William Henry Romaine-Walker was a member of the family of dealers who ran Walker’s Galleries. Following his schooling at Lancing College, he was articled for five years to one of the leading Victorian architects, George Edmund Street, at the end of his career. This resulted in his election in 1881 as an Associate Member of the Royal Institute of British Architects. Walker then went into practice with Street’s manager, Augustus E. Tanner, and together they worked as ecclesiastical restorers, most notably in additions to Wimborne Minster, Dorset. In 1887, they designed the Pitt-Rivers Museum in Oxford and, consequently, various buildings on the Pitt-Rivers estate at Tollard Royal, Wiltshire.
In 1893, Walker published Mr Hipp or Three Friends In Search of Pleasure, a picture book with delightfully naive illustrations akin to the comic drawings of EDWARD LEAR. It appears to be the first surviving example of his original and leisurely approach to illustration that was undertaken as a diversion from his architectural work rather than as a parallel career.
When Tanner became a London District Surveyor in 1900, Walker entered into a new partnership with Francis Besant, and developed a practice which specialised in the construction and alteration of town houses in London. Their most outstanding project is Sutherland House in Curzon Street, built for the Duke of Marlborough in collaboration with the French architect Alphonse Duchene; it is in the Louis Quinze style. In contrast, Stanhope House, 47 Park Lane, was built for the soap manufacturer, Hudson in finely detailed fifteenth-century Gothic in Forest of Dean sandstone. They also designed two large country houses, one at Nuneham Paddox, Warwickshire (c 1906), the other Rhinefield Lodge, Lyndhurst, Hampshire (1889), a stone Tudor style mansion of great elaboration. The versatility of Walker and Tanner enabled them to work extensively as decorators and designers at such places as Chatsworth House, Beaumont College, Liverpool Old Town Hall and the gardens of Luton Hoo. Their best-known church additions are the Chapels of the Calvary and the English Martyrs at the Jesuit Church of the Immaculate Conception, Farm Street, Mayfair, W1. In addition, Walker designed the sophisticated interior of Her Majesty’s Theatre in Haymarket.
During the same period, Walker produced illustrations for three volumes published by John Lane. These display the successful synthesis of a variety of styles from the strongly Victorian Ernest Griset to new fantasy of ARTHUR RACKHAM. The successful critical reception of Tales of Jack & Jane, written by Charles Young in 1906, led to a second collaboration, Nightcaps for the Babies in the following year. But, though Walker immediately turned to illustrate a classic, an edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, he then failed to extend the development of his graphic talents. His contribution to Mrs Stawell’s Fairies I Have Met is restricted to a design for the cover; the illustrations are by EDMUND DULAC. However, he would continue to exhibit watercolours at his family’s own galleries, in four solo shows (1919, 1924, 1925, 1926).
In 1911 Walker began a partnership with Gilbert H Jenkins, his chief assistant since 1901. As before, Walker concentrated on alterations and extensions. He was helped by Jenkins in the creation of a new banqueting hall and ballroom at Derby House, Stratford Place, W1, and in designing the interiors of Sir Edwin Lutyens’ Lloyds Bank building at 68 Pall Mall. The best known works that Walker designed with Jenkins are extensions to the Tate Gallery. Those of 1909 were the gift of Joseph Duveen senior, those of 1937, for which the American architect John Russell Pope (1874-1937) was consultant, were the gift of his son, Lord Duveen. They also designed Duveen’s gift to the British Museum of a gallery to house the Elgin Marbles.