William Walls lived from 2 August 1819 to 27 September 1893. He was an Orcadian who was active in the local politics of Glasgow in the second half of the 1800s. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
William Walls was born in Kirkwall in Orkney, the son of John Walls and Elizabeth Flett. He trained as a lawyer in Edinburgh and then, in 1847, established the whale oil merchants and refiners, William Walls & Co, in the Maryhill area of Glasgow. It rapidly grew to become a major employer. In 1847 William Walls married Sarah Cole, the daughter of Thomas Cole.
Walls became a Glasgow councillor in 1868, and remained on the council until 1886, serving for some of the time as Treasurer. In 1873, a fellow Orcadian from Kirkwall, James David Marwick, was tempted to become Glasgow's Town Clerk from his previous post as Edinburgh's Town Clerk by a - for the time - huge salary of £2,500 per year. Walls is often credited as the man behind the move, which was to transform Glasgow into the "Second City of the Empire" over the decades that followed, thanks to Marwick's drive and vision.
In 1874 William Walls & Co was charged with contravening the smoke section of the Glasgow Police Act, 1862, because of unacceptable levels of emissions from its Maryhill works. The case was later dismissed, though it was never clear whether this was because the alleged offences had never been committed; or because the company promised to clean up its act; or because of Walls' prestige and influence in Glasgow. The local media had a field day, including the publication of a caricature (left) showing William Walls nursing a policeman who had been overcome by the fumes from Walls' factory.
Walls retired as a councillor in 1886. He was appointed a Glasgow burgh magistrate in 1887 a post in which he continued to serve until 1889. In 1889 he also retired from his business, being succeeded by his eldest son, William Andrew Walls.