John James Tayler was born on 15 August 1797 at Newington Butts, Surrey. His father was John Tayler a nonconformist minister in London, who, when James was five years old became the minister of the prestigious High Pavement Chapel in Nottingham. His father set up a school in their home at which the younger John was educated up to the age of seventeen. In 1814 he went to Manchester College, York, to train as a Unitarian minister; at the time Charles Wellbeloved was the principal. After two years at the College he attended Glasgow University to study for a BA. He obtained this in 1819 and returned to Manchester College as a temporary tutor in classics. In 1820 he became a minister of Mosley Street Chapel in Manchester, a post he held until 1853. When Manchester College expanded and moved to Manchester from York in 1840, Tayler became professor of ecclesiastical history, and when it moved to London in 1853 he was appointed principal, a post he held until his death in 1869.
Tayler was influenced by Romanticism as a young man, at one point having had the pleasure of tea and long walk in the Lake District with William Wordsworth. The influence of Romanticism is evident in his approval of the Gothic style of the new Upper Brook Street Chapel commissioned from Sir Charles Barry. He favoured the more spiritual version of Unitarianism developing at the time and was able to spread the message via his joint editorship of the Prospective Review. He spent the 1834-5 recovering from a nervous illness in Germany and was influenced by developments in German religious thought. He advocated church unity within the state church and he made the case for this in his book A Catholic Christian Church, the Want of our Time (1867). He published extensively and mixed in literary and intellectual circles, especially during his period in London, where he befriended Henry Crabb Robinson and the geologist Charles Lyell, among others. His publications included: A Retrospective of Religious Life in England (1845) and English Nonconformity: its Principles and Justification (1859). He married Hannah Smith on 16 January 1825. He died on 28May 1869 at Hampstead.