John A. Walker MBE (1910-2009) was the fourth generation of the Walker family engaged in lace manufacturing in the Nottingham area. The family firm was founded in the 1840s by Benjamin Walker (1803-1883), who was originally from Staffordshire. He was one of the pioneers of lace curtain making and formed a partnership with Edward Elsey in Beeston and Lenton. By 1854 Walker and Elsey were operating from a factory on the corner of Commercial Street and Spring Close in Old Lenton, and from the mid-1860s until 1883 Walkers also owned a factory on Russell Street in Lenton where they operated Levers lace machines. The company was employing 350 people in 1881, and Benjamin Walker had the house 'Lenton Eaves', now on the University Park campus of The University of Nottingham, built for him in around 1875. Benjamin Walker was co-founder, with Thomas Bayley, of the first co-operative movement in Nottinghamshire.
Benjamin's nephew, John B. Walker (1843-1921), established his own company, J.B. Walker, in the 1880s. He took lace curtain machines from Spring Close to a newly-built factory on Derby Road, Sandiacre. Benjamin Walker continued to operate from Lenton as B. Walker and Co. but his company left Commercial Street just before the First World War.
In around 1894 J.B. Walker took over the firm of Henry Mallet and Sons, which was established at 35-37 St Mary's Gate in the Lace Market, Nottingham, and began selling lace as well as manufacturing it. The Mallet trade name was used for selling until the 1920s when the J.B. Walker company began selling finished lace under its own name.
After J.B. Walker's death in 1921 the firm was bought by his son Robert Dudley Walker (1882-1933), with the support of his brother Dr Lewis Walker, and the name was changed to J.B. Walker and Company. Dudley developed an export trade, especially with Canada. Dudley's son John A. Walker started working for the company in 1927. When Dudley died in 1933, his partner Claude Newham formed a new company, Henry Mallet and Sons Ltd, which took over J.B. Walker and Company together with its Sandiacre factory. Newham became managing director, with J.A. Walker as a director. Two years later, in 1935, Newham and Walker split their partnership. Newham bought out the Henry Mallet business, and Walker the Sandiacre business. The company became a limited company, J.B. Walker and Company Limited, in 1937. The warehouse at 35-37 St Mary's Gate, Nottingham was in the hands of a trust after 1933, for the benefit of Dudley's widow and children, but was leased back to J.B. Walker and Co. Ltd by the trustees, who included J.A. Walker. It was sold in 1984.
In 1937 the Nottingham and Scottish lace curtain machine-owners came to a mutual agreement on price control. During the Second World War J.B. Walker and Co. Ltd, along with other Nottingham and Scottish manufacturers, was amalgamated into British Lace Furnishings Ltd, a company formed as a result of the Board of Trade's wartime action to concentrate industries. J.A. Walker was the Nottingham Controller. Members' plants were returned to their owners when British Lace Furnishings Ltd was closed down in 1948.
After the Second World War J.B. Walker and Co. Ltd bought a neighbouring factory, the Acme Factory, in Sandiacre, from Sir Ernest Jardine. The Acme factory was rented out to tenants.
In 1953 J.B. Walker and Co. Ltd was one of four companies which formed a consortium to buy a Nottingham lace dyeing firm, Basford Dyers Ltd. The other companies were Cleland Brothers Ltd of Darvel, Scotland, Henderson Morton Inglis Ltd of Newmilns, Scotland, and Holmes and Baxter Ltd of Basford. J.A. Walker had worked with these owners during the period of British Lace Furnishings Ltd.
In 1966 the four companies amalgamated to create Basford Dyers (Holdings) Ltd, each of the companies becoming subsidiaries of the holding company. The name of the holding company was changed to Basford Textile Group Ltd in 1969, and The Basford Group Ltd in 1990. J.A. Walker was chairman of Basford Textile Group Ltd from 1970 until his retirement in 1984. He remained as non-executive chairman for another year. Homeware products manufactured by the group were sold under the brand name 'Bonfab'.
On J.A. Walker's retirement in 1984 the structure of Basford Textile Group Ltd became much tighter, with the various companies within the group becoming divisions of the parent company rather than subsidiaries. In the late 1980s lace production was concentrated in Darvel in Scotland, and the Sandiacre factory was cleared and sold in 1990. Basford Textile Group Ltd had bought the lace company George H. Fletcher and Sons Ltd, of Heanor, Derbyshire, in 1989, and subsequently moved the company's Head Office to Heanor. The Basford Group Ltd was sold by its shareholders to the Cresswell Group in 1996 and went into liquidation in around 1999.
J.A. Walker was a prominent member of the British Lace Federation, a trade association representing the lace industry, and was its Deputy President in 1967 and its Vice-President in 1988/9. In 1960 the Federation was invited to join Celibride, the European Lace Trade Association. J.A. Walker was President of Celibride from 1977-1979. He was also a member of the board of Nottingham Lace Centre Ltd in the 1980s and 1990s. He was awarded the MBE in 1979 for services to the lace trade.