George Walker Ltd was established in 1814 as a haulage business, and quickly became involved in handling round timbers from the local country estates. Soon the company was trading as a timber merchant, selling and hauling rough tree trunks to sawmills across the region. It was not until Harry Walker took over the business in 1915 that the natural progression into sawmilling was made.
Large Oak felled at Cossington, 1915
Timber wagon in Thorpe Satchville, 1963
Harry Walker served his sawmilling apprenticeship at Finnegans Sawmills in Leicester, despite his father’s aversion to the ‘new fangled’ machinery that was becoming popular at the time. When Harry Walker was 21, his father died suddenly, leaving him with a shed full of logs and a dozen men to keep busy. He established a sawmill in the centre of Syston, and invested all the money he made in new machinery.
Aerial View of the sawmill on High Street, Syston (School Street on the left)
George Walker Ltd offices on the High Street (now adjacent to Walkers Way)
From the felling of the tree to the end product, George Walker Ltd was now involved in every step of the process. No piece of wood was wasted. After felling, the tree tops were bundled up and used to light the furnaces of heavy industry across the Midlands. The larger branches were set aside for fencing stakes and rails. The trunks were cut for planks, pit props, railway sleepers and coffins. Offcuts were used for gates, cattle cribs, pig troughs and wheelbarrows. In 1969, the company was one of the first in the country to install a Tanalith plant for the pressure treatment of sawn timber, a service it still provides.
Demonstration on cleaving timber by Ernie Harris at Melton Market
The first Tanalith plant was installed in 1969
Harry Walker passed away in 1973, and shortly afterwards, the sawmill on the High Street in Syston was subject to a compulsory purchase order to make way for a new development. The company relocated to the current site in 1977, a process that lasted seven months and resulted in significant lost production. The land on Fosse Way had previously been used as a storage yard for round timber, but with the installation of the cranes, bandsaws, circular saws and Tanalith plant , the business was soon running as a sawmill again.
Forestor bandsaw at Fosseway Sawmills, 2001
With the advent of the 21st century and the continued growth of high production mills in Wales, Scotland and further afield, sawmilling on a small scale became uneconomical. We no longer cut round timber in Syston, but we still have the mill and much of the machinery. The move away from sawmilling has allowed us to stock a far greater range of timber and fencing products and keep up with the growing demand for landscaping timber such as decking and sleepers. The machinery we retained also gives us the flexibility to cut special orders and produce bespoke gates and garden features.