Tuesday, October 28, 2014
For 340 years and nine generations, the Walker family of vets has been a much-loved fixture amongst animal lovers in a rural Oxfordshire community.
But the veterinary dynasty has finally ended with the retirement of Alan Walker, 68, whose two children chose not to follow in his footsteps.
“It will be the first time since 1674 there is no local vet called Walker in Chipping Norton,” he said.
“But I’m not disappointed, no. I certainly didn’t pressure my children to go into the business. It’s a very different profession now. It’s a different world.”
Mr Walker, who specialised in treating racehorses, said that when his children, Lucy, now 34, and George, 33, were growing up he was often not around, missing school events and special occasions because he was always on call.
“I disappointed them a lot,” he said. “And I missed so much that they associate vets with working very long hours.
“I don’t blame them for choosing to do other things. We have had a good long run. If someone said at the beginning that we would go for nine generations, we wouldn’t have believed them.”
Mr Walker said his daughter Lucy, had chosen to become a teacher. His son works for a company that sells licensed premises.
Despite the family tradition being brought to an end, Mr Walker acknowledged that “there must be something” in the genes which had prompted so many generations to have followed the same path.
“Whether it’s the fact that it’s ingrained in you from the cradle, I don’t know,” he said. “I’m sure there is something.”
The Walker veterinary dynasty began with John Walker, a farrier, born in 1674.
For four generations, his ancestors worked as farriers in the Long Compton area, shoeing horses on the coach run from Birmingham to Oxford.
“The profession was not as you might imagine it today,” Mr Walker said. “There were no small animals then. It was all horses and the job evolved from that. They were not called vets until the late 1800s.”
To mark the end of a family tradition that has spanned four centuries, Mr Walker has researched the careers of his ancestors and written a book, Four Legs and a Tale, about their exploits.
The first Walker to call himself a veterinary surgeon was Joseph Walker, the great great grandson of John Walker, born in 1810.
His son, Alfred then took over the business, followed by his own son, William John Walker, who renamed it WJ Walker and worked as a vet despite not being officially registered.
His son, Joseph John Walker then took over and the business became JJ Walker before the current Mr Walker, who was born John Alan, took the reins and named it JA Walke
In his book, Mr Walker recounts how his father and grandfather did their rounds in a pony and trap and mixed all their own medications using herbs and plants they grew or collected from the hedgerows.
He later established Hook Norton Veterinary Surgery, which now has three branches and treats pets, horses and farm animals in and around Oxfordshire.
He is the first in the family to gain full veterinary qualifications, despite failing his A’ Levels at the first attempt.
He said that his father, Joseph, had been allowed to practice despite the lack of qualifications, because he had earned a living looking after animals for seven years after the end of the war.
“That was the way it worked then,” he said. “He had to sign a supplementary register.
Joseph Walker, his father William, who was known as “Doc” and wore a grey bowler hat and gaiters, and William’s father Alfred, all lived and worked in Long Compton.
Mr Walker said he had always wanted to be a vet and went to night school to retake his A’Levels before going on to study biology at Aston University because he was told he “would never get into veterinary school”.
Determined not to give up, he did a PhD in membrane biochemistry at the University of Sussex, where he was persuaded to apply to Wolfson College, Cambridge. Advised to find a “well known or interesting” referee, he put down the name of a family friend, who the admissions tutor had happened to have served with in India and he was offered an unconditional place.
When he eventually qualified, his father Joseph was “over the moon”. “He was absolutely delighted,” he said. The two men worked together for a while but Mr Walker jnr found he had to prove himself to his father’s loyal clients.
“He was a one-man band and people would ask for him when I turned up and tell me I would never be as good as him. I just got on with it. I knew I would have to prove myself,” he said.
Mr Walker is donating 20 per cent of his book proceeds to the Injured Jockey’s Fund.
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