Walter Garman was born in 1861. He studied medicine at Heidelberg and Edinburgh and in 1888 he became medical officer for Wednesbury, for the annual salary of £84. According to Cressida Connolly, the author of The Rare and the Beautiful: The Lives of the Garmans (2004): "Walter was tall and dark, with expressive eyes and arched brows. He wore a dropping moustache and had a slightly melancholy look, like a Spanish don."
In 1897 Garman married Margaret Magill, who was nearly twenty years younger than her husband. Her mother-in-law wrote to her claiming that: "I can promise you that you will have one of the most honourable, good-tempered, affectionate, high-principled men that it is possible to meet with and I cannot see any reason that such a union can fail to be a happy one." The couple rented Oakeswell Hall, a Jacobean house, and over the next few years had nine children: Mary (1898), Sylvia (1899), Kathleen (1901), Douglas (1903), Rosalind (1904), Helen (1906), Mavin (1907), Ruth (1909) and Lorna (1911).
Cressida Connolly argues that: "Garman was personally responsible for the introduction of flushing water closets to the area, an innovation which must have saved many thousands of people from typhoid and cholera. Walter was immensely popular, would help the poor without charge, and, although he claimed never to use anything but aspirin and vinegar, was known as an extremely fine doctor."
Later Kathleen Garman wrote about life in Oakeswell Hall: "It was... overrun with children and horses and pony and dogs and cats and rabbits and guinea pigs and cocks and hens - an old courtyard, surrounded by the house itself and all around the stables, the schoolroom, the laundry, an old malt house we called the bogey hole where we had three unsafe storeys of dirty and dusty old buildings for hiding and playing."
Walter Garman was seen as a highly respectable member of the community but one of his daughters, Helen, later told a friend that her father "was a cruel, bad-tempered, ferocious man who beat his children and locked them in cupboards." However, another one of his children, Mavin, only remembers receiving one beating from his father.
Garman, like his wife, held deeply religious views and the local church played an important role in the child's upbringing. He was also a magistrate and an active member of the Conservative Party. Two of his daughters, Kathleen and Mary, went to art classes in Birmingham. They also bought books and when Walter Garman caught them reading Madame Bovary, he summoned all the children and burned it on the fire in front of them.
In 1919 the two sisters rebelled and ran away to London. Kathleen took a job helping with the horses that pulled carriages for Harrods and also worked as an artist model, whereas Mary drove a delivery van for Lyons' Corner Houses. Dr. Garman was deeply shocked by this behaviour and eventually decided to give both his daughters an allowance, which enabled them to give up their jobs and enroll at a private art school called the Heatherley.
In December 1921, Kathleen and Mary took the poet, Roy Campbell to Oakeswell Hall. Kathleen introduced him with the words: "Father, this is Roy, who's going to marry Mary." Garman was furious as he did not approve of his future son-in-law. Not only was he unemployed, it was also clear that he had a serious drink problem. Garman also strongly disapproved of Kathleen's relationship with Jacob Epstein.
Mary and Campbell were married in 1922. The bride wore a long black dress with a golden veil whereas he put on his old suit. One guest observed that when he knelt at the altar he had holes in the soles of his shoes, padded with newspaper. Percy Wyndham Lewis was one of the guests at the wedding: "The marriage feast was a distinguished gathering, if you are prepared to admit distinction to the Bohemian, for it was almost gipsy in its freedom from the conventional restraints."
Walter Garman died at Oakeswell Hall in May 1923 after suffering a heart-attack. The family believed that he had been killed by overwork, for he was only sixty-two.