Town builds statue to local hero - and takes 40 years to notice it's the wrong man

Stockton-on-Tees has made several failed attempts to commemorate the 19th century inventor of the friction match

Alexander Sehmer
Tuesday 16 February 2016 12:46
Statue mistaken identity

A has been honouring the wrong man for nearly 40 years.

A statue in Stockton-on-Tees, County Durham commemorating John Walker, the 19th-century inventor of the friction match, is in fact that of an actor from the same period.

The actor, also named John Walker, apparently bore a striking resemblence to Stockton's match maker, but never set foot in the town.

The matter came to light last week at a council meeting when Councillor Lynn Hall questioned why the statue was "hidden" away.

Ruben Kench, the council's culture and leisure chief, revealed the bust of Walker that sits in a corner of the town's Casltegate Shopping Centre, was of the wrong man.

The bust, unveiled in 1977, cost £1,400 to make and was paid for by public donations, mostly from match companies.

In fact, the Castlegate Shopping Centre has, publically acknowledged that the bust is incorrect, according to a report in The Northern Echo.

The error was reportedly discovered in the 1990s, following consultations with the National Portrait Gallery.

Walker, a chemist, was not well known in his lifetime and never patented his invention, perhaps hoping it would be used for public good, and the mix-up has been laid at the door of 19th century local historians.

Unfortunately, a number of other attempts by Stockton to commemorate Walker have also proved failures.

A huge plastic match sculpture proved unpopular with locals and was removed in 2001, and a brass plaque installed in 1893 wrongly identified Walker as the inventor of the "Lucifer" match.

Walker's friction match, which he developed in 1826, combined potassium chlorate and antimony sulphide with gum arabic.

The Lucifer match - based on Walker's design - was patented a few years later by London chemist Samuel Jones.

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