1818 – 1886
A local shopkeeper who took an active interest in local civic life.
In Victorian Maidenhead, the High Street tradesmen and shopkeepers were pillars of the community – staunch church people, they were very civic-minded and served on the council and other public bodies. The shopkeeper at No. 35 – a chemist, general store and Post Office – was Robert Walker.
Robert, a devout Wesleyan, total abstainer and non-smoker, ran the shop in partnership with John Higgs, the man who is accredited with merging the various Methodist groups under the umbrella of the Wesleyan movement.
It was usual at the time for people in public office to sit on the boards of the utility services – water, gas and later electricity. As a councillor and then mayor, in 1870 and 1871, Robert accepted this role with the water company. There were only pumps and wells in Maidenhead at the time and a scheme for piped water was being planned.
Rumours of corrupt business practices concerning this, together with accusations of vote rigging at the 1874 council elections, spread through the town and Robert, as a board member of the water company, was implicated by association. Local people, including W Nicholson, filed petitions against the company.
A 3-day trial was held and the judge ruled that certain council seats were to be left empty at that election, including Robert’s. For a man so dedicated to a strict code of personal and public morality this was a cruel blow. Robert was heartbroken and retired from public life. He lived quietly for the rest of his life with his wife, Ann, at his villa near Kidwells Park.
The crowds who filled the Wesleyan church, and spilled over into the High Street, at Robert’s funeral, reflected the high esteem in which he was held by the people of the town.
Robert’s son, John Wesley Walker, took over the shop. In 1908 he wrote a concise History of Maidenhead. He also followed his father into public life and was mayor in 1905.