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Story: Chapman-Taylor, James Walter

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Chapman-Taylor, James Walter


Architect, builder, photographer, astrologer

This biography, written by Judy Siers, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1996.

James Walter Chapman Taylor was born in London, England, on 24 June 1878, the son of Theodore Chapman Taylor and his wife, Ada Thomas. Theodore was an agricultural graduate and quantity surveyor and Ada a teacher, linguist and journalist. In 1879 Theodore came out to New Zealand, where he purchased 62 acres of hilly, heavily forested land, part of the Ngaere block, a few miles south of Stratford. Ada Taylor, James and a younger brother joined him in June 1880.

James was initially taught at home by his mother and later attended the school at Ngaere. By his teenage years he had decided against farming as a career and became apprenticed to a local builder. On 12 April 1900 he married Mary Gibson at Stratford. After completing his apprenticeship, he constructed his first building, a single-storeyed timber house for his parents on their Stratford property. By 1903 he had enrolled in an architecture and design course with the International Correspondence Schools of the United States. He worked on the construction of the Taihape railway station in 1904 and then moved to Wellington. Clients there provided him with the opportunity to pursue a career as a builder, furniture designer, carpenter and architect. He worked on-site or in his workshop during the day and studied to complete his correspondence course in the evening. From around 1907 he used the surname Chapman-Taylor.

Over the years Chapman-Taylor moved house often, living in at least 11 houses which he designed and built himself. Mary Chapman-Taylor died in October 1916, and at Hastings on 6 September 1917 James married Clara Annie Walton, a Plunket nurse. He shifted to Havelock North in 1919 and to Auckland in 1922. By the mid 1930s he was living at Silverstream in the Hutt Valley. His second marriage was dissolved in 1937 and on 21 May that year at Lower Hutt he married Dorothy Joan Pocock (née Lucas). After her death in March 1938 he was married at Silverstream on 27 May 1938 to Marion Hurst Gottwaltz (née Wickens).

Chapman-Taylor is best known for his domestic architecture. His career spanned nearly 60 years, during which period he designed and built some 84 houses. For the most part he was influenced by the ideas of the English Arts and Crafts movement, which promoted a return to the simple, traditional English cottage style, with interior features in adzed timber, whitewashed plaster walls, large beams and lintels, small framed windows and hand-crafted fittings. During his early years in Wellington he used the Australian native timber jarrah almost exclusively for interior surfaces and furniture, and his preference for this heavy dark wood earned him the nickname 'Jarrah-Taylor'. He admired the architectural work of Charles Voysey, M. H. Baillie Scott, Sir Edwin Lutyens, E. W. Gimson, Ernest and Sidney Barnsley and C. R. Ashbee. In 1909 and again in 1914 Chapman-Taylor travelled to England to view the work of these architects and to observe traditional English cottages at first hand.

On his return a mature style emerged. His designs became more cohesive, and concrete was used as the preferred building material. His first concrete building, Whare-Rā, in Hawke's Bay (1913–15), was designed as a centre for the New Zealand branch of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a modern Rosicrucian order. The consistency of his style and method is most evident in the homes he designed between 1915 and his last work in 1953. He experimented with a honeycomb concrete wall construction, with concrete-block work and a variety of design features, but overall his buildings repeatedly echoed the Arts and Crafts cottage style. Most Chapman-Taylor buildings are extant, proof of their quality (his Hawke's Bay houses withstood the major earthquake of 1931) and ageless, classic appeal.

Chapman-Taylor also made a significant contribution to photography in New Zealand. From 1907 his photographs appeared in the magazine Progress (renamed New Zealand Building Progress in 1914). The photographs were also used to illustrate his written articles. In the 1920s he was an active member of the Auckland Camera Club. His photography became increasingly art-inspired as he experimented with special lenses and discovered the variety of effects possible through choice of papers and exposures. Egmont and the children of the mountain mist, published in 1931, included 21 photographic plates and demonstrated his skill as a photographer.

In Silverstream in the late 1930s Chapman-Taylor installed a well-equipped darkroom in his home at Chatsworth Road and photography became a professional enterprise. He created a demand for a new style of personal photography, advertised as 'Portraits in your home'. This was his alternative to contemporary studio portraiture which he considered too formal and unnatural. Other successes came from his membership of the Wellington Camera Club, which won the Bledisloe Cup for inter-club competition in New Zealand on eight occasions between 1942 and 1950 when Chapman-Taylor was a participating member. He also acted as a critic and judge in local competitions. In 1948 he became an associate member of the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain.

The relationship between the spiritual and material concerned Chapman-Taylor throughout his life. He attempted to live for honesty of purpose, beauty in truth, and the greater reason for life, which were tenets of the Arts and Crafts philosophy. He was involved at various stages with the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, the Anglican church, the Theosophical Society and the Liberal Catholic church. Astrology also played an important part in his life. A follower of Alan Leo and Margaret Hone, he became an adept reader and interpreter of horoscopes. During the 1940s and 1950s this too became a professional occupation.

James Chapman-Taylor died on 28 October 1958 at Lower Hutt, survived by his fourth wife and six children. The Evening Post obituary described him as a 'creative artist whose life was an inspiration to hundreds of New Zealanders in many walks of life'.

How to cite this page:

Judy Siers. 'Chapman-Taylor, James Walter', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1996. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/3c11/chapman-taylor-james-walter (accessed 22 June 2024)