Philippa Walton (née Bourchier), was born in 1674. She married William Walton, a London merchant and gunpowder manufacturer, who took over the gunpowder mills at Waltham Abbey in 1702. In 1711, at the age of 43, William died suddenly, and without having made a will. By statute his estate was held on trust for Philippa and their ten children, all of whom were minors. 

The family’s fortunes were saved when thirty-five-year-old Philippa took control of her husband’s estate, which comprised one of the largest gunpowder operations in the country with an office in London and production facilities in Balham, Surrey and at the gunpowder mills here in Waltham Abbey.

The business had been thriving thanks to the demand for ordnance during the War of the Spanish Succession (1701 to 1713). However, shortly after Philippa took over, hostilities ceased with the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. This led to a much-reduced demand for gunpowder, which continued until the outbreak of the War of the Austrian Succession (1740 to 1748). This relatively peaceful interlude posed a major problem for the industry that saw many gunpowder producers go out of business. Philippa, however, rose to the challenge of these difficult trading conditions, successfully managing her affairs so that she survived when many others failed. She rationalised her business, closing her plant in Balham to focus production in Waltham Abbey. 

Thanks to her business acumen she was able to expand the premises in Waltham Abbey in January 1719 buying three further powder mills on the site as well as the rights to the Mill Stream.

In 1723 she took one of her sons, John, into the business as a junior 25% partner. He became an equal partner seven years later, but she remained actively involved in the business until shortly before her death on 7th December 1749 “in the 74th year of her age” as is evidenced by the inscription on her memorial stone in Mickleham Parish Church. Overcoming personal tragedy and the general prejudice of the age she succeeded in turning her business into one of the pre-eminent gunpowder mills of its time.