William Walker, Labour, Sectarianism and the Union, 1894–1912

  • Henry Patterson


William Walker was born into Belfast’s skilled working class in 1871. His father worked in the Harland and Wolff shipyard and was a trade union official.1 The first 30 years of Walker’s life coincided with two processes whose intertwining would dominate his experiences as a trade unionist and political activist. The first was the major expansion of its shipbuilding and engineering industries, which, together with its already substantial linen and engineering industries, would make Belfast the industrial heartland of Ireland. The Harland and Wolff yard, which had a workforce of 1,500 in the 1860s, when it was the only yard in Belfast, employed 9,000 people by 1900.2 In the 1ate 1870s, another shipbuilding enterprise was set up by Frank Workman, a local businessman, who was joined by George Clark from Glasgow in the Workman Clark ‘Wee Yard’. Clark, like Edward Harland and Gustavus Wolff, would become involved in Conservative and Unionist politics and Walker was to challenge him for the North Belfast parliamentary seat in 1907.


Trade Union Labour Movement Labour Party Unionist Politics Tenant Farmer 
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© Henry Patterson 2005

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  • Henry Patterson

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