Walker, George Alfred (DNB00)

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WALKER, GEORGE ALFRED (1807–1884), philanthropist and sanitary reformer, born at Nottingham on 27 Feb. 1807, was second son of William Walker, a plumber of that city, by his wife, Elizabeth Williamson of Barton-under-Needwood in Staffordshire. His earliest schoolmaster, Henry Wild, was a quaker of Notten. As a younger son in a middle-class family of nine children, George Alfred had to choose betimes his craft or profession. Bent upon going up to London to walk the hospitals, he began his preliminary studies before quitting Nottingham. On reaching the metropolis he pursued them at the Aldersgate Street school. In 1829 he was admitted a licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries, becoming in 1831 a member of the Royal College of Surgeons. In 1835 he attended St. Bartholomew's Hospital, and next year studied in Paris in the wards of the Hôtel Dieu. There he visited the great cemeteries on the outskirts of Paris, and continued his study of that great social evil of intramural interment to which his attention had been first directed in boyhood when sauntering through the densely packed graveyards of his native place.

During the autumn of 1837 Walker returned to London, and entered upon medical practice at 101 Drury Lane. His surgery was surrounded by intramural churchyards. At great risk to his health he collected evidence on the subject, and by his writings forced his conclusions upon the public. His first book, which appeared in 1839, was grimly entitled ‘Gatherings from Graveyards.’ Early in the following year he gave important evidence orally before a select committee of the House of Commons. This evidence formed the appendix to Walker's next work, called ‘The Graveyards of London,’ published in 1841. ‘Graveyard Walker,’ as he was thenceforth dubbed, drew up a petition to the House of Commons in 1842 which led to the appointment of a select committee, the labours of which finally insured the removal of the remains of those buried within populous localities. Nine letters from Walker to the ‘Morning Herald’ were collectively reprinted in 1843 as ‘Interment and Disinterment: a further Exposition of the Practices pursued in the Metropolitan Places of Sepulture, and the Results affecting the Health of the Living.’ Walker's subsequent publications were ‘Burial-ground Incendiarism,’ 1846, and a series of lectures on the ‘Actual Condition of the Metropolitan Graveyards,’ delivered in the Mechanics' Institution in Chancery Lane (1847), ‘by order of the Metropolitan Society for the Abolition of Burials in Town.’ In 1847 Walker himself obtained possession of the foulest grave-pit to be found in London, and removed its contents at his own expense to Norwood cemetery. This loathsome death-trap, in which ten thousand bodies were interred, was in the immediate neighbourhood of his surgery. It was a cellar (fifty-nine feet by twenty-nine feet) underneath a baptist conventicle, midway on the west side of St. Clement's Lane, and known as Enon Chapel. In 1849 he issued ‘Practical Suggestions for the Establishment of Metropolitan Cemeteries;’ his last work on that theme, published in 1851, was ‘On the Past and Present State of Intramural Burying Places,’ which in 1852 ran into a second edition. It was largely owing to Walker's efforts that the act of 1850, which placed intramural interments under severe restrictions, was passed.

All through his career in London, Walker, in addition to his surgery in Drury Lane, had another house further west, at 11 St. James's Place, in its way almost as remarkable. At the back of it he built warm vapour baths long before David Urquhart [q. v.] brought to the knowledge of Londoners the luxury of the Turkish bath; but 11 St. James's Place was burnt down, baths and all.

Towards the close of his life Walker withdrew from London to an estate he purchased, Ynysfaig House, near Dolgelly in Carmarthenshire. He spent his leisure in preparing for publication ‘Grave Reminiscences, or Experiences of a Sanitary Reformer;’ but that work was not completed. Walker died suddenly at Ynysfaig House on 6 July 1884.

[Personal Recollections; obituary notice in Athenæum, 12 July 1884; Men of the Time, 1884, p. 1083; Times, 7 July 1884, and holograph manuscript papers and original correspondence.]

C. K.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.273
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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61 i 38 Walker, George A.: for 1853 read 1837