CLASSIC DIVE BOOKS
...... the man who
|Work on Winchester Cathedral was started in 1079 and continued for
well over 200 years. The foundations were strange to say the least,
the footings of concrete on beech tree logs which in turn was on six feet
of marly clay, which again was on top of a layer of around eight and a
half feet of peat, a small layer of silt and finally a bed of gravel and
flints. The foundations were taken down to 10 feet below the surface
but flooding didn’t allow the builders to dig deeper. It is believed
that when the Cathedral was erected, the peat layer was around 12 feet
thick resulting over the centuries in a very serious and unequal subsidence.
In 1905, the subsidence was giving cause for great concern. The architect, Mr. J. B Colson, reported that the West end of the Cathedral, the crypt, beneath the Lady Chapel the south wall of the retro choir was leaning outwards at a dangerous degree. At that point the reason for the subsidence was unknown but he suspected it was due to the poor foundations; in fact the Cathedral had “broken its back” at the point where the thirteenth century extension work joined the Anglo-Norman structure. It was also recognised that work to strengthen the foundations would be difficult due to the high level of ground water. It was believed that the whole problem could be put right for the sum of £3,250. Further advice was sought from consulting architect T G Jackson who dug a ten foot deep exploratory trench outside the south wall of the retro choir and found that the thirteenth century wall had been built on a beech log timber raft over a bed of peat that had become compressed under the weight of the building. Below the peat was a layer of hard gravel, absolutely perfect for the foundations. The problem was how did they bridge the gap between the gravel and the walls, the gravel bed being 15 feet below the water table? He realised he needed the skills of a consulting engineer and the man he consulted was Mr Francis Fox.
Francis Fox made five recommendations set out below in the importance he gave them:
1. The south wall of the retrochoir should be shored up on the outside.
The firm of Messrs John Thompson of Peterborough was employed to carry out the work. Some 16.5 tons of tie rods were installed and the grouting was undertaken pumping in some five hundred tons of liquid cement into the stone work using a machine called the “Greathead Grouting Machine”. This work was deemed necessary before underpinning could commence. (Civil Engineer James Greathead designed the grouting machine for work on the building of the London underground. He needed to be able to pump liquid grout under pressure into the cavities and joints of the tunnel sections to consolidate the tunnel structures. Francis Fox had worked with James Greathead on the London underground and realised that the “Greathead Grouting Machine” could be utilised at Winchester to consolidate the structure before they commenced the under-pinning of the foundations).
Early underpinning started very slowly as the beech logs had to be sawn out by hand, being in a surprisingly good state of preservation. Digging through the peat layer proved difficult as soon as the bottom of the peat layer was reached, water came gushing in filling the drift to a depth of 13 feet. Pumps were employed to keep down the water but there was always the fear that the gravel bed could be sucked out from beneath the walls and cause the cathedral to collapse. When sediment actually started to appear in the pumped out water in April 1906, pumping was stopped and Francis Fox was forced to reconsider his methods. He thought that if a diver were used, he would not need to pump at all and the Cathedral would not be in such danger of collapse.
On the 6th April 1906, two divers arrived in Winchester from the firm of Siebe Gorman & Co in London, William Walker and Edwin Rayfield. Soon it was decided that the work would be best carried out by one diver alone and William Walker was deemed most suited for the task and he worked with his attendant William West, a local man, for the next 6 years.
The method of working was always the same. Outside the Cathedral a drift (or trench) would be dug at right angles to the walls. When the bottom of the foundations were reached, a tunnel was dug under the walls, removing the beech logs as they were encountered. The drift would be continued into the peat and partially through it, leaving around 18 inches. At this point the diver entered the excavation and totally removed the peat, the water rising at this point to a depth of around 13 feet. It wasn’t a pleasure to dive in as visibility in the black peaty water was almost zero, everything he did was completely by touch alone. The tunnel in which he was working extended as deep as 20 feet and above him was the underside of the Cathedral walls. Once cleared of peat, William Walker would lay jute bags of concrete on the gravel bed, side by side until the whole area was covered. Then he would slit each bag with his knife to allow the concrete to be spread evenly over the whole area. In all, four layers of jute bags of concrete was placed in the bottom of each drift beneath the walls and it would be left to set, then the drift could be pumped dry and stone mason could complete the work. The work was regularly inspected by Francis Fox who was a trained diver and he always found the work as satisfactory.
William Walker was to work there for over five years until 1911. In
that time, he worked with very few breaks and it is estimated that he handled
25,800 bags of concrete. It was always thought that the diver was
at risk of infection as he was working in a graveyard. William Walker
believed that tobacco was a remedy against all ills, always smoking a pipe
soon after he returned to the surface.
I have received a letter commanding me to be at Buckingham Palace on the 19th to receive the Royal Victorian Order at the request of His Majesty. I would be grateful if you could inform me of how to go on and anything I could do for the firm, and I must thank you with all my heart for all you have done for me in the past.
William Walker went on to work on as a diver with Siebe Gorman &
Co until sadly he died in the influenza epidemic of 1918. His grave
can be found in a corner of a municipal cemetery in Beckenham.
|THE WINCHESTER DIVER
Subtitle: The Saving of a Great Cathedral
Ian T Henderson and John Crook
Published by: Henderson & Stirk, Crawley, UK in 1984.
Illustrated card cover (as reviewed); 128 printed pages. (Also published in hard back with dust jacket).
Dimensions: 23 cms tall by 18 cms wide
In the early 1900’s, the Cathedral in Winchester, Engalnd, was in danger of collapsing because it was built on un underground river. Engineers were called in to underpin the Cathedral but it proved impossible to keep the drifts under the walls dry. The consulting engineer, Francis Fox, had the idea of employing a diver to do the work and William Walker was employed from the company of Siebe Gorman. Initially there were two diver employees, the second being Edward Rayfield, but it was found that only one diver was needed and William Walker was best suited for the job. He worked at the Cathedral from 1906 to 1911 and this books tells the story as it was seen at the time in 1984. The book is divided into 5 chapters: 1 Winchester Cathedral 1079-1905, A brief History. 2 A crippled Cathedral. 3 Diving (Under-pinning). 4 The Years of Uncertainty 1906-1908. 5 Progress and Completion 1908-1912.
It is estimated that Walker laid 25,000 bags of concrete, 115,000 concrete blocks and 900,000 bricks. For his efforts, William Walker was awarded a silver salvor and made a member of the Royal Victorian Order (RVO) by King Geirge V at a service on St Swithuns Day in the Cathedral in 1912. Sadly William Walker died as a result of the flu epedemic in 1918 but as a mark of respect for the work he did, there are two statues in the likeness of William Walker in the Cathedral, one inside the building itself, the second outside the Cathedral shop.
Note: The BBC made a TV program about William Walker in their series Cathedral. [pt]
PS comment: What a fascinating and unique achievement. I guess 'salvage' does not have to be restricted to ships!
The latest edition generally available from Winchester Cathedral.
WILLIAM WALKER - THE DIVER
WHO SAVED A CATHEDRAL
WILLIAM WALKER - THE DIVER
WHO SAVED A CATHEDRAL
WILLIAM WALKER - THE DIVER
WHO SAVED A CATHEDRAL
|WILLIAM WALKER - WINCHESTER CATHEDRAL MEMORABILIA|
Pamphlets and postcards commemmorating the restoration of Winchester Cathedral. See also the book, The Winchester Diver.
From left: An A5 coloured handout advertising the Summewr Exhibition over the St.Swithuns Festival peiod in July each year.
Next is an A4 tri-fold brochure providing 'walk-through' details for visitors to the cathedral. Then we have two postcards, the first of William Walker and assistant, a reproduction of the postacrd issued not long after the completion of the restoration; and a more recent modern composite postcard showing William Walker again, and a contemporary diagram of a drift showing the cramped conditions under which he worked.
Diver Walker was instrumental in saving the historic Winchester Cathedral, which was gradually subsiding and developing huge cracks. This required a complete 're-stumping' of the huge building - but it was built on a peat base within the surrounding water table. To stabilize the building, it required digging down to the gravel base below the peat, and building up a new foundation with cement and bricks. But as the peat in the 'drifts' (the diggings) was removed, water filled the hole. Only a diver could do the job, and William Walker did this with skill and industry. He is fondly remembered as the diver who saved a cathedral. He is remembered each year at the Festival of St. Swithuns, on 15th July. His statue is at the cathedral, no doubt one of the very few statues to the working man.
No doubt there are several books on British cathedrals that mention Winchester's diver.
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