James William Walker was born in Higham, Norwich on 20th February 1831, to parents James and Martha. Little has been uncovered about his early life however, on the 1851 census he is listed as a painter aged twenty, living with his parents in Norwich. In 1855 he married Eleanor Bridgeman, also of Norwich, with the ceremony taking place in Brockdish, a village and civil parish in the district of South Norfolk.
His work gravitated him away from his native Norfolk, as is shown by information found on later census returns; his daughter Ella was born in Handsworth, Birmingham in 1857 and his son Herbert in Bolton in 1859. On the 1861 census, the family are living at 191 St.George’s Road, Little Bolton, and are joined by a new born, named Leonard. James’ occupation is given as ‘Artist in Landscape & Master of the School of Art’.
James’ circumstances changed dramatically in the years following, as in June 1862, he lost his wife Eleanor and then twelve months later, his mother Martha. At some point between 1867 and 1869, (he is not listed in the 1866 directory for either Southport or Birkdale) James had moved to 4 Princes Grove, Princes Street, Southport with his three children. He announced in the Southport Visiter, that as of March 29th 1869, he had removed from Princes Street to York Road, Birkdale. This was to be the family home with his second wife, Pauline Taylor who hailed from Great Bolton. On the couple’s wedding banns which began being read on 4th April 1869, Pauline was recorded as being of the Bedford Parish in Leigh. It is not known if Pauline had moved over to Southport to Princes Street with James and his three children however, on 18th April 1869 the pair married at St.James’ Church, Birkdale.
4 Princes Grove, Princes Street. This is the first known address for James in Southport. It is now No.58 Princes Street (Photo copyright D.Walshe 2021).
The family address is confirmed as York Road on the 1871 census which also lists them as having two servants. James is described as being a ‘Teacher of Drawing’, with Pauline’s occupation recorded as, ‘Painter in water colour still life’. Therefore, it is likely that James and Pauline met whilst teaching art in Bolton and that they moved to start a new life in the developing area of ‘Birkdale Park’, which was a ‘honeypot’ for private tuition.
14 York Road, Birkdale Park. James Walker’s home from March 1869 to c1897. (Photo copyright D.Walshe 2021).
The Walker family home shown here on a section of Johnson & Green’s 1868 plan. Reproduced with kind permission from Martin Perry of the Southport Civic Society.
On 6th August 1869, a notice appeared amongst adverts for education in the Southport Visiter which read:
INSTRUCTION IN ART
Mr J.W. Walker, Certificated Master of the Science and Art Department, South Kensington, resumed his professional duties on Monday 2nd August.
Similar adverts continued to appear in the Visiter throughout the 1870’s, providing the York Road address as a point of communication, suggesting that James and Pauline taught art from their own home. It is however, the inclusion of his title at this time that I believe takes us back to James’ earlier life. In 1851 he listed as a painter, aged twenty in Norwich: The Science and Art Department of South Kensington was created as a sub division of the Board of Trade, initially as the Department for Practical Art in 1852, before becoming known as the former in 1853. Knowing that James had married in Norfolk in 1855 and was north-west bound from at least 1856/57, it is therefore possible that James achieved this title during the departments formation under the Superintendency of Henry Cole and Headship of Richard Burchett who, with another painter, Richard Redgrave developed what became known nationally as, ‘The South Kensington System’. From 1896 to the present day the department was renamed as The Royal College of Art.
Alongside these announcements and adverts found within the Southport Visiter, both James and Pauline became noticed as artists in their own right in Lancashire . On the 29th May 1874 a report under the heading, ‘Southport Artists’ concluded:
Most of our readers are aware that the Liverpool Water Colour Society has just closed a very successful exhibition; in every respect it has been greatly in advance of those that have gone before. Mr. and Mrs. Walker, of York Road, Birkdale, were admirably represented, and have been favourably noticed by many art critics. The following is from the Art Journal for May:- “To praise the painter (Mrs.Walker) of these gems is superfluous- they are all good, many of them exquisite. Mr. J. W. Walker has several pretty little bits on the walls – (46) ‘A Rustic Bridge’ and (113) ‘The Village Commissionaire,’ both showing the versatility and skill of this artist.” We are glad to hear that Mr.Walker has just been elected an Associate of the Liverpool Academy, an honour which he justly merits.
In November 1875, James loaned an exhibition of water colours for display in Southport’s Winter Gardens, which was reported in the Southport Visiter on November 30th. Before the reporter lead their readers on a virtual tour of the exhibition, they insisted upon the the following:
Another matter, before we proceed to enumerate a few of the the most pleasing and striking works, which is that Mr. Walker has been hitherto known only as an art instructor and teacher, but a glance round the screens will soon dispel this idea, and show that he is something more- an artist quite able to take his stand as a water-colour painter with the best men of the day. It is somewhat humiliating, when we think a resident artist of Mr.Walker’s calibre, is as such, so well known in other towns, but scarcely here.
Both James and Pauline’s works were very well received at the Winter Gardens exhibition. Locally, James’ had a piece entitled ‘Birkdale Shore’ which he perhaps recreated again seven years later, as is shown below, with another both dated 1882.
‘Birkdale Shore’, image credit: Norfolk Museums Service (Norfolk Castle Museum & Art Gallery) http://norfolkmuseumscollections.org/collections/objects/object-1115074173.html/#!/?q=James%2BWilliam%2BWalker
‘Near the Sandhills, Birkdale’, image credit: Norfolk Museums Service (Norfolk Castle Museum & Art Gallery)http://norfolkmuseumscollections.org/collections/objects/object-3682598855.html/#!/?q=James+William+
Another piece is mentioned, namely ‘Sunset on the Southport Sands’ which perhaps sadly, we may never see. It is also worth noting here (and looking out for!) of another local scene, by the artist, W.L. Kerry entitled, ‘The Old Pool At Churchtown’, described as, ‘a bold and cleverly painted drawing’.
In 1883 James had a piece called, ‘Near Southport’ on display at The Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition. An on-going research project called ‘Chronicle 250’ also confirms he exhibited there for the years 1862, 1877, 1878, 1879, 1880, 1881, 1884, 1885, 1886, 1888 and 1893. The catalogues can be viewed here https://chronicle250.com/ and included amongst these other paintings by James that could potentially be of the Southport area are: ‘The Hidden Brook’ 1879, ‘Not far from the sea’ 1881, ‘Mine ancient enemy, the sea, hath but retired for a while’ 1886 and also ‘Noontide’ in 1888.
It appears that locally he favoured Crossens as a place of study, especially the area around the original Sluice Bridge, built in 1814 by Thomas Eccleston-Scarisbrick and known locally as the ‘Cylinder Bridge’, and the harbour area known as ‘Quay Nook’, where according to Foster, stone boulders where regularly unloaded for the use in road building by the North Meols Parish Highways Board.
A collection of four black and white drawings have been kindly reproduced here for the purpose of this research courtesy of Norfolk Museums Service (Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery) and which were donated to the Museum by James William Walker himself in 1896. Two of the drawings are dated 1879 and all four are named. I have added corresponding map references with the viewpoints shown below.
‘Near the Sluice, Crossens’ (Map ref 1)
‘Waiting for the Boats, Crossens’ (Map ref 2)
‘Study at Crossens near Southport’ 23rd September 1879 (Map ref 3)
‘Study at Crossens near Southport’ 30th September 1879 (Map ref 4)
Section of 1894 OS Map, showing Crossens old harbour area. The boat builders yard to the west of Banks Road was yet to be built when the drawings were completed. Map reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland https://maps.nls.uk/index.html
Whilst conducting this research, I have been fortunate enough to purchase an original 1874 signed watercolour by James, which was described and sold as ‘Harbour View’. It is unquestionably the old Sluice or as it was known locally, Cylinder Bridge at Crossens, and matches his later drawings and also a photograph on page 70 of Harry Foster’s book, Crossens Southport’s Cinderella Suburb. I have not investigated further by removing the backing board to look for any other inscriptions however, could my purchase actually be one of his ‘pretty little bits’ as mentioned in the Visiter during 1874 entitled, ‘A Rustic Bridge’?
‘Harbour View’ or is it ‘A Rustic Bridge’? It is unmistakably Crossens and is signed & dated 1874
There are three other of his paintings that can be found online which could also be of the Southport area. ‘A Sandy Lane’, an oil on canvas, signed and dated 1870 could be, in my opinion and others, of the Southport area.
‘A Sandy Lane’, image credit: Norfolk Museum Service (Norfolk Castle Museum & Art Gallery)
‘Figures on a Country Lane’ which can be found and viewed on invaluable.com, again could well be a Southport/Birkdale scene, as I believe it is sand & starr grass we are viewing in the foreground. Accompanying this image on the website are some partially visible inscription notes which require a subscription fee to view fully however, I have been able to read, ‘To my pupil and friend…’ which perhaps further suggests it is of the Southport/Birkdale locality as we know he taught from his Birkdale home.
Another painting, found on mutualart.com and entitled, ‘Domestic poultry before an old thatched barn in a Lane,’ dated 1888, just reminds me of the large cruck barns that used to stand on old Birkdale Common or Birkdale South End.
James William Walker has painted many beautiful scenes, most notably of his native Norfolk, but also images of Wales, Guernsey, France (possibly whilst on holiday in 1881) plus other European destinations. He also painted various scenes from within the historic county of Lancashire, the county in which James spent the majority of his adult life, with at least twenty-eight of these years being in Birkdale, where he was elected to sit as one of twelve members on the Birkdale Local Board in June 1877. James is still listed in the 1896/97 directory as a Landscape artist at 14 York Road.
On April 17th 1898, James passed away, having returned to Norfolk, as his place of death is recorded as being ‘The Grange, Brockdish, Scole’. What is interesting is that the National Probate Calendar lists that probate was granted to the Liverpool artist Thomas Huson and Richard Arthur Chadwick, who was the head of Sandringham School, Alexandra Road, Southport. The effects were recorded as £6270 18s 6d which was a large estate based on late C19th values. Richard Chadwick is described in detail here by local historian Michael Braham:
Richard Arthur Chadwick was a doyen of Southport cricket and a notable opening batsman from 1876 to 1905, having started with Alexandra CC. Headmaster of Sandringham School, he was President of Southport & Birkdale cricket club between 1912-14 and also for many years President of the Southport & District League. He died in Keswick in 1954 aged 93.
Thomas Huson was born in Kirkdale in 1844, lived in Everton Village as a child and by the time he was seventeen his occupation was recorded as an analytical chemist. Later in life he lived in both Crosby and North Wales. He is first listed as an artist in the census returns of 1881 however, on the 1871 census he is recorded as a visitor in North Wales, and perhaps more interestingly, staying next door to a landscape painter. He lived until 1920 and was covered in an article by John Hussey for The Liverpool Historic Society in 2012 entitled, ‘The Forgetten Artist’. One of his local paintings is shown below.
‘Children on the beach by the dunes, Blundell Sands, Liverpool, looking over to the Wirral’ by Thomas Huson 1883 https://www.bonhams.com/auctions/15150/lot/814/
James William Walker is buried at St. Peter and St. Paul churchyard in Brockdish, South Norfolk. His headstone is shown below.
‘Art is long, but life is fleeting’
David Walshe (Secret Sand Land) copyright 2021.
Featured Image Credit: Norfolk Muserum Service, Norfolk Castle Musuem & Art Gallery http://norfolkmuseumscollections.org/collections/objects/object-2323992331.html/#!/?q=James%2BWillia
Other sources used, but not previously mentioned in the main body of text:
- New Birkdale – Harry Foster
- National Archives https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C810
- Science & Art Department https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science_and_Art_Department
- British Newspaper Archive (Southport Visiter)
I would also like to thank Sue Latimer of the Southport Townscape Heritage Project for bringing this artist to my attention in April 2021.
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