Town Discovers 39-Year-Old Statue Honors the Wrong Man

Chris, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0
Chris, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0 / Chris, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

A solid case of mistaken identity? A town in North East England had honorable intentions when they chose to celebrate a local man named John Walker by erecting a bust—but for nearly four decades, residents have been looking at a statue of the wrong man.

In 1977, the town of Stockton-on-Tees, County Durham honored Walker—the 19th-century chemist and inventor of the friction match—with a bust that cost about $2000. Several decades later, citizens realized that the town had accidentally used a different John Walker (an actor who died before the invention) as the model.

According to the The Independent, the discovery was first made in the 1990s but the mistake wasn't fully addressed. The issue was recently raised again during a council meeting when a local councillor asked why the statue was not displayed more prominently in the Castlegate Shopping Centre.

The statue mixup isn't the only time Stockon-on-Tees botched a tribute to John Walker. The Daily Mail reports that in 1893, a brass plaque incorrectly listed the Lucifer match as Walker's invention, a product that was merely a copy of Walker's invention. The Lucifer match was actually patented in 1829 by Samuel Jones of London. The plaque was later removed, as was an unpopular plastic match sculpture erected in 2001. The town did manage to get it right once, when another plaque was installed at the site where Walker once operated a pharmacy.

The Director of Culture, Events & Leisure for the Stockton Borough Council, Reuben Kench, said that Walker (the inventor) was not well-known during his life, so it is difficult to find photos of him. But that hasn't stopped the town's officials from trying to create a more appropriate tribute. The council is working to find the exact location of his home so that a new plaque can be installed.

[h/t The Independent]