William Walker and the Opening of the Gardens


Transcript of Report from Page 5 of the Whitehaven News dated 17th June 1920




On Tuesday afternoon Mrs Herbert Walker, wife of Ald. Walker, formally opened St. Nicholas’ Churchyard, Whitehaven which has been laid out by the gift of the late Mr. Wm. Walker, as an open space for the use of the public. The work was commenced nine months ago, and during this period a striking and wonderful transformation has been enacted, what was formerly a waste piece of ground, where weeds flourished unchecked, having been converted into a beautiful garden of flowering shrubs and plants, which, however, will not reveal its true beauty until some twelve months hence. In all, some 500 different varieties of shrubs and plants have been planted, including botanical specimens from practically every corner of the world, from China to Scotland, from the Alps to Cornwall. The Lowther Street entrance, on either side of the approach to the church, has been converted into a charming rockgarden; in which are many rare dwarf trees from Japan and China, and various flowering Alpine plants, including a miniature plant from the Swiss Alps, which possesses the unique distinction of flowering in the snow. Rhododendrons, prickly heath, standard hawthorns, lilacs, Japanese cherries and wisterias, Siberian crabs (which flower in the winter) and azaleas are some of the ornamental shrubs and trees massed in the main portion of the churchyard. The azaleas, in addition to other exquisite specimens, were specially selected by Messrs. Walker. Along the borders near the church walls are perennials in great variety. At the east end of the site a large circular rose pergola, constructed in rustic style, has been erected. Some of the climbing rose family selected for this purpose are the American Pillar, Hiawatha, Lady Gay, Dorothy Perkins, and Paul’s double crimson. The centre of the pergola is occupied by a rosary planted with an outer fringe of dwarf rose trees encircling a number of standard weeping roses. In four recesses in the pergola have been installed rustic seats to correspond with the woodwork, these together with the seats in other parts of the ground, being the gift of the late Mr Walker Whittle. Behind the seats a beech hedge has been planted as a protection from the wind, and similar protective hedges for the other seats are composed of scarlet and orange-berried cotoneaster. Special walks with a surface of red gravel have been constructed, and are bordered with verges of grass from the Solway, which at the present time, are dotted with sea pinks. The whole garden is encased in a hedge- an admixture of privet and beech on the sides, with a front of golden-flowering Chinese berebis, which, when in bloom, will be a blaze of colour. The principal aim of the scheme is to provide a wealth of bloom and colour in the summer months, followed by a multi-coloured foliage in the autumn. The work has been carried out by Messrs T.R. Hayes and Sons, of Keswick, the well known landscape gardeners and specialists in this work, and has been under the personal supervision of Mr Hayes. In order to ensure the best results hundreds of tons of new soil have been introduced and much constructive work undertaken, and now that the scheme to beautify Whitehaven has reached maturity it is indeed worthy of the object of the generous donors, and is a distinct and greatly appreciated acquisition to the town. For the benefit of those interested in plant life the names of the various trees and plants are indicated on metal plates of an up-to-date type, similar to those recently introduced into the Royal Gardens, Kew where Capt. Hayes, a son of Mr. Hayes, was formally employed. These have been attached at the special request of Messrs. Walker.

The opening on Tuesday was favoured with beautiful weather, and there was a large gathering of townspeople. Promptly at three o’clock the Mayor had great pleasure in asking Mrs Herbert Walker to open the gates at the ground and admit the public.

This having been done, the party proceeded to the church entrance, where a dais had been erected for those taking part in the opening ceremony. The Mayor presided, and was supported by the Mayoress, Mrs Walker, Alderman and Mrs H.W. Walker, Alderman Davis, Alderman Oldfield, the Town Clerk, the Rev. F.E. Cole (vicar of St. Nicholas) and Mrs. Cole.

Apologies had been received from Mrs. Walker Whittle and Ald. Bennett, the first named being at Harrogate.

In declaring the grounds open, Mrs H. Walker said: It gives me very great pleasure to present this garden to the Whitehaven public in memory of my dear father-in-law, the late Mr. Wm. Walker, of Oaklea. It had long been a wish of his to convert the Old Churchyard into a garden, to improve the street, and also he hoped to give pleasure to those whose homes had no gardens. There were few things that appealed to him so much as flowers, and just as he found pleasure and rest in the garden, so I hope there may be some who will appreciate the flowers in this garden which I have the pleasure of presenting to you this afternoon. (Applause).

The Mayor said he had the greatest possible pleasure in accepting the care of these beautiful grounds on behalf of the Corporation, particularly the gift came from such an honoured Whitehaven family. (Applause) During the greater part of his life he knew the late Mr. Walker, and knew that he was a great lover of flowers. In Mr Herbert Walker they had a worthy successor of his father. He took a tremendous interest in the borough, and was always willing to give as much as to receive. If there was one thing more delightful than another, proceeded the Mayor, it was to have Mrs Walker, sen., with them that afternoon, and he assured her that those responsible for the ground would have great pleasure and pride in keeping it in proper condition. He hoped also that the public would respect the gift in the way it was given. (Hear, hear). The Mayor also referred to the gift of seats by the late Mr. Whittle, and said they were sorry he had not been spared to see the grounds opened.

Alderman Davis proposed a vote of thanks to the Mayor and Mayoress, to Mrs Herbert Walker for the very gracious words she had spoken to them in declaring the garden open, and to Mr. Cole, the incumbent of the Church, for his courtesy and assistance since the commencement of the scheme. He also wished to add how delighted they all were to have the pleasure of Mrs. Walker, of Oak Lea. (Applause) It was a pleasure to them to know she had sufficient health and strength to be with them, and take part in the consummation of one of the many objects for good which were dear to the heart of the late Mr. Walker (Applause).

Referring to nearly half a century ago Alderman Davis said he remembered St. Nicholas’s Churchyard was not then kept in the best of condition. The headstones were higgledy-piggledy and the ground itself was a happy hunting ground for butcher’s sheep, which regularly grazed there. But there was one thing which was quite common in those days. The male members of the St. Nicholas’s congregation very often assembled before the morning service commenced, and walked several times round the church, taking a sort of morning exercise. That was only for the privileged few, but today these grounds were to be thrown open for the use of everyone in the borough and also visitors to the Borough. He sincerely hoped they would take it as a trust to preserve in the condition in which they now found it, and to preserve for such use for ever. Previously the grounds had been anything but a place of beauty, but now the desert place had blossomed as the rose. (Applause).

Alderman Oldfield, seconding the proposition, said he had been thinking that if their late respected townsman, Mr. Walker, had been spared to come there and look upon that beauty spot what a day of joy it would have been to him. He sometimes thought that in Whitehaven hey had been lacking in the civic spirit, in the spirit which found expression in the generous gifts of those who could afford them, and in the efforts of the community to beautify and make attractive the town in which they lived. In a neighbouring town in the North of England, where a garden had been presented by a like-minded townsman as the late Mr. Walker, there was an inscription upon a stone, which ran

“The kiss of the sun for pardon,

The song of the birds for mirth,

You are nearer God’s heart in a garden

Than anywhere on earth”

(Applause) If they received this gift in the spirit of those words he was sure they would come very near to realising the hopes and intention of their late respected townsman. Whom by that kindly thought and fine intuition he conceived the idea of presenting to his fellow townsmen that beauty spot. (Applause)

The resolution was carried with hearty applause.

Ald. Walker, in replying, thanked the Mayor for the speech he had made and the expressions of gratitude he had used, which he said ,he knew came from his heart, and as he was speaking for the burgesses, he took them as coming from their hearts also. He also thanked his two old friends (Ald. Davis and Ald. Oldfield) for the kind things they had said about his mother and his wife. He thought his wife had opened the grounds perfectly, and it was a gratification to him to know they shared his feelings. (Applause) He thought he should try and let them know something of his fathers feelings towards gardens and the deep significance they were to him. It was one of our earliest lessons to learn about the Garden of Eden, where were flowers and fruit and beautiful trees, and where also men and beasts. And yet men and beasts did not fight but lived together in peace. Then the Garden went, and war began, and all things which made this world miserable. Then there was another garden- that thought of by our nomad ancestors of the great Aryan race. When hey first came into Europe they sang of the Garden of the Hereafter where men would go to a fragrant meadow and green fields, where grew wild flowers, where were shaded trees and running rivers, with mountains in the distance. He (Ald. Walker) thought he could see such a place- and they could see it too, if they could go to the river Irt, past Craggs Bridge, some sunny day, and lie there by the river. There was a spot well known to anglers, and if they went he thought they would realise what the Aryan’s idea of Heaven was. (Applause) But they could not stay there owing to the conditions in which they lived. They had to go back to the worry of business and the toll of working hours. Therefore the best they could do was to bring the beautiful things of nature to them, and make a garden right here. But it was not anybody that could do this , and they had to ask Mr. Hayes, who had studied these things for a long time and knew the habitat of the plants, the conditions of their life, and the privation they each each could endure. Mr. Hayes had brought the beauties of the Alps and planted them in the rock garden. He had brought the rhododendron, trees of variegated foliage and coloured flowers, including roses of England. The roses would be blooming in a fortnight, but it was of next spring he wanted them to think, when they would see some morning the berberis breaking into golden flower, and however much discouraged they might be by the cold and incessant wet, when they saw these flowers they would realise that it was good to live in England. Then later, when the days got warmer and when they could sit out on the seats which Mr Whittle had given, those who were old could there forget the things that made life hard for them; those that were in the toil of life could come for an hour and forget; and those that passed and had not time to come in might for just one minute glance at the beautiful things there, and they could forget too. Ald. Walker concluded his remarks by quoting from Ben Kendim’s poem:-

If I were King of England and I lost my golden crown;

If I were Mayor of London and they hunted me from town;

I’d seek the secret garden and the hidden place that He

Gave for a joy to birds and flowers and men God made like me.

(Loud applause)

The Rev. F.E. Cole also replied to the vote of thanks and briefly sketched the steps which led up to the scheme, paying tribute to the generous thoughtfulness of the late Mr. Walker and the subsequent action of Alderman Walker and the members of the Walker family. He also spoke highly of the assistance rendered by the Town Clerk, and pointed out that as a result of it all a wilderness had been converted into a most beautiful garden. There was only one regret and that was that the late Mr Walker could not be there to take part in that day’s proceedings, and yet he believed he was really there watching them. Would to God they could see him, and see the pleasure written large across his face that the work had been done.

The Mayor announced that the ceremony of planting a number of trees would follow. These had been given by distinguished people, and included an oak tree from Verdun, a golden oak, and a Chinese clematis. The Mayor then read the following particulars: Oak tree from Verdun- During 1917 seeds of oaks were collected from the battlefields of Verdun and sent by the Mayor of that city to England. These were raised in the Royal Gardens, Kew, and in view of their interesting origin two were planted as memorial trees in Windsor Park by His Majesty the King, and two others by the Temple of Acolus and Arethusa at Kew. The only oak sent to the north of England had been sent to be planted in the new space at Whitehaven., and presented by Sir David Prain, Director of the Royal Gardens. The golden oak, an exceedingly rare and beautiful foliage tree, presented by the Right Honourable J.W. Lowther, Speaker of the House of Commons. A golden Chinese clematis, presented by Mrs J.W. Lowther.

The Mayor added that they were greatly indebted to the Lowther family for the interest they had taken in that day’s proceedings.

Mr Hayes afterwards expressed thanks for the assistance he had received from the Town Clerk, the Borough Surveyor (Mr Stiven) and the Manager of the Furness Railway Company, in regard to prompt delivery of plants. He also spoke of the interest which Lord Lonsdale, the Speaker and Mrs Lowther had shown in regard to the new garden at Whitehaven and which they had personally expressed to him while recently visiting London.

The trees were then planted in a portion of the ground near the rose pergola. Mrs Walker (Oak Lea) was given a little timely assistance by her son, planting the Verdun oak, the Mayoress the golden oak, Mrs. Herbert Walker a Japanese scarlet maple, and Miss Freeman (Keswick), the clematis given by Mrs. Lowther. The spade used was that which was used by Her Royal Highness Princess Louise at Brandlehow Park, Keswick, in 1902.


William Walker was born at Bolton, Lancashire on 12th May 1831, one of a family of eight. They already owned the tannery there. The family moved to Whitehaven in 1858 when they purchased the Whitehaven tannery from Joseph and William Miller. They were a strongly Methodist family, and contributed a considerable sum to the building of the Lowther Street Church (the replacement for the original at Michael Street) and were also liberal benefactors to the Threlkeld Sanatorium.

In the September quarter of 1863 he married Sarah Ellison (born 6th June 1839 the daughter of a Methodist Minister, died 12th May 1931 and buried on the 15th). They had three sons and two daughters.

They were:

William died on 18th November 1879, aged 13. He was buried in grave 2W59 on 21st November 1879.

Arthur, born 9th April 1870, died suddenly from Ptomaine poisoning on 25th October 1921.

Emily, born 27th January 1864 and married Revd Douglas McLellan in the September quarter of 1897 but died on 5th June 1901 on Merseyside. She was buried in grave 2W59 at Whitehaven Cemetery on 7th June.

Herbert Wilson Walker, born 17th July 1875, became alderman and Mayor and died suddenly from a heart attack on 14th December 1934.

Annie Elizabeth, born 1st October 1871, died 19th June 1969. She was living at Grange-over-Sands in 1931, and died in the Ulverston area. She never married.

The family initially lived at 8, Oakbank, but had moved to Oaklea in around 1901. In both the 1891 and 1901 censuses they had two servants- a cook and a house maid.

William died on 27th November 1913, and was buried in grave 2W60 at Whitehaven Cemetery on 1st December 1913.

All the shops in the town closed from 1pm to 3pm as a mark of respect on the day of his funeral. There was a memorial service to him at the Methodist Church on 7th December 1913.

He left £410,783/19/-, and the estate had to pay £52,000 of death duties. He left the freehold Oaklea in trust to his wife for life, also the household effects. After her death it was sold by the trustees to the Quakers who used it for various social work uses. By around 1955 there were plans to turn it into a hotel, although it is unclear if these ever came to fruition. To continue with the will the balance of the real estate was split into three equal parts- to Herbert Wilson Walker, Arthur Walker and his wife. That third share, on his wife’s death was to pass to Herbert Wilson, and to William Sloan Walker of Liverpool on trust to maintain Annie Elizabeth for life. In short it would seem that the gardens were not a direct gift from William, as stated in the opening article, but rather a memorial from his dear wife as stated later in the article, and on the Bronze plaque at the Lowther Street entrance.

Herbert Wilson Walker was also Lord of the Manor of Wasdale and Keswick. He was instrumental in the purchase of the Whitehaven Castle (and the Castle Park) from the Lowther Estate, and its subsequent conversion into a hospital (at the time and for many years afterwards this was on an anonymous basis). He was a considerable benefactor of the hospital for the rest of his life. In due course he gave many of his interests in Wasdale to the Fell & Rock Climbing Club, in turn they subsequently gave them to the National Trust.

Through the company ‘Lodore Ltd’ he had considerable property interests in the Borrowdale (Keswick) valley- a full list of these is available at Carlisle Record Office.

With his wife, Clara (nee Freeman), he had five children- William, Betsy, Claribel (born 20th May1901), Emily (born 1910) and Margaret (born 1913).

By the time of H.W. Walker’s death the family business included tanneries at Whitehaven, Workington, Maryport, Warrington, Liverpool, Leeds and London, with a number of others across Lancashire and Merseyside. He left well over £500,000.

Sarah left Oaklea to Annie Elizabeth in her will, which gives us significant details of the extended family. There is an obituary to her in the Whitehaven News dated 14th May 1931, which includes a photograph.

Claribel married John N St G Curwen in 1953 and died in 1986 in the Cockermouth area.

Emily married John Pattinson in 1937.

Thomas Richard Hayes (1864, baptised 7th February to 12th June 1927) was a prominent Victorian landscape gardener in the Lake District. He was born at Grasmere but, lived at Keswick for most of his life. He founded Lake District Nurseries, now Hayes Garden World of Ambleside.

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