Biography of 'WALKER, William'

Image 1 for 'WALKER, William'

Bookseller, lanternist, film-maker, exhibitor and cinematographer

Born: 11th May, 1858, Glasgow
Died: 1937, Aberdeen

Walker trained as a bookseller in Aberdeen where he was apprenticed at 13, after which he moved to London to gain further experience, before returning to Aberdeen to set up his own bookselling and optical lantern business, for which he had over 10,000 slides. It was in February 1896 that Walker saw his first exhibition of moving pictures, the Lumiere brothers show. Realising that these new "living pictures" could have a significant bearing on the lantern trade, he and employee Paul Robello travelled to London later that year to make inquiries about the Cinematograph. Unable to buy a Lumiere or R.W. Paul machine Walker eventually bought a Wrench and Sons cinematograph , which arrived in Aberdeen on 30 September 1896. Just over two weeks later on 16 October Walker gave his first cinematograph show at Marr Woods Music Saloon on Union Street, Aberdeen. ‘Bon-accord’ magazine reviewed the show saying that "barring the small hitches peculiar to tests, [the show] was an unqualified success, with various comical pictures being depicted."

To offset the cost of the films Walker was buying, he used his camera to make commercials for local businesses such as Marr Woods and McMillan’s Hardware and Fancy Goods Store. Many local events were also filmed and before long these ‘topicals’ were the most popular part of his programme. Shortly after filming the Braemar Gathering in 1898 Walker was invited to give a performance for Queen Victoria at Balmoral Castle. This he did on 28 October 1898 and on a further thirteen occasions. Walker now called his show "Walker’s Royal Cinematograph" and towards the end of the year he took the show to London where he appeared at the Royal Polytechnic and the Queen’s Hall in Langham Place.

Between 1901 and 1911, Aberdeen Town Council, the Royal Scottish Geographical Society and The Philosophical Society of Aberdeen, all employed Walker as their chief topical newsreel producer. Walker also began to operate a cinematograph show from the city’s Coliseum theatre. Then in May 1911 Walker’s business suddenly collapsed. He moved to Glasgow with his family, before moving on to Newcastle to manage the Empire Cinema for Moss Brothers. Whilst in Newcastle he and his son Charles established a filming renting service supplied from London. ‘Exclusive Film Service’ as it was called built up a small circuit in the north-east of England.

He returned to Aberdeen in 1922 and may have been the owner of Walker’s Wireless, a radio shop which traded between 1923 and 1926. After working with De Forest Phonofilms from 1927 Walker died in Aberdeen c.1937.

Researcher: Eamonn Butler