Five things you (possibly) didn’t know about John Walker (1781-1859)

John Walker, from Stockton-On-Tees, was by trade, a chemist, and also the inventor of the friction match. Fascinating eh?

OK, so it hardly makes for a gripping read, but here are five (slightly) more interesting facts:

  1. Being famous, doesn’t mean you have to have a famous face………

Is THIS John Walker?

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Stockton-On-Tees was once the proud site of a commemorative bust of one of its most famous sons, except that it was cast from a portrait of the wrong man. (Oops!) But obviously this mistake was noticed….. straightaway after nearly four decades! (and dare I say, oops!)

But, meanwhile, another statue was commissioned, one would presume less controversially, of a huge plastic match (tasteful!). Unfortunately, this didn’t fare much better, being promoted as depicting John Walker’s ‘Lucifer’ match. Regrettably, John Walker didn’t call his matches ‘Lucifers’ he named them ‘friction lights’ or ‘Congreves’ (after the military rocket inventor, Sir William Congreve). To add insult to injury ‘Lucifers’ were the trade name of Samuel Jones’ direct copies of Walker’s matches. Oops again.

Maybe a plaque might be a better option…..

2. He wasn’t the first John Walker…..

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my name is

John Walker was one of five children born to John Walker Senior, a grocer and Mary Peacock. James was the eldest, followed by John, unfortunately the infant died at 11 months and so the family named their third son……erm …..John. John Walker Junior the second was born the year following the death of his namesake sibling. This practice may well have been commonplace at the time although it does seem slightly macabre.

 

3. His invention didn’t make him rich.

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John Walker was notably altruistic, when pressed by Professor Michael Faraday to patent his invention Walker is quoted as saying ‘I doubt not it will be a benefit to the public, so let them have it. I shall always be able to obtain sufficient for myself.’ John Walker was clearly a talented chemist but not a business man, his invention was copied by Samuel Jones who manufactured them as ‘Lucifers’. Walker strongly objected to the name but Jones continued to produce them and Walker ceased selling his own matches three or four years after he had begun. Although he lived a comfortable life John Walkers invention made other, less scrupulous, men rich.

  1. He was Stockton’s encyclopaedia

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He was obviously a very clever man from humble beginnings. Walker initially trained as a surgeon but could not stand the sight of blood! He went on to train in botany and herbalism. Known for his exceptionally generous nature, Walker was also known as a ‘walking encyclopaedia’ with an enquiring mind, he avoided condescension, despite his superior knowledge.

 

  1. He is the central protagonist of a new escape room….

bloody_handprintYes, he is! At Enigmatology we wanted to create a room with a local theme and Stockton’s well known history seems limited to the Stockton and Darlington railway and to a lesser extent John Walkers invention. Although I am sure there are many other worthy subjects, I am at a loss to name them……

So John Walker it is then. It has been a difficult task to create a room based on the man himself as there doesn’t seem to have been too much excitement in his life and his invention, whilst a worthy and important discovery lacks …..well……fun! So we have built on his encyclopaedic knowledge and given him a new hobby, as a consulting detective! Whilst historically inaccurate, it is  plausible; with his philanthropic nature and his background in chemistry and biology he seems very well qualified for the task of solving a murder……

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