St Pauls church wokingham

The Walters Family and the Wokingham Area

The name Walter can be found in many places around the Wokingham area including the Walter Infant School, the Walter Arms PH and Walter Road in Woosehill. Some of the most impressive buildings in the area also bear the same influential name, John Walter III, including St Paul’s Church, Bearwood Mansion and the ornately designed Walter Cottages overlooking Bearwood Recreation Ground.

The family whose name is synonymous with all of these buildings was that of the Walters; John Walter, founder of The Times newspaper and grandfather to John Walter III, a publisher and politician who lived in Sindlesham. It was John Walter III whose involvement shaped many areas of the local community.

Bearwood and Sindlesham

Living in Bearwood House, Sindlesham, Walter built a model village surrounding the green we now know as Bearwood Recreation Ground and incorporates the chocolate box Walter Cottages and Bearwood Primary School. The ‘village’ adjoins the estate of Bearwood Mansion, now Reddam House (an independent day and boarding school) which was originally built by his father, another John Walter.

Bearwood Mansion was designed by Robert Kerr and built in 1865 and remains one of the most impressive country seats of its time. Art and Architecture historian, Nikolaus Pevsner, described Bearwood House as ‘…one of the major Victorian monuments in England’ likening the building more to Blenheim Palace than to the ‘poky villas’ occupied by most ‘pygmies’.

bearwood house john walter wokingham

The impressive building of Bearwood House is a legacy of the Walter family. Image via Wikimedia.

John Walter III: Churches, Schools and Roads

Funded entirely with his own money, St Paul’s Church was built between 1862 and 1864. Situated on the Reading Road, the church has an impressive 170’ spire housing eight bells (recast in 2005 following damage sustained during a lightning strike). The church is an important hub for many community events in Wokingham.

John Walter III was also responsible for the building of the adjoining school of St Paul’s (now Walter County Infant School). Moved to do so as a result of the public outcry that followed the publication of The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley. A rector in neighbouring Eversley, Kingsley’s fictional account of a chimney sweep encountering poor conditions was a satirical look at the class divide for children in Victorian England. As a recently defeated MP looking for re-election, John Walter III was prompted to make changes in his local community and built the school, parish rooms and the clock house which stands at the junction of Shute End and Station Road.

water babies charles kingsley wokingham

Prompting national social change, Water Babies got to John Walter. Image via Wikimedia.

We shouldn’t be too cynical about his motives as he already had form in the area of building schools with Finchampstead C of E also laying claim to John Walter III’s as a benefactor. The school still celebrates Founders Day on 8th October, Walter’s birthday.

John Walter III is also credited with creation of the grand avenue known as Wellingtonia Avenue. Spanning the woodland area of The Ridges and linking Finchampstead with Crowthorne, the road was planted with 100 giant sequoia trees as a monument to Lord Wellington.

John Walter III: Lasting Legacies

As well as the architecture around Wokingham that can be attributed to the Walters family, including many copycat designs, there are also some other lasting legacies in Berkshire.

John Walter was a reformist and a liberal, putting his wealth and influence behind social change and agricultural improvements. He invested in the first steam plough in Berkshire hoping to stimulate better tilling practices and improve the economy of farming for the farmers. Walter was also influential in the breeding of livestock including the South Down sheep and Berkshire pig.

wokingham walter family berkshire pig

A contributor to the survival of the Berkshire Pig, John Walter III was a major breeder. Image via Flickr.

In 1859, John Walter established the Corps of Commissionaires, now the oldest security company in the world, with his brother, Sir Edward Walter. The company was founded on the principal of finding work for ex-servicemen (particularly those that had fought in the Crimean War) and still provides jobs for ex-military, police and fire personnel today.

Known simply as ‘the Squire’ in and around the area, his death caused much sadness to parishioners and was a huge event at the time. A cortege of 12 coaches accompanied by numerous wreathes and mourners, including MPs, employees and the Mayor of Wokingham, left the Bearwood estate on the short journey to St Catherine’s Church, Sindlesham. John Walter was interred in the family grave and a monument can be found in the graveyard.

The influence of the Walters family has left a unique imprint on the Wokingham area and is one of the many rich and diverse historical associations the area has. Having lived in the area for years, Julie and I are both fascinated with local history and are always surprised by the way houses, parishes and communities are affected by characters from long ago. We like getting to know the area in which we live and have plenty of information to share with anyone looking to move to the area; historical and practical. You can find out more information about Wokingham, as well as other areas of the Thames Valley, in our area guides.

For more information about how Property Assistant can inform you about the area you want to live, contact us on 0118 912 2370.

Featured image via Wikimedia.