Richard Walker's Centre Pin Reel aka 'The Thorndike Reel'
Made by Richard Walker in 1947. A unique and fabulous reel, designed and made by our greatest angler specifically for carp fishing.
-Also known as the ‘Thorndike’ reel because Dick Walker gave the reel to his friend Jack Thorndike, an early editor of The Angling Times.
From the first edition of, ‘Drop Me A Line’, the published exchange of letters between Richard Walker and Maurice Ingham (Pub. MacGibbon & Kee, 1953) P 16:
‘I have another reel, blood-brother to the one Michael Traherne (‘BB’) speaks of in his latest book, Be Quiet and Go A-Angling, which is used when monsters are expected and snags are numerous. It is really an oversized version of Hardy’s ‘Eureka’ bottom reel – 5¾” diameter, ¾” wide in the drum, with finger-operated brake lever in addition to the optional check and exposed flange. This carries a plaited line with a breaking strain of 18lb. and is used for attempts on Mr. Buckley’s record.’
In fact, it is the ‘BB’ reel that has a brake lever. This reel has a rotatable felt pad secured to the check lever’s limb with a brass screw. When the optional check is engaged, this pad comes into contact with the flange that surrounds the check wheel. It is very neat and effective.
The check itself is very crisp and well balanced to give more resistance when line is being taken than when line is being retrieved. The friction applied by the aforementioned felt pad is, of course, the same when retrieving and paying out line. In this respect, the separate auxiliary brake lever on the ‘BB’ reel represents a refinement.
Three other mechanical differences between the two reels that may be developments are the spool latches, the fitting of the check wheels and the mounting of the handles. On the Walker reel, the spool is secured by a ‘Telephone’ latch of the Hardy type. The ‘BB’ reel’s spool is secured with a sprung lever housed within the spool cap, again in the Hardy style.
The check wheels on both reels are almost certainly gear wheels from the Lloyds mower production (Walker’s family firm). The Walker reel’s check wheel is secured to the spool’s hub with two dome head screws. The ‘BB’ reel’s check wheel is a press fit and has no fixing screws because none are required.
The handle axles on the Walker/Thorndike reel are fixed with nuts. On the ‘BB’ reel they are screwed into the drum.
The Walker reel weighs 10⅜ oz. Its spool weighs 4⅝ oz. Its back plate weighs 5¾ oz. Its spool has a diameter of 5¾” and a width of ¾”.
The other difference between the two Walker-built reels is the finish of their spools. The Walker reel’s spool appears to have had a black painted finish. Much of the paint has worn off, leaving the alloy beneath almost black, with a most attractive patina. The ‘BB’ reel’s spool is bare metal.
In my previous description of the ‘BB’ centrepin (sold by the Barder Rod Co in 2020), I referred to the dates of Walker’s and ‘BB’s first meeting (1947), and the first mention of the reel in print (1949). I arrived at a manufacturing date of 1948. I’m confident that both reels were made within a short time of each other, but as we shall see, it may be that they were in fact made in 1947, not 1948.
It does seem likely too that the ‘BB’ reel, with its slightly more complex brake, check wheel fixing and spool latch mechanism, is the second reel. It is fair to assume that Walker would have felt confident about making his friend such a specialised reel because he’d already had a trial run by making his own.
In 1963, Dick Walker wrote in the Angling Times that ‘Sixteen years ago I made a couple of centrepins out of magnesium.’
This adds weight to my theory that the reels were made within a short time of each other (conceivably even at the same time), in 1947 (or possibly 1948), and they are made from magnesium alloy. Only an exceptional alloy such as magnesium would make such lightness possible. Correctly scaled reproductions of the ‘BB’ reel, made from standard aluminium alloy, are significantly heavier. As I have mentioned elsewhere, there is the evidence of Walker crossing out ‘aluminium’ and writing in ‘magnesium’ in his copy of ‘Be Quiet And Go A-Angling’
‘BB’ states that his Walker-built centrepin weighed 13½ oz. I must check this!
The drilling of the perforations nearest to the spool core on the Walker (Thorndike) reel left some marks on the spool core’s surface. These imperfections are absent from the ‘BB’ reel. Aside from this, I feel that both reels are equally well made.
The differences are subtle but the reels are a unique pair, one made by Walker for himself, the other for his friend ‘BB’.
There is no record or suggestion of any other reels made by Dick Walker.
In a photograph taken in 1952 in his workshop at 11, Bearton Avenue, Hitchin, the Walker reel is clearly visible to Dick Walker’s right on his cluttered work bench. It was in this workshop that Walker devised and built the famous MK IV carp rod, his carp landing net, the Arlesey bomb and numerous other items of tackle.
Another picture, taken at an exhibition (I don’t know the particulars) shows Walker’s record-landing MK IV rod and landing net, along with his centrepin, labelled ‘Centre pin reel made by Richard Walker’
The reel is in exceptionally good original condition. It functions extremely well. The check is crisp and constant, the handles turn freely and the spool, with its phosphor bronze bush, spins very nicely indeed.
Another charming detail is the box that the reel is believed to have lived in since it was made. It’s a cardboard Villiers ‘J.A.P.’ engine component box that is about the right size for the reel. Villiers supplied engines to Lloyds of Letchworth.
In 1988, Len Arbery, second owner of the ‘BB’ reel, contacted Jack Thorndike to ask him about the Walker reel. Jack said he knew nothing about it. Len suspected that Jack might have been trying to put him off, as Walker had always maintained that he’d given the reel to Jack Thorndike. Alternatively, the reel’s existence may simply have been forgotten about by Jack. These things happen. After all, Walker may have given the reel to him in the mid-nineteen fifties, more than thirty years before Len asked about it.
The reel re-surfaced in 2015. Nobody is sure where it had been since Richard Walker gave it to his friend Jack Thorndike, but it is with great pleasure and a profound sense of honour that we offer it for sale in such exceptional, original condition.