The Walkers of Willian, Hertfordshire
The Walkers lived continuously between 1773 to 2003, which by modern migratory standards is one big achievement!
The first Walker to move into the village was William, a son of Ralph Walker, tenant landlord of the Bull Public House in Church Street, Baldock & Sarah, formerly Ffolkes (Widow of Nicolas, a butcher from Royston, Hertfordshire). William was and baptised in the parish church of St Mary’s Baldock on the 6th April 1745, as were his forebears right back to Elizabeth Walker, daughter of Augustine Walker. The same Elizabeth who married Richard Warren, founder member of the Pilgrim Fathers who set sail for America in The Mayflower.
William married Ann Ramsay on 18th September 1771 in the parish Church of All Saints, Willian, Hertfordshire. This is the earliest record of this branch living in the village, which is situated approximately three miles from Baldock.
Ann was the daughter of George & Mary Ramsey of Willian and was christened at the same church she was married at some twenty three years previously. Documents held at Hertford County Record Office show that Ann, aged 15, was capable of reading and acquainted with the Catechism.
For Ann, who was probably the daughter of an agricultural labourer, to be recorded as literate was unusual for that time in history. Educational standards for women in the 1700s were much poorer than those for men. Fewer women were sent to school and the education offered to women was quite different from that of men.
Women were taught only what it was deemed was necessary for them; a minimalist education. If she were of the upper classes, she would be instructed in French, manners, and all that was needed in preparation for dependence in her marriage. A good education was a selling point in her marriage, and turned her into a status symbol for her husband. A lower class woman, however, was taught those skills that were thought needed to make her productive in marriage. It is not recorded whether Ann worked as a servant at one of the “big houses” in Baldock or at the Vicarage in Willian, which would have put her in contact with learning with the gentry, but it does remains a tantalizing possibility.
There is little documentary evidence of William’s life. One assumes he continued in the family tradition as a labourer, probably on one of the three farms in the village. This would be continued by his sons and grandsons for several generations to come.
According to the Militia Lists of Willian, there was a William Walker recorded in Willian from 1768 through to 1785. In 1768 he was described as a Servant which normally means unmarried and by 1772 was shown as a Labourer as he was in 1773. By 1775 he is shown as a Labourer with 3 children, in 1778 as a Labourer, Poor with 3 children, 1779 & 1781, Labourer with 3 children, 1782 a Labourer with 5 children and back to 3 children in 1784 & 1785
The Walkers had arrived in Willian and the last one would not leave until the 21stCentury.
William & Ann’s eldest son, Thomas Walker, was born in 1775 in He married Hannah Walker nee Hooper on 8 November 1802. They had eight children in 27 years. He died on 25 March 1853 having spent most of his working life as an agricultural labourer. He appears to have been in poaching at least twice and up before the judge with his second son., William, born in 1813. Unfortunately William was a more frequent attendee at the local assizes and was eventually sentenced to transportation for 7 years for stealing a brass pot worth £1. He left London on The Theresa in 1845 for van Dieman’s Land (Tasmania) never to return to England.
Another son, John, was baptised on 26th November 1809 at the parish church of All Saints, Willian, Hertfordshire, the third child of Thomas Walker & Hannah nee Hooper of Willian.
King George III was in the last decade of his 60 year reign and considered by the government of the day as mentally unfit to rule. His eldest son – the later George IV – acted as Prince Regent from 1811. Some medical historians have said that George III’s mental instability was caused by a hereditary physical disorder called porphyria. He was popularly known as “Farmer George”; so called from his farmer-like manners, taste, dress, and amusements but his style of playing at farming would have born no resemblance to what John and his contemporaries would have dealt with.
John had continued in the family tradition of agricultural labourer, a poorly paid job with little prospect of betterment. Agricultural labourers worked 6 days a week and were generally paid weekly at varying rates according to season (less in winter, more during harvest), tasks (more for heavy work, less for lighter), age and gender (less for boys and women, but more during harvest).
The agricultural depression that followed the Napoleonic Wars and the introduction of threshing machinery had reduced the need for a large workforce and many families became destitute and for the Workhouse.
In 1813, Thomas Davis prepared a report on the state of agriculture in Wiltshire by revising a previous work of his father’s published in 1794. He was the steward to the Marquis of Bath of Longleat, and of the labourers he states:
“It is a melancholy fact that ….. the labourers of many parts of this county ….. may be truly said to be at this time in a wretched condition. The dearness of provisions, the scarcity of fuel, and above all the failure of spinning work for the women and children have put it almost out of the power of the village poor to live by their industry. The farmers complain, and with reason, that the labourers do less work than formerly, when in fact the labourers are not able to work as they did at the time when they lived better”.
The poor working conditions would culminate in the workers uprising that came to be known as The Swing Riots of 1830. Isolated incidents of arson in Wessex soon spread to Wiltshire and other counties as the downtrodden farm workers, demanding a better wage and living conditions, smashed threshing machines and threatened farm owners. Lord Melbourne, the Home Secretary ordered the Yeomanry to go to the aid of the gentry who had resorted to swearing in special constables from trusted tenants and loyal servants to defend their land and property. By December 1830 over 2000 men and women were awaiting trials; some were hanged or transported
The after effects had far reaching effects on how Parliament dealt with its social-economic system. The farm workers wages were also increased to 10/- per week.The face of farm working had changed, albeit a small victory for the worker, but farm machinery now became common place. Health & Safety standards were poor to nonexistent. In an age when it was more usual for farm workers to quaff ale instead of water and consume it at work, the introduction of steam driven threshing machines posed a new threat to life and limb. Unfortunately, farm labourers did not have the knowledge of the hazards of the machines and did not always adopt the necessary vigilance.
John married Marianne Clarke b 1808 of Ashwell,Hertfordshire – a straw plaiter, on 7th Nov 1829 at the same church where he had been baptised. Marianne would have been one of a number of women in the Hitchin & Luton area who plaited straw for hats. She would have been recognizable as one in that trade for, as the plaiter would hold a bundle of damp, prepared straws under her left armpit, she would bend her head and pull out the new splints, moistening and working them round with her tongue to keep them pliable. This would often cause scarring at the right-hand corner of her mouth, as a result of removing the splints. At a time when the average Hertfordshire agricultural wage was between 10s and 12s a week, straw plaiting wives could earn appreciably more than their husbands and children’s contributions to the family income were considerable.
As John adjusted to the new fangled machinery and better conditions at work, life at home continued and he and Marianne brought six children to All Saints church for baptism during their marriage.
We do not know when or where John died as there is no entry for his burial in Willian Parish Records. He appears with his father, in Willian, in the 1841 census, but by 1851 Census, Marianne is recorded as a widow, still living in the village with her children. It is possible that he ended up in the Poorhouse, as did many of his fellow labourers, forced into poverty by the poor economic climate for agricultural workers at the time.
Joshua Walker was the son of John & Mary Ann nee Clarke and continued that Walker branch tradition by being baptised, married and buried at All Saints parish Church, Willian, Hertfordshire. The first record we have of him is his baptism dated 31st October 1841. He was born in the reign of Queen Victoria; in the same birth year as Edward VII and Dr Livingstone, the explorer; Thomas Cook had just opened his first travel agency and the first edition of the satirical London magazine, “Punch”, was published; Sir Robert Peel, founder of the British Police Force was Prime Minister of the day.
Joshua was an agricultural labourer. He worked the land surrounding Willian and was at one time titled “Lord of the Harvest”. This was a role reserved for senior labourers whose custom it was to bring the last “shock” or bale of hay back to the farmhouse to declare harvest safely gathered in and the start of the Harvest Supper. He was said to be tall for a Walker (most of the males averaged about 5’2”) with large hands and was of a gentle disposition.
By 1851, Joshua’s father had died leaving his mother a widow to bring up five children on her meagre wages from straw plaiting, a seasonal job, so he too had to work.
Joshua did not have much schooling. The 1851 Census shows him, aged 9, as an agricultural labourer. Agriculture was the largest employer of boys under 15 in 1851. Girls were more likely to work in factories or domestic service than in agriculture. Boys were taken on by a farmer as young as eight and would start off being plough or cow boys; in census returns for 1851, 8.2 percent of boys age 14 and under were employed as outdoor agricultural labourers or shepherds, and 2.7 percent were employed as farm servants. They would, along with women, also be employed in weeding, in picking couch and stones, frequently in planting beans, setting potatoes from April to Midsummer and hay-making, reaping, and gleaning to Michaelmas (September 29th); and after that time, taking up potatoes, their work being seldom done till Winter.
Census for England and Wales – 1851. Totals of children in agriculture, both sexes & age groups
5-9 10-14 15-19
Agricultural Labourers (out-door) 5,724 75,757 111,815
Farm Servants (in-door) 644 35,752 116,818
Farmers’, Graziers’ resident working relatives 0 0 76,603
On 8th March 1862, Joshua married Eliza Pratt in All Saints, Willian (not to be confused by an earlier marriage entry of 1856 of John Walker to Eliza Pratt at Willian).
In the 1881 Census, the family is recorded living at 12 Lordship Cottages, Willian . We also see that Eliza’s sister, Kate, is a visitor to the house and she was born in Willian. It seems likely that Joshua & Eliza met whilst he was working in in the neighbouring village of Gravely and that they lived there for a while after marrying in Willian for their first born, Elizabeth was born in Gravely.
In the 1850s farming had been booming, as food supplies were needed for the new towns, but by 1875 cheap food was being imported from other countries. There were a number of bad harvests and new machines such as threshers did the work faster than men. By the 1880s some farm labourers were still earning less than 10 shillings (50p) a week with free beer, milk or firewood adding to their wage. Often the workers rented their cottage from the farmer so if they lost their job they would lose their home as well. Many farm workers, including Joshua’s children, moved into the towns and found other jobs such as in the factories, where they worked shorter hours and were better paid. The decline of village life and its traditional occupations, as Joshua knew it was beginning.
It would not be until the beginning of the next century that Ebenezer Howard (b.1850) and son of a London shop keeper, would realise his dream of better housing and conditions for rural workers. Letchworth, the first Garden City, was still in its embryonic stage, but its realisation and completion would mark the next and final stage in the history of this Walker branch.
By 1891, Joshua, now a widow, was living at Roxley Cottages, with (Arthur) George & Henry, his two remaining children, who were still at school. They were still at Roxley Cottages in 1901. Joshua died in June 1907. He is buried in an unmarked grave in the churchyard, near the back fence of the old Rectory, about 20 feet from the path.
Arthur George Walker was born on 18th October 1877 and baptised at All Saints parish church, Willian, Hertfordshire. He was the second youngest son of Joshua and Eliza (nee Pratt) of Willian and known as George or “Fisty”.
In that year, Queen Victoria had been proclaimed Empress of India by her Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli and the map of the world was still predominantly “pink” (the indication of British Rule). Across the water, Chief Crazy Horse was fighting his last battle against US Cavalry and General Custer, who had died the following year at the Battle of the Little Big Horn, was finally laid to rest, with full military honours at West Point. Thomas Edison had invented the phonograph, a device to record sound and Emile Berlinner had invented the microphone. Tchaikovsky’s ballet, Swan Lakedebuted.debuted. In the world of sport, the first test cricket match was played between England & Australia and the All England Croquet & Lawn Tennis Club began its first lawn tennis tournament at Wimbledon, London.
Arthur appears in the various census returns as “George”. Unlike previous generations of his family he had some formal schooling at the local village school in Willian. He appears both on the 1881 & 1891 Census as a scholar. Many children in early Victorian England never went to school at all and more than half of them grew up unable even to read or write. Although some did go to Sunday schools which were run by churches.
In 1870 Parliament passed the Education Act which said that no child should be denied an education and that every parish must have a school. All children from five to thirteen had to attend school by law. In winter in the countryside, many children faced a walk to school of several miles. A large number didn’t turn up. Lessons lasted from 9 am to 5 pm, with a two hour lunch break. Because classes were so large, pupils all had to do the same thing at the same time. Victorian schools were very strict and the cane was used to punish bad behaviour. Children would sit in rows facing the black board and would write on slate. Often boys and girls would be separated with the boys learning woodwork and the girls learning how to cook and sew.
By 1901, George was still living in Roxley Cottages with his brother, Henry and his father. Sometime between then and 1903, he was working on the land when he met a young woman, Teresa Agnes Alsop, who was a cook at nearby Punchardon Hall in Willian.They married on 4th January 1903. Their marriage certificate shows Henry Walker, George’s brother and Kate Victoria Tasker as witness. Kate was the daughter of George’s sister, Elizabeth. The family lived just a few doors down in Terrace Cottages. After marriage the couple moved briefly to Tots Meadow, Maiden Street, at Weston, near Baldock, Hertfordshire where George was a shepherd for Mr Farr at Oakley’s Farm. This was but a brief escape from Willian and soon they were back in the village, living at 1, Council Cottages, Willian.
Around 1907, Ebenezer Howard’s new Utopia, Letchworth, the First Garden City, had been completed. Built on the site of Letchford Manor between Hitchin and Baldock in Hertfordshire, is concept was simple but effective; to create a community blending the advantages of both the town and the country, with pleasant environment, plentiful local employment.
George must have watched the building of Letchworth with great interest. He would have watched his elder brothers’ move to London and maybe heard of the dire living conditions and struggle for work there. He would have been inspired by Howard’s local talks to groups who would listen of the dream of better housing, better environment and better working conditions that would result in an altogether better standard of living.
As Howard himself wrote, in his “Garden Cities of Tomorrow” (1902),
“…each inhabitant of the whole group, though in one sense living in a town of small size, would be in reality living in, and would enjoy all the advantages of, a great and most beautiful city; and yet all the fresh delights of the country–field, hedgerow, and woodland–not prim parks and gardens merely–would be within a very few minutes’ walk or ride. And because the people in their collective capacity own the land on which this beautiful group of cities is built, the public buildings, the churches, the schools and universities, the libraries, picture galleries, theatres, would be on a scale of magnificence which no city in the world whose land is in pawn to private individuals can afford.”
The outstanding success and acclaim that followed the completion of Letchworth, lead to Howard acquiring more land in rural Hertfordshire for development just 15 years after Letchworth was started. Despite early setbacks and the Depression Years between 1920 -1930, Welwyn Garden City was developed as the second Garden City.
George was one of the men who signed up as a builder to construct the houses in Welwyn. He continued his building trade with Raban’s in Baldock, which included previous brickwork on the Town Hall in Letchworth. George & Teresa continued to live in Willian. By now they were settled into 2 Manor Cottages, behind the Three Horseshoes Public House. Teresa had borne her husband two sons, Angus George Forbes (1904) and Reginald Seymour Clifton (1908) and a daughter, Olive (1906). The tenanted cottage would continue to house the Walker family until 2004 when Queenie Walker (wife of Reginald) moved into a nursing home in Baldock. George’s last job, before retirement, was as a night watchman for Herts County Council, the forerunner to today’s security guard.
George died at home in 1938 of bowel cancer and was buried in All Saint’s Churchyard on 10th September 1938. Teresa was so distraught that she refused to let his body be taken away by the undertakers. He lay at home for three weeks until her eldest son, Angus, finally told her when the funeral would take place.
His grandson, Thomas, fondly remembers him as a man of gentle disposition, who always wore a big brown coat when visiting. His fondness for tobacco, left for him in a pot on top of the fireplace by Tom’s mother, Annie, was often rewarded by a plentiful supply of rabbits poached off the surrounding farmer’s fields.
Angus George Forbes Walker was born 2nd April 1904 in Roxley Cottages, Willian to Arthur George & Teresa (nee Alsop). He was baptised in All Saints, Willian on 15th June1904.
He bore a striking resemblance to his father when older but the plethora of names he was baptised with on 15th June 1904 at All Saints, Willian was no doubt down to his mother’ Roman Catholic background. She had been a cook in service to various homes in the UK. His first two names were after Father George Angus, a Roman Catholic Priest, who Teresa had worked for as a child. (Her sister Mary Josephine Alexander had also named her first born son likewise).Forbes was the name of Father Angus mother Kathleen’s maiden name.
After some elementary schooling at Willian and Weston school, young Angus, at 11 years was taken from school to work on the land. This occurred as labour was short on the farms as so many men had been taken to war. Some on the jobs entailed picking up and removing stones from the fields for the ploughman.
Angus inherited the same looks as his father. He was only about five foot four, stocky build and with a sandy complexion, that over the years became brown and weather beaten by his outdoor life. It is interesting to note how strong the male Walker genes were. Contemporary records for his Uncle Joseph (a Stoker in the Royal Navy) and also his Great, Great Uncle William (who was transported to Tasmania as a convict) show remarkable similarities in height and colouring. His passion for the countryside and the land, however, he had inherited from his forebears.
Just like his father before him, Angus met his future wife whilst working in Willian. Annie Beard was a Cambridgeshire girl, a year younger than Angus, who had been born in a small village just outside Cambridge called Longmeadow. Angus & Annie married on 25th November 1933 at St James parish church, Lode, Cambridgeshire and returned to their new home at 1, Hitchin Road, Letchworth Garden City, where they lived for the rest of their married life. It was a small but neat semi detached cottage with a long side garden where Angus would while away the hours tending his garden. Angus had a bee field in the next field to his 2 large allotments, Annie would sit in her armchair completing many of her fine needlework piecesAngus worked for Letchworth Garden City Company Corporation as a forester. He would walk many miles along the hedgerows, layering and pruning and keeping the grass verges in order.
Britain was at war with Germany during 1939-1945; Angus’s brother Todd (Reginald) had joined the Royal Artillery in 1941. Angus, was excudes military service due to age and as he was as a forester classified as and agricultural worker and thereby exempt. Angus had in his younger years been a member of the 344 Battery Royal Artillery stationed at Bearton Camp, Bedford Road, Hitchin.
In 1934 Annie had given birth to Thomas Brian, he was to be their only child.
Life, after the traumas of the Second World War, for many years was peaceful and tranquil at Letchworth Corner. For the most part Angus & Annie stayed at home, interspersed by family visits to Cambridgeshire to see Annie’s parents and siblings in Lode. Neither of them drove a car so it would be a train to Cambridge and a bus ride to Lode. As Tom grew up, they went through the worry of him being out in Egypt in the early 1950s and then the joy when he married and moved out to Hitchin, then Weston as a village bobby. Occasionally their son and granddaughters would join them for a seaside break, but mostly they welcomed them into the house at Letchworth Corner where Annie would teach her grandchildren how to cook. Everything stopped for the wrestling on TV and the pools on a Saturday teatime though and woe betide if there was talking over the Pools Draw results. Only the cuckoo clock above the television was allowed to interrupt.
Angus’ world came to an end in 1968 with the sudden death of his beloved Annie, following a heart attack at their home. He was inconsolable and never really came to terms with his loss. They had been married for 35 years and been inseparable. He continued to live at 1 Hitchin Road until 1979, when, after a series of heart related illnesses, he moved to be closer to his son at warden controlled flats in The Tene in Baldock. He lived long enough to see his eldest daughter, Alison, wed at All Saints, Weston, on 2nd February 1980, but died two weeks later in Letchworth Hospital from a stroke. He was cremated on 21st February 1980 at Hitchin.
Reginald Seymour Clifton Walker was the youngest son of Arthur George Walker and Teresa Agnes, born on 18th May 1908 at Willian. Like his brother, Angus, he was given a grand collection of names. We are unsure of the Reginald connection, but Seymour was his mother’s maternal grandmother’s maiden name and Clifton came from the place of his mother’s birth in Bristol. He was always known as Todd. The nickname came from his inability as a child to say Reginald and it always came out as Toddles – the name stuck.
He married Queenie Lilian Cox, daughter of Harry & Lilian Cox of Stotfold, on 20th March 1948 at St. Mary’s Baldock, after a long courtship that started when she was 14. They spent all their married life at 2, Manor Cottages, Willian. They didn’t have any children as Queenie did not have good health throughout her childhood into young womanhood.
Todd first joined up with 344 Battery, Royal Artillery as a driver (horses). This was part of the Hertfordshire Yeomanry and was formed in 1920. These were the part-time reserves which were normally liable for full-time active service only in an emergency. 344 (Hertfordshire) Battery formed part of the 86th (East Anglian) Brigade and was based at Bearton Camp, Bedford Road, Hitchin.344 was absorbed into the 366th Battery of the 84th Field Brigade but in 1939 a duplicate of the 135th Field Regiment RA was formed by the seperation of the 344th re-formation of the 366th Battery (sourced from the RA site and if you can understand that then you must be a soldier!)
Todd then served from about 1941 to 1946 on the searchlight batteries, firstly at Deal in Kent and for the reminder on the rock of Gibraltar.
During World War II, Gibraltar served a vital role in the Mediterranean Theatre, controlling virtually all naval traffic into and out of the Mediterranean Sea from the west. The Royal Artillery had joined other regiments on The Rock following reconnaissance information that Germany was intending a planned attack code named Operation Felix in the summer of 1940. It was intended that troops coming by land would disable every known defensive emplacement in the Rock, in readiness for the arrival of the Luftwaffe for a succession of Stuka strikes. Due to the early warning, Operation Felix was foiled but defenses were increased so by January 1941 four infantry battalions were in place.
3rd Searchlight Battery also arrived in July 1940 and further reinforced in March 1941. Searchlights formed part of a system of aircraft detection linking locator devices, searchlights, and anti-aircraft (AAA) guns. The locators sent electronic information to the lights and guns, which in turn tracked the target in synch with each other. Once a locator “locked on” to an aerial target, both lights and guns were then trained on the target it could be nearly simultaneously illuminated and then destroyed.
Todd was a keen sportsman and played for Radwell Cricket Team. Radwell is a hamlet just over the border in Bedfordshire.
When Todd returned back into civilian life after the war he became a bricklayer. He died on 4th September 1974 of coronary thrombosis and hypertension at his home, the last male Walker of this line to have lived and died in Willian after over 200 years of the family moving to the village from Baldock.
His widow, Queenie, continued to live in 2, Manor Cottages until a few months before her death. As the then current oldest resident of the village she was proud to be invited to unveil the village sign which still stands near the pond opposite The Fox, public House. With her death came the passing of an era when there were no longer Walkers in Willian.