Walker Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Walker Surname Meaning

The surname Walker is an occupational name that derives from the term used to describe a fuller of cloth. Wool was cleaned and thickened by being soaked in water and then trampled underfoot, the “walking” on the wool. This “walking” is manly a north of England term. 

Elsewhere in England, different occupational names for a walker developed, Fuller in southern and eastern England, Tucker in the southwest.

Walker Surname Resources on The Internet

Walker Surname Ancestry

  • from England (Yorkshire) and Scotland
  • to Ireland, America, Canada and Australia

England.  In the traditional textile heartland of northern England, the workers – from the Old English wealcan – were walkers. A Robert le Walker was recorded in the Yorkshire assize rolls of 1260.  

Yorkshire.  The Walker name has been most common in YorkshireRecords of a Walker family at Birstall, Batley and Nidderdale began with the birth of William Walker around the year 1468. 

Walkers have been particularly numerous as a surname on Teesside and in the Yorkshire towns of Leeds and Wakefield (which had the largest number of Walkers in 1881):

  • Thomas Walker was vicar of Wakefield in 1655.
  • William Walker around this time bought Walterclough Hall near Halifax and the family remained there through four generations.
  • the Walker family in Whitby was Quaker and many of them were merchants and shipowners. Captain James Cook the famous explorer was an apprentice to John Walker in the 1720’s.
  • Robert Walker married Rachel Spence in Leeds in 1779 and they were part of a Quaker community at Netherdale in which the Walkers played a part for over 150 years.
  • while another family history began with Richard and Ann Walker who were married around 1740 and lived in Yarm, a small village near Stockton-on-Tees. Son James was a flax merchant and mayor of Stockton in 1809.

Elsewhere.  James Walker was a merchant in Manchester whose son of the same name moved in the 1750’s to Cottingham in the East Ridings. His family became landowners and country gentry there.

The Rev. Robert Walker, born in Seathwaite in 1706, was a parish priest in the Lake District until his death in 1799. The poet Wordsworth wrote his praises in his Duddon Sonnet. His sons through four generations were called Zaccheus Walker.

Scotland. The surname in Scotland originated from Waulker, “son of the Fuller or cloth maker.”

Highland.  There are waulking songs (from the Gaelic orainluiadh) that were sung in the Outer Hebrides during the “walking” process for tweed-making and which are still performed today.

A Highland clan, initially called McNaucator and based in the forested area of Knapdale in Argyllshire, changed their name to Walker by the 18th century (Donald Walker was recorded in Inverary in 1699).  The name became well-known because of the great success of Walkers Shortbread.  This family firm was started in Banffshire in 1898 by Joseph Walker and has been passed onto his grandchildren.

Lowland.  There were also Lowland Walkers, notably in Ayrshire.

Beginning in the early 1700’s, three generations of Walkers were Scottish kirk ministers from the small village of Monkton in Ayrshire.  The third of them, the Rev. Robert Walker, was the subject of Henry Raeburn’s famous painting known as The Skating Minister painted around the year 1800.

Johnnie Walker, a Kilmarnock grocer, was the inspiration behind the Johnnie Walker Black Label whisky blend created by his son Alexander in 1867 which became world-famous.  Piersland House in Ayrshire was the country mansion home of these Walkers from 1899 to 1956.

By the time of the 1881 census Glasgow and its environs were where most Walkers were to be found.

Ireland.  Walkers had arrived in Ulster by the 17th century, the most famous of them being the Rev. George Walker. Born in county Tyrone of English parents, he became governor of Derry. He led the successful defense of Londonderry during the siege in 1689. A year later he was slain at the Battle of the Boyne.

Walkers at Carnew in county Wicklow go back to 1713 when Yorkshireman John Walker arrived there to work on the Shillelagh estate.  The talk show host Graham Norton, whose real name is Graham Walker, has family roots in Carnew.

America.  Early Walkers came to New England.

New England.  Captain Richard Walker from London is the earliest known Walker immigrant to America, arriving in Lynn, Massachusetts in 1630.  He was a maltster by trade and later kept a tavern in Woburn.  Captain Samuel Walker who arrived in 1637 was found in the same towns, but the two Walkers were not related.

Thomas Walker had immigrated to Boston from England and his son Thomas settled in Sudbury, Massachusetts around 1660. He was an inn-keeper there with the only liquor license in town.  His line led after six generations to Hiram Walker who was born on a family farm in Douglas, Massachusetts in 1816.  Hiram Walker was to make his mark in Detroit as a whisky distiller whose business boomed during the Civil War.

Elsewhere.  Scots Irish Walkers from Derry came to America:

  • John Walker, grandson of the Rev. George Walker, arrived in Delaware in 1720. His son John was a well-known Indian fighter.
  • Robert Walker was in Baltimore by 1725. His descendants migrated to Pennsylvania, then Ohio, before heading west again to Johnson county, Iowa in 1840.

Walkers from county Down were in Chester county, Pennsylvania by 1730. Their descendants were to be found in Virginia and Alabama.

T.B. Walker’s start to life in 1840 in Xenia, Ohio did not promise much for the future.

“The Walkers had bought a ranch near Lexington in Missouri. On the way there, the family and their servants were stricken with malaria and Platt Walker was obliged to sell out and return to Xenia.  When gold fever came in 1849, Walker left for California after spending $75,000 on covered wagons and horses. He died on the way.”  

In 1863 he came out to Minnesota and began to acquire timberlands and set up sawmills throughout the state.  He later expanded into northern California and his company became one of the largest forest products companies in the country. Descendants of his son Clinton Walker have continued to live in northern California.  They own 140,000 acres of timberland there known as Shasta Forests.

Canada. A Walker family of Orange county, North Carolina was divided in its loyalties during the American Revolutionary War. Many stayed there after the war. But William Walker brought his family to Lincoln county, Ontario in 1794. 

In his application for a land grant he stated:  “He had been in the army of Lord Cornwallis and had just arrived with his family from North Carolina. He had eight hundred acres of land taken from him and sold by the rebels. He had suffered everything but death by the American Revolution.”  

He did get a land grant, at Grimsby township on the shores of Lake Ontario.

Thomas Walker was a maker of watchcases in London who, after the loss of his wife and four children, decided to emigrate to Canada.  He came to Ontario with his remaining children in 1834. His grandson Edmund made his mark as a banker and was President of the Canadian Bank of Commerce from 1907 to 1924.

Australia.  William and Mary Walker were sponsored immigrants from Somerset who came to Tasmania with their family on the Ocean Chief in 1855.  They were pioneer settlers in Parkham, opening the first post office and store in the region and raising fourteen children there.

Another Walker family, headed by William and Janet from Ayrshire and also sponsored, arrived in Tasmania on the Conway in the same year of 1855.  Their story was recounted in Leonard Dimmick’s 1997 book Cousins Galore: The Walker Family of Braeside.  

James Walker arrived in Queensland as a sixteen year old lad from Ayrshire in 1929 at the beginning of the Depression.  He became a cattle and sheep stockman at Longreach, something  which has been handed down to three generations of Walkers.  Knighted for his community services, Sir James Walker Drive in Longreach honors him.

Graham Walker aka Graham Norton’s Family Ancestry

Graham Norton. the popular UK chat show host, was in fact born Graham Walker in Ireland.  And he has Protestant roots in Ireland, going back to the early 1700’s.  Just click below if you want to read more about this story:

Walker Surname Miscellany

A Walker Family at Birstall, Batley, and Nidderdale.  One Walker family history in Yorkshire has an ancestry that have been traced back to 1468 and William Walker of Littletown, a hamlet near Liversedge manor in the parish of Birstall.  Several generations lived thereabouts before a move to the neighboring parish of Batley.

In about 1714 John Walker became a Quaker so that he could marry his Quaker bride Sarah Chappell. Thus began a long line of Quaker Walkers that has continued in some cases to the present day.

His grandson Robert, after his marriage to Rachel Spence, moved to Darley in Nidderdale around 1780.  The Walkers prospered there for the next hundred years, as gentlemen, farmers, land owners and mill owners.

The Walker clan has since scattered.  Many of them emigrated to Canada, America, or Australia.

The Walkers of Walterclough Hall.  The first recorded of these Walkers, William Walker, lived in the village of Scholes in Yorkshire and died in 1628.  His son, also named William, in 1654 acquired Walterclough Hall in the Walterclough valley southeast of Halifax.

The estate passed through three generations before John Walker became its squire and master in the mid-18th century.  He was a woollen factor of great prestige and wealth. While he and his wife had four children, they had also adopted his nephew, an orphan Jack Sharp, into their household. It was this Jack Sharp that later took over the Hall and brought it to ruin.

But the other Walker line at Crow Nest continued to prosper and do good.  In 1775 William Walker brought Russian timber to the Yorkshire coast, and eventually to Brighouse by canal, for the construction of the Lightcliffe church and mansions in the area.  On his death in 1809 it was said: “He was a gentleman of the strictest integrity and honor, a kind and affectionate master, and a liberal benefactor to the poor, by whom his loss will be long and severely deplored.”

The Whitby Walkers.  There was said to have been an old family of Walker merchants from Whitby on the Yorkshire coastline who traded between Holland and England.  Family tradition has it that these Walkers were Quakers at one time. Subsequently three sets of Walkers could be identified, although it was not clear what the relationship with each was.

The best known Whitby Walkers were the brothers John and Henry Walker who were shipowners and engaged in the coal trade between Newcastle and London.  John Walker was close to the famous explorer Captain Cook in his formative years at Whitby.  Cook stayed in John Walker’s house during his apprenticeship and was supported and encouraged by John during his career.

Richard Walker was thought to be descended from another family of Whitby Walkers, but by the mid-18th century, he was living in Yarm, a market town on the Tees.

Elizabeth Walker was the daughter of another John Walker.  She married Abel Chapman who came from another prominent Whitby family. During succeeding generations, a number of descendants of Abel Chapman and Elizabeth Walker married descendants of James Walker.

Walkers in the 1881 Census

Walkers (000’s) Numbers Percent
Yorkshire    21    24
Lancashire    13    15
Durham     5     5
London     9    10
Elsewhere    39    46
Total    87   100

The largest concentration of Walkers at that time was in Leeds, where their numbers totaled 1,350.

The Rev. George Walker and the Siege of Londonderry.  The Rev. George Walker led the successful defense of Londonderry during its siege by Jacobite forces in 1689.  The relief was palpable, not just in Londonderry but in the capital London, when the siege ended.  Walker became famous after his diary of the ordeal was published.

“The applause which immediately followed the publication of Walker’s Diary in London was unbounded. The heroic author basked in the sunshine of royal and popular favor, seldom beaming on the head of any one man at the same time, however great his worth or important his services.”

It was said that Bishop Walker’s portrait was in every house in London.  Recollection of the siege was kept alive by the Walker and Campbell clubs of Londonderry.

The Walker Monument, which was erected in Londonderry in 1828 by the Protestant Apprentice Boys to commemorate the siege, was blown up by republicans in 1973. 

Walker Pioneers in Johnson County, Iowa.  The name Robert Walker goes through this family, starting with Robert Walker who was born in Glasgow in 1610 and through at least ten of them through the generations to those now in Johnson county.  Robert Walker it was who came to Baltimore by 1725.  Another Robert Walker fought in the Revolutionary War. Walker descendants migrated to Ohio after the War before heading west again to Johnson county, Iowa in 1840.  Robert Johnson was among the first of the settlers there.

According to family legend, the Walkers were kicked out of Portage county, Ohio for being poor. Robert’s younger brother Henry then made a fortune in the California Gold Rush.  It was said: “He brought back so much gold that he couldn’t carry it all in one wagonload.”

The Walkers remained stalwarts of their community through the 19th and 20th centuries.  Robert Walker carried on the Walker family tradition of large families when he and his wife had 15 children. They make up a sixth generation of Walkers born in Johnson County, although only a few of them still live in the area.

The Walkers have been buried in an old cemetery high on a hill in south Johnson county.  The four Walker brothers who first settled in Johnson county – Robert, Joseph, Samuel and James – are all buried there.  Some stones are so old that they have toppled over, the inscriptions now eroded with age.

Piersland House in Ayrshire.   Overlooking Royal Troon, Piersland Lodge as it was known, was built in 1899 by renowned Scottish architect, William Leiper as the home for Sir Alexander Walker, grandson of Johnnie Walker, founder of the Scotch whiskey firm.

Having remained in the Walker family until 1956, Piersland House became a Grade A listed building with all the original features remaining, including wood panelling, stone fireplaces and woodcarvings.

Set in an acre of landscaped gardens, the house has been much extended over the years and overlooks Royal Troon which has hosted seven British Opens in all.  Keeping to the whiskey theme, each of the 28 en-suite guestrooms at Piersland House is based upon a malt whiskey distillery or family.

Walker Names

  • John Walker, a professor of Natural History at Edinburgh University, was one of the leading lights of the 18th century Scottish Enlightenment.
  • John Walker of Stockton on Tees invented the friction match in 1827.
  • Hiram Walker began the production of Canadian Club whisky at Walkerville in Canada in 1858.
  • Johnnie Walker a Kilmarnock grocer, was the inspiration behind the famous Johnnie Walker whisky brand.
  • Jack Walker developed Walker Steel as the largest steel stockholder in Britain by the 1980’s.  He owned and invested in his home-town football club, Blackburn Rovers. 
  • Alice Walker is an acclaimed American writer and feminist, best known for her novel The Color Purple.

Walker Numbers Today

  • 195,000 in the UK (most numerous in Yorkshire)
  • 180,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 82,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Walker and Like Surnames   

The various medieval trades and occupations were a source of surnames as John the baker would over time would become known as John Baker.  Some skilled craftsmen – such as chandlers, fletchers and turners – were able to form guilds, protective organizations, and style themselves Worshipful Companies.  These are some of the occupational surnames that you can check out.


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Written by Colin Shelley

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