Hampshire & Isle of Wight

William Walker: Diver who saved Winchester Cathedral remembered

William Walker
Image caption Mr Walker carried out repairs on the foundations of the cathedral to stop it from sinking into the ground

A diver whose work saved Winchester Cathedral more than a century ago has been remembered at a commemoration service 100 years after his death.

William Walker carried out repairs on the foundations of the cathedral to stop it from sinking into the ground.

He had to descend into the murky water of 235 pits, each about 6m (20ft) deep, to dig out rotten foundations and shore up the walls with concrete.

The service was held at the cathedral at 17:30 on Saturday.

More than 40 of Mr Walker's descendants were expected to attend, some travelling from America.

Image copyright FindaGrave/Getty Images
Image caption Mr Walker died aged 49 during the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 and was buried at Beckenham Cemetery in Bromley, south-east London

Known as 'Diver Bill', Mr Walker died aged 49 during the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918.

The deep-sea diver, who usually worked at Portsmouth Dockyard, was recruited in 1905 after large cracks appeared in walls and vaulted ceiling of the cathedral, putting it in imminent danger of collapse.

Because Winchester has a high underlying water table and the cathedral is built on peaty soil, trenches dug below filled with water before any reinforcing work could be done.

Mr Walker worked from 1906 until 1911, spending nearly six hours a day underwater, in darkness, working with his bare hands and entirely by touch.

Eventually he propped the cathedral up with 900,000 bricks, 114,900 concrete blocks and 25,800 bags of cement.

Because it took him so long to put on and take off his heavy diving suit, when he stopped for a break he would just take off his helmet in order to eat his lunch and smoke his pipe.

His grave, at Beckenham Cemetery in Bromley, south-east London, bears the words: "The diver who with his own hands saved Winchester Cathedral."

An exhibition about Mr Walker is also running at the cathedral until 31 October.

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