James Walker (engineer)

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James Walker
James Walker
Born14 September 1781
Falkirk, Scotland
Died8 October 1862(1862-10-08) (aged 81)
CitizenshipUnited Kingdom
EducationUniversity of Glasgow
Engineering career
Disciplinecivil engineering
InstitutionsInstitution of Civil Engineers (president), Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Fellow of the Royal Society of London
Practice nameWalker & Burges
James Walker's grave, St Johns, Edinburgh

James Walker FRSE FRS FRSA (14 September 1781 – 8 October 1862) was an influential British civil engineer and contractor.


Born in Law Wynd in Falkirk, the eldest of five children of John Walker and his wife Margaret, James was educated at the local school and was sent to Glasgow University in October 1794, aged 13. He studied Latin and Greek for two years, and logic during his third year. During his final two years he studied natural philosophy and mathematics, taking the first prize.

He returned to Falkirk in May 1799, aged 18, and his family discussed a career in business or law. But, by chance, in the summer of 1800, he was asked to accompany his ill brother-in-law on a sea journey to London. Once there, he visited his uncle Ralph Walker in Blackwall, intending to return to Scotland after a week. However, Ralph discussed his work at the West India Docks, and was so impressed by his young nephew's grasp of engineering that he immediately took him on as his apprentice.

Around 1800 they worked on the design and construction of London's West India and East India Docks. At the age of 21 he took on his first engineering work in his own right: the construction of Commercial Road in London, connecting the West India Docks to the warehouses of the City. Later, he worked on the Surrey Commercial Docks from about 1810 onwards, remaining as engineer to the Surrey Commercial Dock Company until his death in 1862.

In 1821 Walker built his first lighthouse, the West Usk Lighthouse, near Newport, South Wales.[1][2] He went on to build another 21 lighthouses.

Walker was the senior partner of the consulting engineering firm of Messrs. Walker and Burges[3] (of Limehouse), Burges having first became his pupil in 1811 and risen to partner in 1829.[3] In 1832 their offices moved to 44 Parliament Street, Westminster (which lies at southern end of Whitehall) and then to 23 George Street.[3] In 1853 he promoted James Cooper,[4] one of his assistants, to the partnership with the firm then being known as Messrs. Walker, Burges & Cooper.[5][6][7]

Walker succeeded his associate Thomas Telford as President of the Institution of Civil Engineers, serving from 1834 to 1845.[8][9] One of his first major roles as President was to oversee the choice of three new harbours to serve Edinburgh: a major extension to Leith Docks; a new harbour at Trinity; or a new harbour at Granton. The choice resulted in the building of Granton Harbour.[10]

He was also chief engineer within Trinity House, hence his considerable involvement with coastal engineering and lighthouses. He was conferred with Honorary Membership of the Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland in 1857.[11]

He died at 23 Great George Street in Westminster, London on 8 October 1862.

He is buried beneath a humble gravestone in St Johns churchyard in Edinburgh against a retaining wall on one of the southern terraces.

Projects and other work[edit]

Walker worked on various engineering projects, including:

Walker was also involved in designing a dock harbour in Hamburg (1845, with William Lindley and Heinrich Hübbe). He was also involved in the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, preparing a report on the merits of stationary and locomotive engines along with other notable engineers of the day.[34] He was also for a long period consulting engineer to the Board of Admiralty.[35]


The Greenland Dock memorial

A memorial to Walker was commissioned by the Institution of Civil Engineers to stand at Greenland Dock and was unveiled in 1990.[36]


  1. ^ Jones, Stephen K. (2009). Brunel in South Wales. Vol. II: Communications and Coal. Stroud: The History Press. p. 78. ISBN 978-0-7524-4912-8.
  2. ^ "Untitled Document". www.westusklighthouse.co.uk. Archived from the original on 15 April 2013. Retrieved 10 April 2013.
  3. ^ a b c Skempton, Professor Sir Alec, ed. (2002). A Biographical Dictionary of Civil Engineers in Great Britain and Ireland: 1500–1830. ICE publishing. pp. 755–756. ISBN 0-7277-2939-X.
  4. ^ a b c "Grace's Guide – British Industrial History". Archived from the original on 3 November 2013.
  5. ^ "Oxford Dictionary of National Biography".
  6. ^ William, Thomas (1900). Life of Sir James Nicholas Douglass. London: Longman, Green and Co. p. 65. The firm of which this eminent man was head, whose offices were in Great George Street, Westminster, had long been carried on under the style of Walker, Burges & Cooper...Mr. James Cooper, the junior partner
  7. ^ a b "The Whitby Gazette". 22 May 1858. p. 4. Messrs. Walker, Burgess, and Cooper, of Great George Street, London, are the engineers
  8. ^ "Institution of Civil Engineers, Past Presidents". Archived from the original on 29 March 2015.
  9. ^ Watson, Garth (1988). The Civils. London: Thomas Telford Ltd. p. 251. ISBN 0-7277-0392-7.
  10. ^ Stranger on the Shore, by James Gracies ISBN 1-902831-535
  11. ^ "Honorary Fellows". IES.
  12. ^ "'Poplar High Street: South side', in Survey of London: Volumes 43 and 44, Poplar, Blackwall and Isle of Dogs". pp. 77–90.
  13. ^ "Lighthouse management : the report of the Royal Commissioners on Lights, Buoys, and Beacons, 1861, examined and refuted Vol. 2". 1861. pp. 97, 98.
  14. ^ The North Eastern Railway; its rise and development, William Weaver Tomlinson, 1915, p. 203, online version via www.archive.org
  15. ^ "'Brunswick Wharf', in Survey of London: Volumes 43 and 44, Poplar, Blackwall and Isle of Dogs". pp. 593–600.
  16. ^ "The Leipzig-Dresden railway line through time". Archived from the original on 11 November 2013. Walker, embarked on his journey to Saxony and arrived in Leipzig on 13 October 1835 with his assistant, John Hawkshaw. They spent nearly two weeks looking over the countryside between Leipzig and Dresden
  17. ^ See within Hull and Selby Railway
  18. ^ "Lighthouse management". 1861. p. 86.
  19. ^ "Messrs. Mitchell and Sons Screw-pile Battery, and Light-House", Belfast News Letter, p. 1, 30 January 1844, That the first of such foundations was fixed on the Maplin Sands by these engineers (Messrs. Mitchel and Son), in the summer of 1838 by order of the corporation of Trinity House, at the recommendation of their engineer, James Walker, Esq. F.R.S., &c. Who has since erected on it the Maplin lighthouse
  20. ^ "South Bishop Lighthouse (126319)". Coflein. RCAHMW. Retrieved 29 September 2021.
  21. ^ "Lighthouse management". 1861. p. 66.
  22. ^ "Lighthouse management". 1861. p. 79.
  23. ^ "Lighthouse management". 1861. pp. 92, 93.
  24. ^ Jones, 2009 & II, pp. 78–81
  25. ^ "Lighthouse management". 1861. p. 77.
  26. ^ "Lighthouse management". 1861. p. 67.
  27. ^ "Lighthouse management". 1861. p. 68.
  28. ^ "Lighthouse management". 1861. p. 91.
  29. ^ "Lighthouse management". 1861. p. 82.
  30. ^ "Alderney Harbour... showing progress of works according to report of Messors Walker, Burgess and Cooper". Ref: FO 925/4584 The National Archives, Kew. 12 April 1862.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: location (link)
  31. ^ "skyscrapernews.com". Archived from the original on 23 June 2011. Retrieved 8 November 2013.
  32. ^ "Engineering Timelines – Palace of Westminster". Archived from the original on 9 November 2013. Retrieved 8 November 2013. To deal with the foundations and terrace, a 920ft long cofferdam was constructed in the river to the design of Walker & Burgess. It remained in position until 1849
  33. ^ ACCOUNTS AND PAPERS: SEVENTEEN VOLUMES: Army Navy Ordnance : Session 15 November 1837 – 16 August 1838 VOL. XXXVII (Report). Retrieved 8 November 2013.
  34. ^ "Report to the directors of the Liverpool and Manchester railway: on the comparative merits of locomotive and fixed engines, as a moving power, James Walker, Robert Stephenson, Joseph Locke, Henry Booth, 1831". Philadelphia, Carey & Lea. 1831.
  35. ^ Appletons' annual cyclopaedia and register of important events of the year: 1862. New York: D. Appleton & Company. 1863. p. 693.
  36. ^ Smith, Denis (2001). Civil Engineering Heritage. London: Thomas Telford Ltd. p. 103. ISBN 0-7277-2876-8.


  • Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Volume 12, Royal Society (Great Britain), 1863, "Obituary Notices of Fellows Deceased", p. lxiv–lxvi, google books link
Professional and academic associations
Preceded by President of the Institution of Civil Engineers
January 1835 – January 1845
Succeeded by