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Ezekiel Walker

Lighthouse Engineer, Scientist and Mechanic

We think this is a picture of Ezekiel Walker of Kings Lynn because of the age of the picture. Can anyone identify the uniform he is wearing?† We think it could be possibly an old Coast Guard uniform? He looks very 'Napoleonic' in this picture and could have been done sometime before he died in 1834.

Ezekiel Walker was born in†1741 in the parish of Haile, Cumberland, England.† He was the son of William Walker.† Haile Parish Baptisms 1690 - 1812
21st of September 1741 Ezekiel son of William Walker of Wilton.†

We know very little of Ezekiel's early life, he was the youngest son of three boys, so he would not have been in line to inherit his father's property, unless his two elder brothers died before he did.† His father William was†a church warden at the parish church in Haile (pictured left)we know this from the parish registers he signed in 1747, in which he signed 'William Walker, church warden',† so from these facts we know Ezekiel would have had a extensive church upbringing.† He probably helped his father on the farm but no doubt his elder brothers would have had more responsibility than he would have had.†

We don't know what school he went to or where he was educated at this stage or even if he had a university education.† We know very little about his early life but we do know Ezekiel†was mentioned in his nephew, Henry Walker of Rottington in his will and leaving a legacy to him as 'Uncle Ezekial of Lynne'.† He was also named in his father William's will when he died in 1766 and left two hundred pounds of lawful money.† Nothing else was known about this Ezekial until just recently, now we have discovered he was†a lighthouse designer, scientist and mechanic†and and later resided in London and Norfolk till he died in 1834.

In his will dated the eighteenth day of January 1834 he named GEORGE HOLDITCH and THOMAS COOPER, both Gentlemen of Kings Lynn as his Executors and Trustees.†† They each got £100 for their trouble on top of their expenses.† MARY HULL, widow, Niece of the late Miss ELIZABETH NICHOLLS gets £350.† LOUISA CATHERINE HOLLAND, another Niece of ELIZABETH NICHOLLS gets £200 and his small pianoforte made by [Warmin?]† His friend MRS. ELIZABETH OXLEY, widow, his French Musical Clock. †His friend the REVEREND HAMNETT HOLDITCH of Caius College Cambridge, his Gold Chronometer made by Murray.† His friend ALAN BOLWELL of South Lynn, Gentleman, his two Common Place books written by himself (Ezekiel)†and each of his servants living with him at his decease £5 for for mourning. Then all stock, annuities etc. in his name at the Bank of England to go to his nephew Henry Walker of Rottington etc.†† Henry is to pay each and every of his lawful children £400 within twelve months of Ezekiel's decease.† Then bequests to a servant named COOPER his wearing apparel, linen, household linen.†† Also the sum of forty pounds as an annuity paid twice yearly "So long as he/she remains single and unmarried. Then somethings about real estate in Kings Lynn and elsewhere.† Also musical instruments.†† (The will becomes very hard to read at this point). †It was proved on the 22nd of March 1834.

These passages are extracted from a pamphlet published by St. Margaret's Church at Kings Lynn and written by John Webster.

The Hunstanton Lighthouse on the coast of Norfolk

Ezekiel Walker was a scientist and mechanic living at Kings Lynn and associated with the Hunstanton Lighthouse towards the end of the eighteenth century.

His personal life was only vaguely remembered. He was born about 1740 but where, nobody appears to be certain.† At one time he was supposed to be connected with a ladies seminary.† Subsequently he lived on the corner of Austin Street near St.Nicholas Chapel in a house occupied later by a certain Doctor Barrington.† He seems to have been rather a recluse and somewhat eccentric and held in awe by his neighbours who had no understanding either of his talents or the nature of his work in which he was engaged.

When he died at an advanced age he was buried in St. Nicholas Graveyard.†(left with gravestones pictured). His tombstone may now be seen among a row of others by St. James House by the Walks and the inscription reads:† "In memory of Ezekiel Walker Esq., an eminent philosopher who died the 25th of February 1834 in his 94th year".

After his death various stories grew up about him.† He was believed to haunt the old house where he lived.† Geometrical figures cut into the pavement of the old kitchen floor were said to indicate where he hid his money, while two iron doors were said to give entrance to a cellar containing an iron chest.

Walker was fascinated by a wide range of subjects including astronomy, chemistry, electricity, light, magnetism and horology, among others.

He conceived "a new method of chemical philosophy, founded on original experiments" (whatever they may have been).† He contributed to the leading journals of the day, including Nicholson's Journal and Tilloch's Philosophical Magazine.† Both these publications capitalised on the rising interest in scientific matters during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.†Many of his articles were translated into other European languages and appeared in the continental press, spreading his reputation beyond his country.† All the more strange, therefore, that he appears to have been generally forgotten.

It is unknown if Walker was associated with the actual construction of lighthouses. The first real lighthouse (pictured left) was the Pharos of Alexandria, one of the seven wonders of the world, designed about 280 bc by Stratos of Cnidos.† It was about 280 feet high and rested on a tall square base.† Reflectors were used to concentrate the light from its wood fires, which were visible from a distance of 35 miles out to sea.† medieval lighthouses were often stone towers or wooden frames fired by wood or sea coal.

Walker improved on these arrangements by introducing the parabolic reflector.† It was probably his own invention (but see on).†† His first experiments were carried out at Everard's Lighthouse, Lynn, shortly before 1778.† A certain G Edwards who remembered Walker's light wrote in 1890 "A cone of proper shape was lined inside with what might be called a mosaic of small pieces of looking glass, all less that an inch square..."† His invention'... was after improved upon by making the parabolic cone of copper, strongly plated with silver".

Walker's device was used initially at the new Hunstanton Lighthouse constructed, like the old one of wood.† The old lighthouse, which was also coal fired, burnt down in 1776, perhaps not suprisingly!† In 1778 Walker installed eighteen concave reflectors, each of eighteen inches in diameter at the new Hunstanton Lighthouse.† A Single reflector, it was said, would appear at a distance of fifteen miles "somewhat brighter that a star of the first magnitude".† Hence each of the eighteen cones reflecting the same amount of light would show like a single star eighteen times as intense. (1778).

It is not entirely certain whether or not Walker was the actual inventor of the parabolic reflector.† Hutchinson's Practical Seamanship (1777) states that lights on the Mersey at Hoylake and Bidstone were in 1763 fitted with reflectors formed on small facets of silvered glass fixed as nearly as could be to the parabolic curve.† However, Richards, in his history of Lynn (1812) wrote as follows "This house (i.e at Hunstanton) remained for many years the only one of the kind in the United Kingdom"† The present lighthouse however, no longer in use, dates from about 1840.

In 1786, at a committee meeting of the Northern Lights Board in Edinburgh, one of the trustees referred to Ezekiel Walker's light at Hunstanton, which had been mentioned in earlier letters from Liverpool.† The Lord Provost of Edinburgh applied to Walker for advice respecting the erecting of four lighthouses on the coast of Scotland.† In reply Walker offered "to come and erect one of the lighthouses himself and give instructions and directions for the other three, and for fifty guineas would instruct any person the trustees thought proper to send, in the whole of his principles and improvements".

In the following year (1787) four lighthouses were erected in Scotland according to Walker's principles, at Kinnairds Head and (pictured left) North Ronaldson, (Orkneys), Scalpay Head (Harris), and the Mull of Kintyre.† Lighthouses are still established at all four places today.† The reference to letters from Liverpool is interesting.† Was Walker in fact responsible for the initial experiments resulting in the erection of lighthouses at Hoylake and Bidstone in 1763?

Walker's Lighthouse at Hunstanton was the first to use oil as fuel.† The following appeared in the Cumberland Packet on 10th of September 1788.

"The excellent method of erecting lighthouses prescribed by Mr. Walker is now sufficiently proved....that it (the new apparatus) produces a strong light is well known, but that this desirable object is attained at a small expence of oil can only come under the inspection of the few; however one argument, even in the favour of this is now made public.† The commissioners for erecting four lighthouses on the northern parts of Great Britain obtained another act the last session of Parliament authorising them to erect a fifth".† The first four lighthouses must have proved their worth in a very short period indeed.

In 1822 the French physicist Augustin Jean Fresnel (1788 - 1827).† Partly responsible for the wave theory of light, invented the Fresnel lens (pictured left) for use in lighthouses.† It consisted of highly polished glass prisms arranged in concentric shaped steps which soon replaced the continuous surface of the parabola.† This lens increased the brilliance of the light, reducing the bulk and weight of the equipment used, and removing the need for reflectors.† The Hunstanton lighthouse of 1840 would have used this device, as have lighthouses (and searchlights) since.

Early in the nineteenth century we find Walker busy writing on clock pendulums and later (1813) measuring the latitude and longtitude of Lynn at his own house near St. Nicholas Chapel.

In 1823 a Lynn publisher, a certain John Wade, published a selection of the essays Walker had previously written.† After this we hear nothing more of him.† We may imagine him spending his last years in the seclusion of his house near St. Nicholas.

It is only the last few years that Walker's memoryy had been resurected.† Yet here is a person who, in his own day, earned an international reputation and who surely fit to be ranked alongside Captain Vancouver and the Burneys,† father and daughter, and other well-known people from Kings Lynn's past.