How was it that such an obscure if worthy Christian came to be remembered? 'Him, the
WONDERFUL, Our simple shepherds, speaking from the heart, Deservedly have styled.' It
must have been this that interested Wordsworth, who not only wrote about him in his
Duddon Sonnets and 'The Excursion' but also described him in prose. The poet's imagination
was caught by the simplicity and, indeed poverty, of his life, yet the resourceful,
loving and persevering pastoral care which he gave.
Born at Undercrag, Seathwaite, in 1709, he was the youngest of twelve children. Taught
in his native Seathwaite chapel he later received his education from Henry Forest,
curate of Loweswater, where he became schoolmaster until he obtained the curacy of
Seathwaite in 1735. There he remained for the rest of his life as parson, schoolmaster,
doctor and wisecounsellor to the whole district. He ran a small farm. He sheared
his own sheep on a slab of stone that is still just outside the door of his church. When
he first went to Seathwaite the stipend was £5 a year and his cottage.
In 1755 it had risen to £20, yet all the time he managed to save and he left a little
fortune to his heirs. He did this by dressing and living as a peasant himself, by
frugality, by working his little farm and by spinning. He was 'scrivener' to the district
too, and earned small sums that way. We are told that at spinning 'he was a great
proficient', and that he could teach and spin at the same time.
'His seat was within the rails of the altar, the communion table was his desk and
he employed himself at the spinning wheel while the children were repeating their
lessons by his side'. It is hardly the picture that a later piety would find edifying,
but the character of the man shone through all he did. When the Bishop of Chester,
in whose diocese Seathwaite then was, proposed to join Seathwaite and Ulpha parishes
to obtain a better stipend, Walker refused lest he should be suspected of cupidity.
He made no charge for his schoolmastering but 'such as could afford gave him what
they pleased'. He was expert on plants fossils and astronomy.
No wonder Wordsworth was impressed and no wonder the great actor Sir Lewis Cass and
husband of Dame Sybil Thorndike was proud to be 'great-great-great-grandson of 'Wonderful
Walker' as he wrote in the church's visitors' book in 1963 when he was nearly ninety.
In the Casson family is still a grandfather clock which belonged to Wonderful Walker
and which he hid in a slate quarry in 1745 as the Young Pretender was marching south.
died in 1802 and was buried at Seathwaite. His wife had died a few months earlier
at the same age of 93. No doubt Wordsworth idealised him a little but there is other
evidence confirming the nobility of his life and his beneficent influence as the
'Whose good works formed an endless retinue: A pastor such as Chaucer's
verse portrays; Such as the Heaven-taught skill of Herbert drew; And tender Goldsmith
crowned with deathless praise!'