Frederick Mosley Walker

Born: February 1, 1936;

November 23, 2020.

IT was no surprise that Fred Walker should make his name as a naval architect, marine historian, author and lecturer.

In his youth he spent much of his time in the Kelvingrove Art Gallery, peering through glass cases at the collection of Clyde-built ships. He pored over archives in the Mitchell Library, and he walked the city’s docks with his friend, James Macaulay. The Clyde was then busy with shipping: dredgers, tugs, passenger steamers, and cargo and pleasure vessels such as the King Edward and Queen Mary.

Much of what Fred saw, learnt, and read would find its way into The Song of the Clyde, A History of Clyde Shipbuilding, (1984), a valedictory memoir of 36 shipyards; within a few years most of them were to vanish.

Fred M Walker was born and brought up in Hillhead, Glasgow. The family was well connected, with a large furnishing business, Walker and Kirkhope. He attended Hillhead High School, which at that time was selective and fee paying, and, later, University of Glasgow, to study naval architecture.

The course was in two parts with half the year devoted to work in a shipyard; for Fred that was Denny’s of Dumbarton, founded in 1844. He was fortunate that such an independent yard still existed, and he always had great respect for Mr Edward Denny, the last of the family to be in charge. On graduating Fred visited Denmark, which gave him a lasting love for Scandinavia and its shipbuilding history.

After his wedding to Joan Rogers, a schoolteacher, at Glasgow’s Wellington Church in 1965, they travelled to Ghana, where he managed a shipyard in Accra and she taught at a local school. Upon their return to Glasgow, Fred moved to Fairfield’s Shipyard , at Govan,which had built, among many famous ships, the Livadia, the circular yacht for the Czar of Russia. He was familiar with many Fairfield’s vessels because of his time spent at Kelvingrove.

In 1968, aged 32, he was appointed shipyard manager at Hall Russell’s in Aberdeen, where he built and launched many ships including a series for the Royal Navy. Sea-trials with Hall Russell remained a favourite story-telling topic for Fred throughout his years as a father and grandfather.

After launching, these ships were often tested by sailing to Sunderland, where Fred could meet up with James Macaulay, who was then at the University of Newcastle-on-Tyne and would soon be at Aberdeen. There they formed a coterie of Glasgow exiles: Fred himself always retained a deep love for Glasgow and its ancient university.

Following the nationalisation of British Shipbuilders in 1977, he left the shipyards behind to become Naval Architect in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. This opened new horizons and he quickly began to develop networks in the world of museums, universities and colleges.

It was this that brought him back to Glasgow University in September 1980, attending a symposium on Scottish and Scandinavian Shipbuilding. That was the beginning of a friendship that produced three international conferences between 1981 and 1986.

The partnership of Fred and Tony Slaven organised a return conference with the University of Goteborg in 1981, and then a much larger convention in Greenwich at the National Maritime Museum in 1983. This was memorable not only for the programme but for the conference dinner on the Cutty Sark, with Fred in full kilted regalia welcoming guests at the top of the gangway.

This sequence of research culminated in Helsinki in 1986 with a conference on International Shipbuilding and Ocean Engineering.

In his new career at Greenwich, Fred was to develop a particular expertise and interest in replica ships. His detailed research led to two major projects in the world of historical vessels.

Firstly, he was approached to help design and build a replica of Captain James Cook’s ship, HMS Endeavour, to commemorate the Australian Bicentenary. Under his guidance work began on the ship in Freemantle, Western Australia, in 1988 and was completed in 1994. The ship went on to circumnavigate the globe twice, visiting both Whitby, its original home port, and London on its UK visits. The ship now resides in Sydney at the Australian National Maritime Museum.

Later, in 1992 his lengthy and detailed research led to a project, The Recreation of the Jeanie Johnston, a cargo ship built in Quebec in 1847. From 1848 it became a famine relief vessel, making 16 trans-Atlantic voyages, carrying 2,500 Irish immigrants.

On the basis of Fred’s work, the Irish government decided to recreate the vessel as a memorial to the Famine victims. The construction took six years and employed over 300 craftsmen. Fred then presented a paper, A Rationale for Replica Ships, at a conference in San Francisco in 1997 at the Maritime Museum National Park.

Throughout his career Fred was a prolific author, but only a selection can be noted here. In 1999 he was co-author of Brunel’s Ships, and in 2002 a contributor to A Manual of Maritime Curatorship.

Fred’s standing and reputation as a Naval Architect is perhaps best demonstrated in his monumental publication, Ships and Shipbuilders: Pioneers of Design and Construction, (2010), authored to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the foundation of the Royal Institution of Naval Architects. This is a remarkable compilation of 136 pen-portraits charting the development of ship design and construction.

Fred was a lifelong member of the Institution, as he was of the Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland, representing both on the Technical Committee of Lloyds Register. He followed this quickly in 2013 with his paperback, Shipbuilding in Britain.

In his two distinguished careers in shipbuilding and naval architecture, Fred M Walker has left a rich legacy of expert publications and many enduring friendships. He was greatly respected and will be much missed. Pre-deceased by Joan in 2013, he is survived by three sons and seven grandchildren.

Dr James Macaulay and Professor Tony Slaven