Mr Thomas Walker
picture collector and connoisseur
commissioner of customs
surveyor general of crown lands
member of parliament
octogenarian

"Thomas Walker (c1664-1748) was the brother of Peter Walker and brother-in-law of Stephen Skynner of Wanstead, Essex. Walker was appointed to a Commissionership of Customs on the accession of George I to the throne, but this was exchanged in 1731 for the post of Surveyor-General of Crown Lands, which did not disqualify him from sitting in the House of Commons.

Beginning a parliamentary career at the age of 69, he sat as a government nominee for Cornish boroughs. He made his only known speech in 1733. Walker never married and died in 1748, aged 84, 'most immensely rich', Henry Pelham reported to Newcastle, 'most people say 300,000, I believe not much less'. In an edition of Horace Walpole's Letters he is described as 'a kind of Toad-eater to Sir Robert Walpole and Lord Godolphin, a great frequenter of Newmarket, and a notorious usurer'.

Walker's principal residence was at Wimbledon, Surrey, but he also had a house and land in Essex at Bishop's Hall, Lambourne. His London house was at Clifford Street, off Bond Street.

Thomas Walker built up a large collection of paintings, including twelve marines by Willem van de Velde, the Elder and the Younger. Under his will, Walker left the pictures to his nephew Stephen Skynner of Walthamstow, and on Skynner's death to be inherited by his daughter Emma Skynner. In 1750 Emma married William Harvey (1714-1763) and the pictures came to Rolls Park, Essex."


Biographical outline of Thomas Walker by Mr Richard Morris, Hon. Secretary of Loughton & District Historical Society.

Most of the biographical information presented here on Mr Walker and his picture collection has been researched by Richard Morris, to whom I am greatly indebted.

In his History and Antiquities of Wimbledon (1865), W A Bartlett describes Thomas Walker's tomb in the churchyard of St Mary's Church at Wimbledon. The inscription on the stone is said to read:

The extremely surprising inscription in small letters "on the south side" is reported to have been added at some date after the original erection of the tomb. Why would this have been done? And when, precisely, would Walker's portrait have been "introduced in a picture at Strawberry Hill" ? Not before 1772, it would seem.


The two versions of Monamy and Walker.

A manor called Bishop's Hall in Essex was sold in 1686 to William Walker, citizen and ironmonger of London. The vendor was Katherine Colvill, widow of an Edmund Colvill, a salter of Maidstone, Kent, who was a Parliamentarian. William Walker died in 1708 and was succeeded by his eldest son Thomas. Thomas Walker was surveyor-general to George II and M.P. for West Looe (1733), Plympton (1734), and Helston (1741). He left all his Essex estates to his nephew Stephen Skinner. The will of Thomas Walker had provided that his estates should pass after Skinner's death to Skinner's three daughters and their heirs. [From: A History of the County of Essex: Volume 4: Ongar Hundred (1956). See here.]

Thomas Walker's speech in Parliament, 1733, is reported to have been in defence of the Customs Commissioners against an attack launched on them by the Opposition to Walpole's Customs and Excise Bill. Walker had of course been a Commissioner of Customs himself. The reference source given by Richard Morris is Stuart MSS 160/129.


From the Gentleman's Magazine
A sample of the voting MPs


From Walpole's Letters, edited by Lord Dover, 1833
       

In the Preface to his 1833 edition of the Letters of Horace Walpole to Sir Horace Mann, Lord Dover observes of these letters that Horace "annotated them with short notes, explanatory of the persons mentioned in them .... The notes of the Author have been printed verbatim." Where he has added some further account, Dover explains that he has distinguished it by the letter D. The description of Mr Walker as a notorious usurer, and a toadeater to Sir R.W. is therefore evidently Horace's own aperçu. "Toadeater" was a word in vogue at the time; but since it technically means an assistant to a mountebank or charlatan, one wonders if Horace was fully aware of what he was saying.

The publication of this edition precipitated a devastating critique of the character of Horace Walpole by Lord Macaulay, in the Edinburgh Review, followed by an equally superb analysis of Robert Walpole's role on the nation's stage during the 1730s.

The monograph by Richard Morris on Mr Walker includes a valuation of the pictures remaining in his collection in 1830, carried out by William Seguier (National Library of Wales, Aston Hall Deeds No 4507). This is preceded by an inventory of the picture collection at the time of the transfer of the lease of 8 Clifford Street in 1770. This had been the London residence of Walker, and was then owned by his heir, Edward Harvey. The inventory lists 83 pictures, described in detail. The only work by an English painter is a portrait by William Dobson of Charles II as a boy. Twelve canvases by van de Velde are also listed. This list makes the significance of the conversation piece, showing "Monamy shewing a sea-piece to Mr Walker", even more enigmatic. Mr Walker could hardly have been a patron of Monamy, unless the Virtuosi, or the Dilettanti, had persuaded him to rid himself of any Monamys he might once have owned. Both groups of connoisseurs were formed very shortly after the date commonly given for the conversation piece.
       

Mr Walker's London Neighbourhood

page one         page two         page three         page four
the two conversation pieces
more on vauxhall gardens
title page     introduction     background
article 1981     article 1983
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© Charles Harrison Wallace 2005
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