Peter Geoffrey Taylor (1926-2011)

Peter Taylor, who died on 20th October 2011, was one of the founding members of the BNHS. He was born in Luton and after he left school he joined Commer Cars as an apprentice machinist and turner. He developed an interest in butterflies when he was 13, collecting in Bedfordshire and adjacent counties within cycling range, about 40 miles, from Luton. At that time he was able to find marsh fritillary and adonis blue on the chalk downs around Totternhoe and Markham Hills, and recognised that both species might have been introduced to the area. They became extinct in Bedfordshire many years ago. Just over the county boundary at Ashridge he found high brown fritillary in such abundance that “a person so inclined could take a hundred in an afternoon”. This species now survives in only a few small areas in the west and north-west of England and Wales.

Photograph of Peter Taylor
Peter holding a copy of The Genus Utricularia.
© RBG Kew

His interest in butterflies continued until 1944 when he met John Dony who encouraged him to concentrate on developing his skills in botany. This Peter did so successfully that in 1948 John recommended him to apply for a post as Temporary Assistant in the Herbarium at Kew which started him on a new career. Peter renewed his interest in Lepidoptera in the early 1960s but when he visited some of his former haunts in Bedfordshire he “found them rather distressingly deteriorated” so concentrated instead on sites nearer to his home, especially around where he moved to in Sussex.

In the BNHS, Peter served as Recorder for Vascular Cryptogams and Bryophytes from 1947 to 1952. He ceased to be a member in 1953 so he will not have been known to many current members. He contributed a section on liverworts in Dony’s 1953 Flora of Bedfordshire. In his chapter on ‘The Study of Bedfordshire Botany’ Dony wrote of Peter ‘An exceedingly observant botanist he has made ferns and horsetails his special study. He has also done some useful work on bryophytes and collected for the Flora all available material on the Hepatics. In a short period of field work he added Carex binervis, Ceterach officinarum, Dryopteris borreri and Thelypteris oreopteris to the flora.’

Peter worked at Kew from 1948 until his retirement in 1986. He was very skilled at preparing herbarium specimens and was known for his meticulous attention to detail. He had a deep knowledge of the British flora as well as that of other countries to which he travelled, particularly tropical Africa. From 1972 to 1984 he was in charge of the orchid section at Kew. He published many papers and several books, culminating in his great monograph on the bladderworts, The Genus Utricularia: A Taxonomic Monograph (1986) which runs to 736 pages.

After Peter retired he bought two small neglected woods near his home in Sussex. He and his wife set about restoring them for wildlife with, as he said, “some success” including having purple emperor breeding there. The woods also provided materials for his other great interest in life, cabinet making. His garden was lined with sheds containing timber at various stages of seasoning. He made concert standard harpsicords and clavicords to period designs, doing the metal work and detailed decoration as well as the woodwork, producing unique and beautiful instruments. Peter was certainly a many talented person.