected chairperson of the Trustees Torquay Parks and Reserves upon the death of his father, John William, who was president of the TIA and chairperson of the Trustees Torquay Parks and Reserves in 1921 when he died.