Given that his work is found in all the major collections and that it includes some of the most defining and memorable images of the nineteenth century, it is in a way surprising that no-one has ever thought to establish who the artist, engraver, and (above all) lithographer, W. L. Walton actually was. Take, for example, this extraordinary predictive image of a flying-machine hovering over London published in 1843 – “The Ariel” – brainchild of William Henson and John Stringfellow, who had patented the design the previous year and intended their Aerial Steam Transit Company to become an airborne freight company. There is a companion print of the flying-machine over the Egyptian pyramids. Neither “The Ariel” nor the company ever actually got off the ground, but the partners were working along the right lines and their ideas lay behind the earliest successful aeroplanes.
Amongst Walton’s other lithographs are impressive views of the Great Exhibition, powerful images of Balaklava and Sevastopol at the time of the Crimean War, and that high-point of Victorian mawkishness, “The Last Moments of H.R.H. the Prince Consort”, commemorating the death of Albert at Windsor Castle in December 1861. There is too that most charming and popular of Victorian cricket prints, “The Cricket Match, Tonbridge School” – and, not least, the quite remarkable “International Contest Between Heenan and Sayers at Farnborough, on the 17th of April, 1860” – a depiction of a boxing match for the world championship between the great Tom Sayers and the American champion, John Heenan – the faces of 250 notables in the crowd all captured from photographs taken at the event and faithfully depicted by Walton.
I wanted to establish something more about W. L. Walton for some work I am doing on the parish maps of London – one of his earliest and least-known works was his rendition of Anthony Portington’s map of St. Pancras published in 1829. His first name is sometimes given as William (which is correct) and his dates are sometimes given as 1796-1872 (which are not) – apart from that nothing seems previously to have been established. Scouring the internet produced not much more than the fact that someone on Etsy has stolen my entire description of an early Walton print word-for-word without any acknowledgement – the second example of such aggravating piracy in a week, although at least the other culprit had the decency to buy the book from me before regurgitating my description – again word-for-word and without acknowledgement. This is tiresome.
Walton’s full name was in fact William Louis Walton, but what made him particularly difficult to trace was that he himself was not sure when or where he was born. You can see in the extract from the 1851 Census Return, when he and his family were living on Homerton High Street, that his place of birth is indicated only by “n.k.” – not known – and although his age is given as thirty-six (suggesting a birth-date of about 1815, which can hardly be right as he was producing prints at least as early as 1827), this has clearly been an afterthought added in over another “n.k.”. In 1861 he suggested a revised birth-date of about 1811 and that he had been born in Hackney, but although his age remained consistent with that in 1871, his place of birth was once more recorded as unknown.
At the time of his marriage to Sophia Robinson Dent (1824-1907), the daughter of a corn-factor, at St. Olave, Hart Street, on 1st July 1843, his father’s name was said to be Joseph (occupation naval officer), so I suspect that in reality he was the William Walton born on the 18th June 1808, son of Joseph and Jane Walton, who was baptised at St. Matthew, Bethnal Green (near enough to Hackney), on the 17th July 1808 – this is a date which fits much better with his recorded career.
There is no record of his having used the middle name Louis early in life and I rather think that he simply adopted it at some point, perhaps in homage to that great lithographic artist Louis Haghe (1806-1885), whom he must have known through their mutual close connections with the foremost lithographic printers of the period, William Day and Charles Joseph Hullmandel. Similarities in style are readily seen and I rather think that Haghe was perhaps Walton’s mentor, which further leads to the thought that Walton could well have been related to his contemporary, Joseph Fowell Walton, who became Hullmandel’s partner in the 1840s.
As for the rest of the record of his life, William Louis Walton (1808?-1879) exhibited landscapes at the Royal Society of British Artists 1837-1840 and at the Royal Academy in 1855. He had three daughters – Sophia Lucy Walton, later Sharpe (1843-1920), Edith Berengaria Constance Walton, later Carr (1855-1940), and Isabel or Isabella Rowena Walton, born in Kingston, Surrey, in 1858, but whom I have been unable to trace beyond 1871.
Walton lived the peripatetic life of an artist, living at various time in every quarter of London – from Hammersmith in the west, Kennington in the south, Homerton in the east, and Kentish Town in the north. One address in particular stood out – No. 1 Torriano Avenue, Kentish Town, where he and his family were living in the early 1860s. It was an address which sounded vaguely familiar. It took me a little while to recall the connection – but strangely, unaccountably, remarkably – this was the very same house occupied either side of 1900 by the sisters Laetitia Worms, Rosetta Worms, Emily Worms, Eliza Worms and Hannah Worms. All five of the sisters were originally involved in running their own business in manufacturing fancy items made of wool – baby-boots, dresses for children, etc., – although by 1901 only Emily (the crochet expert) was still plying that trade. The eldest sister, Laetitia, deaf and dumb since birth, had retired, Rosetta was running the house although doubling as a pianist, for the younger sisters were now running a music and dance academy from the house, with Eliza the music-teacher and Hannah the dance-instructor. And, yes – they were my second cousins (albeit four times removed) – and no, I can’t knit, sing, or dance.
Family digression aside, William Louis Walton, having lived to see at least two daughters married, living once more in Torriano Avenue, but now at No. 119, died on the 14th May 1879. Probate on a somewhat meagre estate for such a versatile, gifted and industrious man – it was valued at under £200 – was granted to his widow on the 7th August 1879. A man who deserves rather better from posterity.