Monday, 1 December 2008

Great Story – Winchester Cathedral

On our travels this last weekend, we went to Winchester Cathedral. We had a local (K’s cousin) who took us around and gave us some of the history of the Cathedral. One of the stories she told us was the one of William Walker (diver) and his contribution to the Cathedral.

I have been doing a bit of research since I’ve been back and here is the story.

The cathedral had originally been built in the 11th Century by Norman Monks. It had been added in the 13th Century and in the late 19th century it was discovered that these additions had begun to subside. Apparently, they had been added on the top of a peat bog.

“Although parts of the building were reasonably well supported on chalk and flint infill, other parts had been constructed on an intricate raft of tree trunks that virtually floated on the water table. A partial drying out og the area due to drainage works carried out in later years had resulted in subsidence and rotting of this wooden foundation.”

(BTW I copy and pasted this, including spelling errors)

With limited methods of rectifying the problem, a diver, William Walker, was sent to remove the water an shore up the foundations of the cathedral so they could be fixed properly.

This is how his work was described:

"At this point Walker, in his helmet diving dress weighing 200lb went into the pits and working in completely inky, foul water with absolutely no visibility began to remove, bucket by bucket, peat and rotted wood. He worked entirely by touch, wearing gloves to protect him from the water made septic by nearby graves in the Cathedral grounds. When he had completely removed all the unstable filling and was down to firm gravel base he then proceeded to build up layers of cement bags. This procedure was repeated day after day, week after week, in the many pits around the walls, all the time in danger from a possible wall collapse."

Now what a story is that.

But this is not the end.

The Cathedral was fixed and all was well and eventually someone decided that they needed a statue of William Walker to commemorate his services to the cathedral. Which was duly done. Imagine the horror when the statue was unveiled and turned out not to be William Walker’s features, but Sir Francis Fox the engineer involved in the project. Apparently the sculptor had been given a photo of the two men and had picked the wrong one.

Now how embarrassing would THAT be !!

The error was eventually fixed and I took two photos of two different statues and I’m not sure who they are of. I think they are both William Walker but who knows.

This one was inside the Cathedral. The sign under it reads: William Walker – diver 1896 – 1912 And I can’t read the rest.


This statue was outside between the shop and the cafe and looks like him as well.


The sign under this statue says:


Now apparently Norman Pierce was the man who did a bust of the real William Walker – diver. However, this one was tucked away in a corner outside the cathedral, and the first one had pride of place inside the cathedral. So whether I am right in my assumptions I really don’t know.


Monday, 1 December 2008


Kahless said...

Yes that is a remarkable story, with a funny twist at the end.

Rosymosie said...

I must admit, it kind of tickled my fancy as well, Kahless.

Veedub said...

Imagine doing that day after day for four and a half years!! What an amazing story.
Just as well he wasn't alive when they had the statue mix up...imagine putting in all that effort and going along to have your statue unveiled and it's not you! How ticked off would you be!

KazzaB said...

That was a very interesting story. What a job that man had to do though - I wonder whether he looked forward to going to work each day!! Yuk!! And the constant thought that he could be crushed at any time or even worse, a body might float by if there was a cemetary neaby!! Okay, the imagination is going again.......!! LOL And then to have the wrong man applauded for the job - well!!