For those of you unfamiliar with the story of how we came by our new space, it’s safe to say the journey to finding our perfect home was a turbulent one. Featuring the almighty highs and pensive lows commonly associated with the most passionate of love stories – or as we prefer, tales of badass hustle – our happy and hard earned ending came in the form of The Walker Building, 58 Oxford Street, and a Hub that we now call our home.
And so, whilst still in our infancy and excitedly grappling with endless possibilities as to how we shape and contour our shell space, it seemed only right that we take a moment to pause, look back and tell the story of those that were here before us; the men who built these very walls from scratch. With the help of an incredibly detailed account of the Walker family published in 1951, we thought we’d sum up some of the key highlights below.
As industrial pioneers go, the legacy of Thomas Walker & Son left a hugely positive imprint on Birmingham that dates all the way back to the 19th Century. Heading a family business that was to become internationally renowned in the manufacturing of ship logs, founding father Mr Thomas Walker first took up residence on 58 Oxford Street to manufacture stoves. A keen breakthrough, Mr Walker’s self-feeding stove was widely lauded at the Paris Exhibition of 1855, winning a prize medal and kick starting the first of many notable innovations for the Walker family.
However, it wasn’t until working on an earlier model invented by his Uncle that Thomas Walker became interested in the development of Ship Log’s, a device used to ascertain a ship’s speed. His advances on the common log for Massey & Sons were deemed revolutionary and the Massey log became a firm favourite of the West India Association and the most common log in use for two generations.
And yet, it took till 1861 for Thomas Walker and his son, Thomas Ferdinand Walker to patent the first Walker log of many. Together, with the introduction of the A1 Harpoon Log two years later, they established the Walker Log Business as a force to be reckoned with. By the time of his passing in 1871, Thomas Walker had not only founded a family business with considerable staying power but also instilled a tradition of public service.
Having sat as a representative on the Town Council for 15 years and played an active role in public works, he was soon given the nickname of ‘Blue Brick Walker’.
An excerpt from the Birmingham Daily Post cites:
“Those persons who can recall the abominable pavements in the minor streets of Birmingham a few years ago – composed of round pebbles, which rendered locomotion impossible except at the cost of constant pain – should be reminded that it is to Mr. Walker’s exertions that the town owes the comfortable blue brick pavements”.
But when it comes to our grade II listed surroundings, it’s beautiful brickwork and bright open spaces, it is to his son Thomas Ferdinand Walker (II) and grandson Thomas Sydney Walker (III) that we owe our gratitude. Formally completed in 1912, Thomas Walker & Son LLC installed brand new premises on Oxford Street that comprised a factory and our very own Walker Building.
Much like his father, Thomas Ferdinand Walker (II) changed the face of the maritime industry. His patent of 1897, the ‘Cherub’ log, was a notable departure from the past providing a far more accurate reading and replacing the majority of logs of the age. Thomas Ferdinand Walker’s (II) public service as a city magistrate and commitment to social ideas such as the Land Reform Campaign also won him many supporters. At the time of his passing, Future Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain wrote:
“I am anxious to pay my last tribute to his memory. I shall never think of him without a very strong feeling of affection as well as respect for his lofty standard of conduct.”
The coming years would see the Walker dynasty go from strength to strength. Not only would the Walker building produce the first Walker electric log, it would successfully weather the storm of the 1930s depression and even escape the Second World War air raids unscathed. During this time the Walker family continued in their tradition of public service, establishing a Midlands Institute of Industrial Affairs as well as donating both time and money to the likes of Birmingham University and Birmingham Children’s Hospital. Equally notable and charitable for those of us studying their path to success, the Walker’s grew to embrace a wider name pool – with the likes of Jeffrey, Stansfeld and David Walker all at the helm.
Whilst their commitment to industry has found them many a page in maritime history, it’s the Walker ethos and commitment to their community at large that has struck a particularly warm and fuzzy chord with us here at the Hub. Not only were they one of the first to introduce the 48 hour work week, the Walker’s were one of the few companies not to face industrial trade strikes, retaining each of their employees for over 40 years on average.
The below excerpt highlights this perfectly:
“In the present day… the man has become a number rather than a name and the boss a group of gentlemen called a Board, who are unknown to the work people and regarded as having no soul. In the case of Thomas Walker and Son Ltd. the old relationship and contact is still maintained and amenities provided whenever possible.”
Rooted in such a rich, innovative and philanthropic history, we feel privileged to establish the Hub in surroundings once home to a family instrumental to the community it served. Our very walls act as a reminder to continually evaluate our role as citizens and the impact we wish to create & feel in our city.