Have you ever heard of Walker Brothers Ltd.?

I’ll have to admit, up until a few months ago the heavy engineering firm founded in Wigan in 1866 was not something that I knew much about either!

However, all of this changed in June of this year when I started working as Project Officer for the Made in Greater Manchester project.

Made in Greater Manchester (MIGM) is a Heritage Lottery funded project which aims to raise awareness of business archives and their importance. As part of the project, each of the ten archive services in Greater Manchester has selected one important collection of business records to be catalogued by volunteers and made available online.

Wigan Archives and Local Studies decided that their MIGM collection was going to be the engineering drawings produced by Walker Brothers Ltd.

It was at this point that I learnt that Walker Brothers Ltd. was actually Wigan’s biggest ever firm! At their peak, Walkers employed hundreds of people at their Pagefield Ironworks and designed and manufactured machinery that was sent around the world, from Peruvian railways to South African mines.

View of the Walker Brothers Pagefield Ironworks, Wigan. The photograph is a view of the Works, midway in their length, with the Foundry on the left, the Leeds and Liverpool Canal is in the background running the whole length of the Works, and forming the boundary on the South. Wigan Archives PC2009.576

Soon after I started working on the MIGM project, I decided to put a post on the Wigan Archives and Local Studies Facebook page to recruit some project volunteers. Due to the nature of the collection, we were hoping to reach out to potential volunteers with an interest in engineering. However, we couldn’t have been more thrilled to receive a reply from an actual former employee of the company!

John Webb worked for Walker Brothers Ltd. from 1941 to 1947. After chatting with John at Wigan Archives and Local Studies we learnt that he had spent some time working in the Walkers drawing office. This was exciting news for me and the MIGM volunteers, and we became determined to find and catalogue some of John’s old drawings!

After rifling through our large collection of drawings, I finally found one with John’s initials at the bottom. We were able to invite John and his daughter into the archives and reunite him with the drawings he had produced over 75 years ago. John reminisced about his time at Walkers with our project volunteers, and even helped us to add some descriptions to the Walker Brothers photographs in our collection.

John has kindly written down and shared with us some of his memories of working for the company, and as well as some items from his personal scrapbook.

We will be posting extracts from John’s memoirs over the next few weeks, starting with how his time at the company began. Enjoy!

Made in Greater Manchester volunteer Ian looking at photographs of Walker Brothers Ltd. with John Webb at Wigan Archives and Local Studies.