John Plane Walker
In our January edition we ran a piece sent to us by Ursula Franklin about Frank Walker, of Reepham. She was subsequently contacted by other relatives.
She wrote to us: “I have now been in contact with granddaughters of Laura Walker’s sister Agnes, who are absolutely delighted with the piece in Let’s Talk as they knew little or nothing about Frank, and nothing of the Walker side of the family. The amazing thing is that although we all remembered visiting as children we were never there at the same time.” Ursula has now sent us more details about the family.
John Plane Walker was born in the St Pauls district of Norwich in 1881, the second son of boot and shoe workers. A committed Christian, he attended St Mary’s Baptist Church in Norwich, from there going to preach at the YMCA Lodging House Mission in Quayside, taking his sister Sarah [my grandmother] with him as soprano soloist.
John and Sarah would also walk out before breakfast to the workhouse at St Faith’s [where the Crematorium now stands] to lead worship. They then walked back home to have breakfast before going to church.
John was apprenticed at the age of fourteen to Messrs Wallace King Norwich. When they opened a shop in Town End, Reepham John moved there as manager, living in lodgings in the Market Place. He did his furniture deliveries using a horse and cart. Sometimes he would be so tired by the end of the day that he would fall asleep and let the horse take him back to Reepham. When in 1919 Wallace King decided to move their business back toNorwich, John asked to have the shop and run it himself.
This he did with a staff of one assistant and a short-hand typist, offering a wide ranging repairs department as well as sales. For instance he offered perambulator renovation, with hoods re-covered and wheels re-tyred. What would he have thought of today’s ‘throw-away’ society?
Eventually the deliveries were done by van. In Reepham John attended the MethodistChurch, becoming a well respected local preacher, leading worship in the Circuit churches and chapels and open air services in the Market Place. During his early days in Reepham he met Laura Smith, a nanny in Alderford. He would walk over to her home at Great Witchingham to see her.
They were married in 1910 at Sparham Church, and lived initially on Station Road, later moving to the ‘Cemetery House’ opposite the gates of Reepham Cemetery, which is where their only child, Frank, was born in 1924.
Perhaps because of his drunkard father, John was a very keen worker for temperance. He founded and ran a branch of the Band of Hope in Reepham which grew to a membership of over two hundred. This was an organisation which had been founded inLeedswith the aim of warning children of the dangers of alcohol. There was a weekly meeting with a range of activities including football. They had their own Band of Hope team.
John enrolled his nephews and nieces in the organisation. My mother Margaret was very proud to have ‘signed the pledge’ when quite young. In 1927 John and Laura co-wrote a seven verse song for Reepham Band of Hope entitled ‘The hope of Reepham’, to be sung to the tune of ‘My bonnie’. It begins:
Oh listen, dear friends to my story,
A wonderful tale I will tell,
How the Temperance cause here in Reepham,
Has gripped many people so well.
Reepham’s hope, Band of Hope,
I’ll ever be loyal and true to thee;
My beloved Band of Hope,
I’ll always be faithful to thee.
A copy is pasted in the front of ‘Hoyle’s Hymns and Songs’, a hymn book produced for Temperance Societies and Bands of Hope. John died very suddenly of a heart attack on 5th November 1938 while sitting at his desk in the shop. A firework party at the Rectory planned for that night was cancelled as a mark of respect.
There was a huge crowd at his funeral at theMethodistChurch, with the church hall being used for overspill, and still more people standing outside. The lengthy report in the Eastern Daily Press for 11th November noted that there were representatives from Reepham Parish Council, Reepham Band, Reepham Labour Party, the other churches of the area, and many of the local businesses.
Pot plants were borrowed from the big houses to decorate the church and hall for the service, and children lined the route to the cemetery, all carrying posies to lay on the grave.