HE invented one of the most significant objects in modern history, but after years of debate and confusion nobody can be certain of what John Walker really looked like or where he lived.

The subject of flawed attempts to commemorate one of Stockton's most famous sons, who was virtually unknown in his own lifetime, was been discussed again in the council chamber last week.

The issue of a bust of Walker, the accidental inventor of the friction match, was brought up at a Stockton Borough Council's Cabinet meeting by Cllr Lynn Hallwhich.

She argued that the bust is "hidden' in a corner of the Castlegate Centre - but Reuben Kench, the authority's head of culture, leisure and adult learning, pointed out that the bust does not even depict the right man.

Mr Kench explained that the image used for at least 80 years to show Walker, who invented the friction match in 1826, was not in fact the Stockton hero.

The bust was erected in 1977 at a cost of £1,400. The cost was met by public donations, most of it from match companies.

The Castlegate Centre has publicly acknowledged its bust shows the wrong John Walker, although there is still some doubt about the issue.

For example, a well-used image of the great man was shown to Walker's great niece Annie Maria Wilkinson, during the centenary of the first match sale in 1927. Miss Wilkinson, who had known her great uncle well, appeared to have no objections.

There is a long history of attempts to honour Walker in Stockton.

A large plastic match sculpture installed on a town centre roundabout in 2001 was widely criticised and it was later removed.

A brass plaque installed in 1893 wrongly claimed that Walker had invented the popular 'Lucifer' match - actually created by an unscrupulous London chemist - and that was also later removed.

However, an accurate plaque is now installed at Boots the Chemist shop in the Castlegate Centre, which is where Walker had his pharmacy.

And Mr Kench explained the council is now trying to definitively establish where the inventor's house was on the other side of the High Street so a new plaque can be put up.

In the council meeting, Mr Kench said: "I can reveal that the bust of John Walker was inaccurately produced. It is the bust of another John Walker."

Speaking after the council meeting, he said: "John Walker wasn't well known in his lifetime, so it's hard to find an image of him."

It is thought the bust is based on engravings of a well-known actor, also called John Walker, who lived from 1732 to 1807 and never even visited Stockton.

The mix-up is believed to be down to nineteenth century local historians. The error first came to light in 1993 after consultations with The National Portrait Gallery.

John Walker, a well known humanitarian who would dispense medicines for free to the poor, never patented his invention in the hope that it would be used freely around the world for the good of mankind. In fact other companies took the idea and patented it and made vast fortunes.