Tom Taylor Collection

Scope and Content

This collection consists of materials collected by Jack Reading relating to the life and works of English dramatist Tom Taylor. It includes original working drafts and final drafts of play-texts, notebooks, sketchbooks, images and scrapbooks and personal ephemera. Also included are materials relating to Jack Reading and his research into Tom Taylor, highlighting some of Reading's work processes and his methods of acquiring materials. Additional research and contextual notes accompany most of the play-texts: each handwritten script comes with a page of notes which features details and research notes relating to the text. These were added by Jack Reading in 1964.

Administrative / Biographical History

Jack Reading

Jack Reading was born in 1916 in London. After gaining a degree in English from UCL he worked for a time as a bookseller, edited the World of Art magazine and served on the Miner's Welfare Committee. During the Second World War he went on to serve in the armed forces, rising through the ranks to become a Staff Sergeant and later gained a Commission, eventually leaving in 1946 as a Captain.

After being demobbed he returned to working in the mining industry, eventually working in its Social Welfare department. During this same period, in a voluntary capacity, Jack Reading pursued an interest in theatre and theatre history. He was a founder member of the Society for Theatre Research and the International Federation for Theatre Research. He served as a permanent member on the Executive Committee responsible for membership and performed similar duties for its sister organisation, the International Association of Libraries and Museums of Performing Arts.

In 1955, Jack Reading helped to spearhead a campaign for the establishment of a Theatre Museum in the UK and later became a trustee of the Theatre Museum Association. He gave his entire library of theatre material to the Templeman Library, University of Kent at Canterbury, where it forms the Reading-Rayner Collection.

Jack Reading died in August 2004 aged 88.

Tom Taylor

Perhaps the most popular playwright of the Victorian era, Tom Taylor was born in 1817 in what is now Sunderland, north-east England. Following his studies at Trinity College, Cambridge, Taylor moved to London to embark on a career as a journalist, writing for the Morning Chronicle and the Daily News. He worked at Punch magazine until 1874, where he rose to the position of editor and wrote art criticism columns for The Times and The Graphic. He would also go on to publish and edit books on a number of British painters, namely Joshua Reynolds, Charles R. Leslie and Benjamin R. Haydon.

In addition to his journalism career, Taylor served as Professor of English Literature at University College London for a time and trained as a lawyer, being called to the Bar at Middle Temple in 1846. In 1850 he was appointed assistant secretary at the Board of Health. During this period he also established himself as a dramatist, having early works and burlesques staged by Mary Anne and Robert Keeley, who were then managing the Lyceum Theatre London. His first major success, To Parents and Guardians was staged there in 1845.

During the 1850s he wrote or co-wrote over thirty comic works, notably those written with Charles Reade, including Masks and Faces in 1852, and Two Loves and a Life and The King's Rival in 1854. A self-confessed populist, his intention was to create plays his audiences would enjoy, and many of his works were adaptations of existing French plays, or dramatisations of the novels of Charles Dickens or other popular novels of the time.

He was also a prolific writer of dramatic works, with Our American Cousin arguably being his best known, being the play Abraham Lincoln was watching the night he was assassinated at Ford's Theatre, Washington D.C in 1865.

Some of his most successful theatrical works included Plot and Passion (1853), Still Waters Run Deep (1855), The Ticket of Leave Man (1863), Arkwright's Wife (1873), and historical dramas such as Clancarty's Wife (1874) and The Fool's Revenge, which opened the Queen's Theatre in 1869.

Taylor is also known to have acted in several productions, and in 1879 played Adam in As You Like It at a memorial-fund performance in Manchester.

Taylor married Laura Barker in 1855, and together they had two children; Lucy and Wycliffe. An accomplished musical composer, Taylor's wife wrote the musical accompaniment to his 1971 work Joan of Arc. Tom Taylor died in 1880 and Laura Taylor died in 1905.


This collection has been arranged into the following series:

  • THM/223/1 - Jack Reading materials
  • THM/223/2 - Tom Taylor materials

Access Information

This archive collection is available for consultation in the V&A Blythe House Archive and Library Study Room by appointment only. Full details of access arrangements may be found here:

Access to some of the material may be restricted. These are noted in the catalogue where relevant.

Acquisition Information

This collection was acquired by the BTMA, which formed one of the founding collections of the Theatre Museum on its opening in 1974.

Conditions Governing Use

Information on copying and commercial reproduction may be found here:

Appraisal Information

This collection was appraised in line with the collection management policy.

The following books have been removed from the collection and added to the V&A Theatre and Performance department library collection :

  • Hardback copy of the untitled memoirs of Rev. W.T. Kingsley by E.W. Naylor, inscribed on front cover Wycliffe & Frida from Lucy - 1918.
  • Copy of the Proceedings of the Thirteenth Anniversary Festival of the Royal General Theatrical Fund, with W.M. Thackeray as the chair. Dated 1858.
  • Hardback copy of Leicester Square, by Tom Taylor, published by Bickers and Son, London, 1874.
  • Hardback copy of Tom Taylor's Historical Dramas, published by Chatto and Windus, London, 1877.
  • Hardback copy of Tom Taylor and the Victorian Drama, by Winton Tolles, published by AMS Press inc., New York, 1966.
  • Hardback copy of Tom Taylor and the Victorian Drama, by Winton Tolles, published by Columbia University Press, New York, 1940.
  • Copy of Pictures of English Landscape, by Birket Foster with accompanying preface and poems by Taylor, published by Routledge, 1862. This copy is inscribed on inside front cover: Ellen Mary Higham, With Uncle Tom's Best Wishes, July 13th 1875.

This collection contained many art exhibition catalogues and printed exhibition reviews, which have been removed from the collection and disposed off. A small numbers of unrelated periodical issues have also been removed and disposed off


No further accruals are expected.

Related Material

See also the core collections of the V&A Theatre and Performance Department. Material relating to the work of Tom Taylor may be found in productions files and the library.

Please ask for details.