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Cartographers John Walker and his son, John Walker

PUBLISHED: 11:08 02 September 2014 | UPDATED: 11:08 02 September 2014

EXG SEPT 14 ERO

EXG SEPT 14 ERO

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Hannah Salisbury from the Essex Record Office searches through the archives to tell this tale of two men who were almost forgotten to our county’s history, despite making such an incredible record of it

The two John Walkers — father and son — made remarkably accurate, beautiful and detailed maps of estates across Essex during the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I.

Mapmaking techniques advanced rapidly during the Elizabethan era, and the Walkers were masters of the art. Despite this, they were largely forgotten about for 300 years, and it was only when the Essex Record Office was formed in 1938 and county records began to be collected together that it was realised that a collection of these outstanding maps was accumulating.

22 of their maps survive, 17 of which are at ERO. It is thought that a few other maps have not survived, such as one of Broomfield which is believed to have been destroyed during World War II.

There was also a Samuel Walker who made maps. He was possibly a nephew of John senior, and six of his maps and one written survey are known to survive.

Despite their contribution to cartography, little is known about the Walkers. Their family home was Kent’s Farm at West Hanningfield (the property still exists today), and both Johns died and were buried in the parish, John junior in 1618 and John senior in 1626.

John Walker senior was born in about 1550, the son of another John Walker, a carpenter and yeoman. Nothing is known of his early life; the first record we have of him is his survey of West Tilbury in 1584, when he was already a skilled draughtsman.

Where John Walker senior acquired his education and training remains obscure, although there is some evidence that points towards the cartographer Israel Amyce as his tutor. His own father could not write and signed his will with a cross. It has been suggested that as well as his surveying and mapmaking, John was involved in the building of houses; his father and brother were carpenters, and John’s drawings of timber-framed houses show a close observation of them that goes beyond that of his peers. He described himself as an ‘architector’, a term usually reserved at the time for designers of houses.

John Walker junior was born in 1577, and even less is known of his life than his father’s. He married Penelope Warner of South Hanningfield in 1611 and died in 1618. Apart from a few appearances in the local court rolls, the only surviving records of his life are his maps and surveys.

The Walkers were commissioned to make their maps by wealthy landowners. Maps were costly to produce and would have been a status symbol as much as a useful working document. How John Walker senior, son of a carpenter from West Hanningfield, came to be introduced to such men is not clear, but it was possibly through his potential tutor, Israel Amyce. As well as being a cartographer, Amyce was a landowner and a JP, and it could have been him who put John Walker in the way of men such as Sir Thomas Mildmay, who commissioned maps of his Chelmsford and Moulsham estates, and Sir John Petre, who commissioned ten maps in total from the Walkers.

Several of the Walkers’ outstanding maps can be viewed on the ERO catalogue, Seax: seax.essexcc.gov.uk

ERO events

2 September

10.30am-11.30am

A Righteous Conflict: Essex people interpret the Great War

A talk for the Essex History Group by Paul Rusiecki, author of The Impact of Catastrophe: The people of Essex and the First World War (914-1920) at Essex Record Office, Wharf Road, Chelmsford CM2 6YT.

Free, no need to book. Small charge for refreshments after the talk

Call 01245 244644 for details

14 September

10am to 4pm (last entry 3pm)

Essex at War, 1914-1918 At Hylands House

Part of a weekend of special events for Heritage Open Days to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, exploring the impact of the war on Essex. Taking place at Hylands House, London Road, Chelmsford, CM2 8WQ. See www.essexrecordofficeblog/wwi for more details.

Free, no need to book

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