Joseph Walker

Born in 1803, it has become accepted that Joseph William Walker became a "parlour apprentice" to George Pike England at some time during the first 20 years of the nineteenth century. He married his cousin Sarah Phillips (or Philip) between 1824 and 1826, and by 1827 Joseph Walker had moved his workshop to 5 Bentinck St. Oxford St in London.

During the early days, it appeared Walker sold pianos as well as making organs but by 1830s, the order books were very full with contracts for organs - to the extent that it was taxing Walker's business organisation skills to the utmost. In 1837, Walkers moved to a larger workshop in Francis St, where they stayed until 1925, despite a disastrous fire on August 23rd 1847. Famous organs of the period include Romsey Abbey (1858) and the Exeter Hall (1838), now sadly lost.

Joseph's surviving letters give the impression of a very hardworking, conscientious and highly principled, serious-minded Christian of evangelical persuasion, ever striving to keep up a great volume of work (to such a degree that it probably contributed to his comparatively early death) and maintain his family responsibilities at the same time.

On the tonal side it is possible to see that Joseph Walker's organs were influenced by the thinking of the England school (to whom he was apprenticed). The fullness and dominance of the Great Opens is one of the first points that strikes, even surprises, the player about the earliest of the church organs by Walker. The diapason choruses of Walker organs of the late 1850s have that same bold and solid brilliance of those by George Pike England.

Joseph Walker died a millionaire in 1870 and his youngest son James John Walker took over the family firm. During his time, the firm created some of their most notable organs, such as St. Mary, Portsea (1889-92), Holy Trinity, Sloane Square (1891), St Matthew's, Northampton (1895) and St. Margaret's, Westminster (1897). The Cathedrals of York (1903) and Bristol (1908) followed shortly. James John retired in 1922.

The firm is still at the forefront of organ building today and was carefully considered for the work at Twyford.

I am grateful to Stephen Bicknell and Nicolas Plumley for sharing their articles and writings on the Walker firm. CH.