John Walters – The Man Who Worked Too Hard

WaltersIt is said that one cannot serve both God and Mammon – architect John Walters made a fairly good go of it though, starting with Mammon, in the shape of the Auction Mart on Bartholomew Lane

Auction MartThe extent of trade undertaken in nearby coffee houses led a number of auctioneers to erect an edifice wholly devoted to their business, and in 1808 the youthful Walters was awarded this prestigious commission which he fulfilled to general acclaim – although the completed building did not long survive its author, being demolished in the 1870’s. At around the same time as the work on the Auction Mart, Walters also delivered smaller works, including enlargement of the Old Black Lion in Poplar the better to accommodate its customers – ‘lewd and indecent persons’.

Turning his hand to a higher purpose, in 1820, Walters was commissioned to rebuild the parish church of St John in Shadwell. The old parish church had been built in 1656. Known as the church of sea captains, it numbered Captain Cook amongst its congregation. Demolished in 1818, Walters rebuilt it at a cost of £14,000 – a huge sum at this time and largely met through the Church Building Commission which had been established by Act of Parliament in 1818, to spend £1,000,000 in providing new Anglican churches, both as a memorial and thanksgiving for the victory at Waterloo, and ‘lest a godless people might also be a revolutionary people’.Shadwell ChurchShadwell Church is the only significant work by Walters which remains in place, although he is also remembered for the invention of a naval truss – for ships rather than sailors –  with metal braces, to be placed on the bottoms of vessels: “at once simple and mathematically correct, it is gradually adopting, and may one day perhaps be found of such consideration for the Navy, as to prolong the existence of shipping, reduce the frequency of repairs, and be the means of preventing such vast imports of Oak timber from foreign states”

Walters died at Brighton in 1821 at the age of 39, reportedly the result of chronic overwork. He was buried in the ancient ground, although he location of his final resting place is lost to time.

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