William Ashton Taylor – known to all as Bill – died this past week. I knew him for the past 8 years, not as long as many others in the community, but I was privileged to work closely with him on a regular basis, particularly over the last two years.
I had many conversations with Bill on pipemaking often while we enjoyed a libation together. Bill was a dandy and always immaculately turned out and this was our other mutual interest, good tailoring. From him I learnt much about pipe making and tobacco blending. Not many people knew he was one of the last persons in England to take the British pipe tobacco blenders course; when such existed.
Every meeting with Bill was a delight & he was a natural and charming raconteur. Even our numerous trans-Atlantic telephone conversations were such a pleasure that they ran on for far longer than needed.
I found that he was unfailing courteous to all, * “the true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good”.
In the last 6 months of Bill life, as he was in out of hospital, I made it a point to speak with him twice weekly. Sometimes he was his old self, filled with plans and ideas for pipes, but as time progressed, he more often was too tired to carry on a conversation. Our talks ceased when his cell mysteriously disappeared in mid August. Jim Craig who saw him almost daily kept me informed. He then faded fast.
Bills’ legacy to the pipe-making world is enormous. When he founded Ashton pipes in 1983, British pipemaking had been on a long decline. Bill’s new line of Ashton pipes, rapidly, restored the greatness of British pipe making and forced all other British pipemakers to improve. No longer could British papermakers coast on their past reputations. Ashton was the benchmark for British pipes and their smokability set the bar for all pipemakers.
Bill Taylor was determined that his pipes would be the finest smoking pipes in world. He reintroduced oil curing, a costly and time-consuming process that insures no break in, the pipe smokes well from the 1st bowl. A process that Dunhill had abandoned in the 1950’s as too costly. And his pipes certainly were among the best smokers ever. Without him I suspect that Dunhill would have continued on its downward spiral, Les Wood might not have started Ferndown, and later Ian Walker, who Bill helped enormously, would have had a far more arduous transition from pipe repair to pipemaker.
Bill was a giant among pipemakers. He took the classical British shapes and finishes to were they had rarely been. Working within the confines of the classic British tradition, in the way that classical painters worked within the golden rule, he found great freedom for his artistry. He reintroduced the Quaint, and came up some with totally original shapes, he reintroduced the hitherto rare Magnum size to be more available and in more shapes than ever before, and the same for the ELX, a slightly smaller size. He came up with the unique Pebble Shell that combined sandblast & rustication and was awarded the 1st new patent for a pipe process in over thirty years. His creativity in pipemaking knew no bounds.
What cannot be overstated, Ashton’s were responsible for introducing a new generation of pipe smokers to the greatness of British pipe making at reasonable prices. His pipes smoked better than Dunhill’s and cost less.
Bill loved pipe making and it was his life. He insured that his legacy would not die with him. Over the last two years, his colleague and friend of 30 years, James Craig, worked with him learning the oil curing process and other of Bill’s techniques. Jim will carry on making pipes in the traditional Ashton way.
There are many pipe makers who are liked & there are many who are respected in the pipe smoking community. Bill Taylor was one of the very few who was loved. William John Ashton Taylor, “Bill”, will be sorely missed and we will not see his like again.
* Dr. Johnson circa 1750’s.
Submitted by Maxim Engel