William Walker: The Man Who Saved Winchester Cathedral

Greater than a century in the past, Winchester Cathedral, which is likely one of the largest cathedrals in Europe and the longest of all Gothic cathedrals, was saved by the heroic work of a diver, who labored tirelessly to strengthen the foundations of this historic construction, and thus protect one of many largest and most iconic buildings in all of England.

The person was William Walker who saved Winchester Cathedral from collapsing into ruins, and by doing so he turned a hero within the folklore of Winchester and for the whole nation. The gratitude for him was such that there are quite a few statues of him across the cathedral, and on every St Swithin’s day, prayers of thanksgiving are provided to this skilled diver for the necessary work he had accomplished.

The Winchester Cathedral in Winchester, Hampshire, England. Picture: Chris Lawrence Travel / Shutterstock.com

William Walker was born William Robert Bellenie, in Newington, Surrey, in 1869. He started coaching as a diver at Portsmouth Dockyard in 1887, after which discovered work as a diver’s attendant within the Royal Navy, and later as a diver’s sign man. By 1892, he turned a completely certified deep-water diver. The identical 12 months, Walker left the Navy to hitch a diving tools and respiration tools producer referred to as Siebe Gorman & Firm, and have become their chief diver engaged on industrial diving and marine salvage tasks.

Within the early 1900s, the Cathedral Architect John B Colson submitted an alarming report that the cathedral constructing was in peril of collapse. Giant cracks had started to appear within the Cathedral’s huge partitions and vaulted ceilings, a few of which have been huge sufficient for owls to roost in. From these cracks, chunks of stone and concrete fell to the bottom.

The foundation of the Winchester Cathedral before repairs

The muse of the Winchester Cathedral earlier than repairs. Unique sketch from Fox report back to the Dean and Chapter dated twenty third March 1906. © John Criminal

Winchester lies within the floodplains of the River Itchen, and the Cathedral sits on peaty soil with a excessive underlying water desk. Bishop Walkelin, the Bishop of Winchester, was most likely conscious of the poor soil situation however nonetheless select Winchester as the placement for his formidable development undertaking due to the distinguished and historic nature of the positioning adjoining to the Saxon minsters. The spot was additionally ideally located near the river for a water provide, and reverse the royal palace.

The medieval builders tried to stabilize the soggy floor by laying beech logs beneath the foundations to unfold the load of the huge partitions. The timber for this basis in addition to the cathedral flooring and ceilings got here from the Forest of Hempage Wooden. The story goes that when Bishop Walkelin approached King William I asking for timber for the constructing, the King informed the bishop that he may have as a lot wooden as he may acquire in 4 days and nights from the forest. The bishop introduced a military of carpenters and throughout the assigned time minimize down the entire forest and carried it off to Winchester to the chagrin of the King. The bishop managed to placate the King by providing to resign from his seat of energy, and the King noticed that he was too liberal in his grant and the bishop was too grasping in availing himself of it.

William Walker getting ready for a dive

William Walker preparing for a dive.

The layer of peat beneath the water desk continually troubled the builders, because it did check the ingenuity and ability of these charged with the accountability of sustaining and caring for this nice cathedral all through the years. Over the centuries, the timber basis started to decay and the partitions started to lean outwards, endangering the cathedral.

An architect Thomas Jackson and a civil engineer named Francis Fox have been swiftly introduced in. Fox and Jackson’s answer was to dig slender trenches beneath the partitions of the constructing, take away the decaying beech logs and fill them with concrete to agency up the foundations. However when employees dug beneath the water desk, the trenches crammed up with water shortly and even a steam pump couldn’t maintain it again lengthy sufficient. Then engineer Francis Fox had an excellent thought. Why not use a deep-sea diver to do the work?

So William Walker was introduced in.

Illustration showing how William Walker worked underwater laying bags of concrete

Illustration exhibiting how William Walker labored underwater laying baggage of concrete.

Between 1906 and 1911, Walker labored tirelessly, spending almost six hours a day underwater, propping up the cathedral with 900,000 bricks, 114,900 concrete blocks and 25,800 baggage of cement. He labored below whole darkness as a result of the water was too murky for gentle to penetrate 20 toes, the depth at which he labored. His big, heavy diving go well with (which weighed 200 kilos) took a lot time to placed on that each time he took a break, he’d simply take off his helmet as a way to eat his lunch and smoke his pipe.

After Walker completed his work, the groundwater was safely pumped out and the concrete Walker had put into place was capable of bear the inspiration partitions. Bricklayers have been then capable of restore the broken partitions.

Greathead Grouting Machine

The Greathead Grouting Machine for pumping air to the diver working underwater.

Workers prepare bags of concrete which William Walker will lay under the foundation of the Cathedral.

Staff put together baggage of concrete which William Walker will lay below the inspiration of the Cathedral.

To rejoice the completion of the work, a thanksgiving service, led by the Archbishop of Canterbury, was held on 15 July 1912, and Walker was introduced with a silver rose bowl by King George V.

A humble man, who cycled dwelling 150 miles to Croydon and again, every weekend to see his household, Walker mentioned after receiving the popularity: “It made me really feel uncomfortable to be spoken of within the pulpit earlier than that host of individuals, however I daresay they didn’t know I used to be the person His Grace was speaking about.”

Later, Walker was conferred the Royal Victorian Order (MVO).

William Walker died tragically in 1918, after contracting the Spanish Flu.

In 1964, a statuette in Walker’s honor was commissioned. However when the statuette was unveiled, it was discovered to be that of Francis Fox, the engineer, in a diving go well with. Apparently, anyone had handed the sculptor the improper {photograph} to work from. The error wasn’t corrected till 2001, when a brand new statue was put in.

A bust of William Walker

A bust of William Walker on the grounds of the Winchester Cathedral. Picture: Matt Brown/Flickr

References:
# William Walker: The Diver Who Saved The Cathedral, winchester-cathedral.org.uk
# David Farthing, Winchester Cathedral: Secure, Sound, and Safe, winchester-cathedral.org.uk
# Stephen Stafford, Saving the Cathedral, BBC
# David Newnham, Statuesque mistake, TES
# Wikipedia

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