Joseph Taylor was born at Binbrook in the Lincolnshire Wolds on the 10th December 1833, second son of James Taylor and Mary Ann Smith of Barnoldby-Le-Beck. James and his elder brother John moved to Binbrook in the 1820s from Fotherby near Louth. Binbrook was an unusual place, an “open” village in an area of “closed” villages where most of the land and property were owned by a single estate. It was for this reason that it was home to the seasonal labour force needed by the large local farms at certain times in the farming year. Joseph’s father, James, was an agricultural labourer. The National School was not opened until 1843 and so it is unlikely that Joseph would have had formal education beyond that which was offered by the local Sunday school.
One consequence of being an “open” village was that Binbrook had its own hiring fair, the “Stattis” or Statute fair at which local farmers would select their labourers. Joseph’s early working life in the area was as an agricultural labourer. In 1851 he was one of 12 labourers employed by John Fieldsend on his farm at Orford, a hamlet north of Binbrook. At the age of 17, he was already taking an interest in music. According to Marion Hudson, his granddaughter, in her unpublished biography , Joseph Taylor would often walk to Grimsby and back, a round trip of about 20 miles, to attend a concert. He was also learning songs from gypsies who used to come and camp in the chalk pits that dotted the landscape.
That he was learning songs at this time is confirmed by an anecdote noted by Percy Grainger. When his Joseph Taylor’s mother asked what his new-born brother should be called, he replied: “Christen him Bold William Taylor’, this being the title of the newest addition to his repertoire of ‘ballets’ (as they are called by the rural singers) …and his advice was followed.” His brother William was born in 1853, when Joseph was 19 years old. It was also a time in his life when he spent three months in prison at the Louth House of Correction, convicted for stealing wheat cake and powder to feed to the horses in his charge, from his employer, Binbrook farmer William Croft.
The turning point in Joseph Taylor’s life may well have been his marriage in 1856 to Eliza Hill from Huttoft on the Lincolnshire coast, six years older than him. They settled in Ranters’ Row in Binbrook, where their first two children were born. It was in 1863 that the family moved to Saxby All Saints, a pretty little village on the western slope of the Wolds, between Brigg and Barton on Humber. There he worked and trained as a carpenter and joiner for Mr Dudding, an independent tradesman who worked mainly for the Hope-Barton family, owners of the village. Here the Taylors had the rest of their family of seven children. Joseph’s love of singing found an outlet in the church choir, to which he belonged for 45 years.
In 1875 he joined the Hope-Barton estate, initially as a woodman. From this job he was subsequently promoted to Under-Steward. He also became Parish Clerk in 1874. His duties in this role included winding the church clock, grave-digging, collecting Church rate from cottagers and the all-important task of responding “Amen” in Services. The sixth North Lincolnshire Musical Competition was held in the Corn Exchange at Brigg in April 1905. For the first time it included a folksong section, offering a prize for “the best unpublished old Lincolnshire folk-song or plough-song” . The judge, Frank Kidson, awarded him the prize for the best song for Creeping Jane. The subsequent contact at the festival with Percy Grainger led to the phonograph and commercial recordings that continue to delight and inform later generations of singers far beyond his native county’s borders.
Saxby All Saints was a musical village. In addition to the church choir in which Joseph Taylor sang, the village had a choral society, which, for many years took part in local competitions. His children, James, John, Annie and Mary Ann were all singers. So when Gervase Elwes, a nationally known tenor, his wife Winifred and her brother Everard Fielding wanted to gather support for the first North Lincolnshire Music Festival in 1900, Saxby was an obvious point of call. The organisers initially cycled round the area training village choirs and then acquired a motor-bike, behind which Lady Winifred was towed on her push-bike. Winifred Elwes gives the credit for introducing the folksong section in the 1905 Festival to Percy Grainger and her brother Everard, “who had become infected by Mr Cecil Sharpe’s (sic) enthusiasm”.
It was after the competition that Percy Grainger noted the tune to “Brigg Fair” from him, which was subsequently published in the Folk Song Society Journal. Grainger returned to Brigg in September 1905 when he spent a week collecting songs with Lady Elwes’ sons.
At the 1906 Festival, Joseph Taylor was again awarded first prize, but this time he had to share it with George Gouldthorpe of Goxhill: “The results were of such interest that the judge, Miss Lucy Broadwood, felt justified in awarding eight prizes. Mr G. Gouldthorpe sang a ballad entitled “Six Dukes”, which from internal evidence must be over 450 years old, and has not yet, as far as is known, been published. “Brigg Fair” and a beautiful tune to “William Taylor” obtained the next prize for Mr Joseph Taylor”.
Considering the success of the folksong section in the 1905 and 1906 North Lincolnshire Music Festivals, and the local and national interest it attracted, it may seem surprising that it did not continue in subsequent years. However, there was no Festival in 1907. It was cancelled following the death of Gervase Elwes’ mother, Mrs Cary-Elwes. Gervase and Winifred then moved to Billing Hall in Northamptonshire where the family also owned an estate.
Percy Grainger’s link with the Taylor family did continue, however. Joseph Taylor went to Grainger’s home in Chelsea on more than one occasion. One of these visits was in March 1908 when he went to the first performance of Delius’ English Rhapsody “Brigg Fair”. Marion Hudson was keen to deny the legend that Joseph Taylor got up and sang during the concert.
In June and July 1908 Joseph Taylor recorded nine of his songs for the Gramophone Company, the first commercially issued recordings of an English folksinger. The Gramophone Company not only gave him a set of the records, but also a gramophone on which to play them.
Joseph Taylor’s new-found status as a concert performer and recording artist did not last long, for within two years he was dead. He suffered a great personal loss when his wife, Eliza, died in November 1909. The following May, five years after his first appearance at the North Lincolnshire, he was involved in an accident in which he was thrown from a pony and trap. He survived but died soon after, probably from a heart attack. So ended the life of the first and, arguably, still the finest commercially recorded English folksinger. He was buried in Saxby churchyard next to his wife and son, Joseph, near to the family plot of the Hope-Barton family, whom he had served for so many years.
Many of the songs collected from Joseph Taylor were fragments. The following songs were collected from him:
1. Spotted Cow (P) Roud 956
2. Geordie (P)(tune only) Roud 90
3. The Bachelor Bright and New (P) Roud 433
4. Barbara Ellen Roud 54
5. The Birds upon the Tree Roud 1863 (pub.1882)
6. Bold Nevison Roud 1082
7. Bold William Taylor (P) Roud 158
8. Bonnie Mary Roud 23539
9. Brigg Fair (P) Roud 1083
10. Creeping Jane. (P) Roud 1012
11. Cruel Ship’s Carpenter (P) Roud 15
12. Died for Love.(P) Roud 60
13. Gipsy’s Wedding Day (P) Roud 229
14. The Gown of Green (P) Roud 1085
15. Green Bushes Roud 1040
16. Landlord and Tenant Roud 1761
17. Lord Bateman (P) Roud 40
18. Lord Yarborough’s Hunt (P) Roud 22755
19. The Lover’s Lament (P) Roud 405
20. Maria Marten (P) Roud 215
21. The Mere Mal Roud 000
22. The Mermaid Roud 124
23. The Sprig of Thyme (P) Roud 3
24. Rufford Park Poachers (P) Roud 1759
25. When I Was Young and in my Youthful days (P) Roud 383
26. Where are you going to my pretty maid? Roud 298
27. The White Hare (P) Roud 1110
28. Worcester City Roud 218
29. Young William the Ploughboy Roud 000
Another article on Joseph Taylor is at Joseph Taylor web page but note that there is at least one factual error on the site.
The linked article is interesting but contains an inaccuracy since it refers to Percy Grainger visiting Lincolnshire in 1905 with Lucy Broadwood. In fact she did not attend the first Folk Song competition there in that year, but actually attended the second one , at which she was a judge of the Folk Song Competition, in the following year, and carried out a joint collecting trip with Grainger at that time , 1906. (Taylor, incidentally, did not win the competition that year.) --Irene Shettle 20:11, 1 July 2008 (BST)
Further information about Joseph Taylor is available at  including recordings, family details, photographs and articles.