Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council

Big plans, bright future

Famous John Walker match re-created for popular BBC TV series

Thursday, December 29, 2016

michael portillo

Preston Park Museum & Grounds has teamed up with Teesside University to re-create John Walker’s famous friction match for the popular BBC television series ‘Great British Railway Journeys’, which will be aired on the 4 January 2017.

Dr Joe McGinnis, Senior Lecturer in the School of Science & Engineering at Teesside University, has skilfully reproduced the chemical formula of the John Walker match head using the original recipe recorded in manuscripts that are nearly two hundred years old. The re-creation of the match was filmed in October when the BBC’s ‘Great British Railway Journeys’ programme and its host Michael Portillo visited Preston Park Museum.

The new series of the Great British Railway Journeys will start on Monday 2 January and Stockton-on-Tees will be featured on Wednesday’s (January 4) episode at 6.30pm on BBC2.

Councillor Norma Wilburn, Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for Arts, Leisure and Culture, said: “We were delighted to welcome the BBC to film at Preston Park Museum. The story of John Walker’s friction match shows that Stockton-on-Tees has always been an innovative place to live and work.”

Dr Joe McGinnis said: “The friction match was a significant invention which took place right here in Teesside. When you strike a match, you don’t really think of it as initiating a chemical reaction, so it’s been fascinating to find out what’s going on from the chemist’s viewpoint.  The whole story is a fine example of science in action – John Walker made an interesting observation, investigated it in a series of experiments, and produced something very useful at the end."

John Walker was born in Stockton in May 1781 and was a chemist by trade occupying a shop on Stockton High Street. He is most famously known for his invention of the friction match. Walker experimented with different combustible substances in his home in 1826, and by chance he scraped the mixing stick on his hearth, causing it to splutter and catch fire. 

The revolutionary invention was first re-created in March 2015 when McGinnis was contacted by artist Sarah Pickering after she was commissioned to produce a piece for the REFOCUS, biennial Castlegate mima Photography Prize. She wanted to produce something that acknowledged Stockton’s fascinating history and approached the University to support her in developing the match, a significant invention that marks a turning point in history. Sarah’s large-scale photograph, 'Match', 2015, which is over 38 metres wide, is on display on the prominent riverside location of Stockton-on-Tees’ Castlegate shopping centre.

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