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Diver Bill
April 9, 2008 2:40 PM   Subscribe

Wearing an old-fashioned diving suit, William "Diver Bill" Walker worked in 14 feet of murky water beneath Winchester Cathedral, digging out the old timber and peat foundations and replacing them with bags of concrete cement and concrete blocks. Staying underwater six hours per day for five years (1906-1911), Diver Bill moved 25,800 bags of concrete and laid 114,900 concrete blocks, saving the Norman building from certain collapse.

via BBC's brilliant radio 4 programme, Making History
posted by chuckdarwin (38 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
What a job! Thanks for posting this.
posted by moonmilk at 3:06 PM on April 9, 2008


Good man.
posted by Divine_Wino at 3:06 PM on April 9, 2008


Wow.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 3:09 PM on April 9, 2008


Wooooooo.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:09 PM on April 9, 2008


They said on the radio that he worked without gloves in freezing water and only came to the surface to warm his hands and avoid frostbite... there were other wrinkles as well, but there's not much about him on the web.
posted by chuckdarwin at 3:14 PM on April 9, 2008


From the wikipedia link: He had to work six hours a day in complete darkness as the water contained floating sediment and was impenetrable to light.

hopefully he had a book on tape or something.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 3:14 PM on April 9, 2008


Amazing man. He was also, according to the Wiki entry, King George V's diving instructor.
posted by Dizzy at 3:17 PM on April 9, 2008


That is one crazy job. Wow. Great post.
posted by GuyZero at 3:20 PM on April 9, 2008


This guy died to the FLU? What a pansy!
posted by absalom at 3:29 PM on April 9, 2008


Good God what a job. When I worked concrete laying we were off to brew a cuppa in the van at the first sign of a shower.
posted by Abiezer at 3:33 PM on April 9, 2008


This guy died to the FLU? What a pansy!

Not just any flu, my friend... the Spanish Influenza outbreak of 1918.
posted by BobFrapples at 3:44 PM on April 9, 2008


Stud.
posted by billder at 3:44 PM on April 9, 2008


absalom, I don't know to what extent you're joking, but the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918 killed more people than World War I. Think less a really bad cold, and more The Black Death.
posted by Grangousier at 3:45 PM on April 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


They just don't make 'em like that anymore, nosireebob!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:46 PM on April 9, 2008


He had to work six hours a day in complete darkness as the water contained floating sediment and was impenetrable to light.

Do you think it was complete darkness or do you think he have a small light to illuminate immediately in front of him and it was just dark all around? How would you do masonry work without sight at all? Just by the feel of it?
posted by jlowen at 3:50 PM on April 9, 2008


During his time working at Winchester William Walker cycled home 150 miles to Croydon each weekend to see his family.

I thought he was cool, but it turns out he's one of those damned hipster cyclists.

BobFrapples writes "Not just any flu, my friend... the Spanish Influenza outbreak of 1918."

As an added bonus, Spanish Flu is suspected of triggering cytokine storms which made those with stronger immune systems more likely to die. The dastardly virus turned his own badassitude against him.
posted by mullingitover at 4:00 PM on April 9, 2008 [3 favorites]


Wow! What an amazing guy!

jlowen- yes, just by the feel of it, judging from my limited experience in silt and mud. In SCUBA training we would put pipes and other construction projects together on land before trying it underwater, so that we could do it blind once we were underwater. You could not see your hand in front of your face even.
posted by small_ruminant at 4:04 PM on April 9, 2008


cycled home 150 miles to Croydon
They were all that tough back then though - was reading about one lad (name escapes me) who climbed a lot of the early routes in Snowdonia. He'd do a full week at his job in Manchester (iirc), cycle off to North Wales for the weekend, scale some tricky cliff faces then cycle back Sunday night to clock on for the Monday morning.
posted by Abiezer at 4:10 PM on April 9, 2008


One of the better historical landmarks to visit in England, imho. The water table still rises visibly in the church's lower confines. The remains of monks from the nearby monastic settlement some 1,100 ago, if I remember the tour guide's remarks correctly, are buried in one section. The water covers their crypt for parts of the year, and they have erected a statue which seems to be suspended atop the water there. Quite stirring.
Then there's the building itself, showing its Catholic roots and Protestant remodeling. And don't forget the flag stones which mark the burial spots of people in the church's floor, including Izaak Walton, Jane Austen and William II.
A highly recommended visit.
posted by bigskyguy at 4:13 PM on April 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


Also the Round Table.

OK, not THE Round Table.
posted by Artw at 4:32 PM on April 9, 2008


Noooooooooooooobody expects the Spanish Influenza!
posted by zerobyproxy at 4:44 PM on April 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


They did similar work on one of the temples that was flooded by the Aswan Dam. They sent divers down with lifting bags to disassemble an arched gate that was too far away from the main temple (which was surrounded by a cofferdam and pumped out in order to move it). I can't figure out which temple it was though...
posted by smackfu at 4:46 PM on April 9, 2008


There's a memorial to Walker in the cathedral. I can't find it online but the inscription is beautifully written, making the point that he literally saved the building with his bare hands.
posted by Hogshead at 5:04 PM on April 9, 2008


This is fascinating, I had never heard of this person or his work. Unimaginable. Great post.
posted by everichon at 5:47 PM on April 9, 2008


Great story. WTH!
posted by tellurian at 6:27 PM on April 9, 2008


I can't believe I've never even heard of this until now. What a crazy story about a pretty amazing guy. I even like the story about the wrong statue linked in the Wikipedia article.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 7:33 PM on April 9, 2008


"He had to work six hours a day in complete darkness as the water contained floating sediment and was impenetrable to light."

Luxury.
posted by parki at 7:37 PM on April 9, 2008 [3 favorites]


What a great story!
posted by amyms at 9:54 PM on April 9, 2008


LOL, parki! :D
posted by darkstar at 10:43 PM on April 9, 2008


Also from the Wiki:

He married his second wife, sister of his first, in 1907 and had several children during the time he worked at Winchester.

Dude.

*bows in respect*
posted by darkstar at 10:47 PM on April 9, 2008


has anybody checked on his work?

i mean, what if he just stacked those bags up against a wall and sat down for the rest of the day? just asking ...
posted by altman at 12:51 AM on April 10, 2008


but seriously ...

i am impressed. they don't seem to build cathedrals or men like they used to.
posted by altman at 12:52 AM on April 10, 2008


They don't make 'em like they used to, for sure!

Oh, great, quit reading my mind--altman!
posted by hadjiboy at 2:52 AM on April 10, 2008


Bloody Normans, they come over here stealing our jobs, they're nothing but bloody cowboys.
posted by biffa at 3:55 AM on April 10, 2008


There is no chin inside Diver Bill's helmet. There is only another concentration of awesome.
posted by eritain at 11:29 AM on April 10, 2008


No gods, no kings, just Diver Bill.
posted by Artw at 11:40 AM on April 10, 2008


I had a three-and-a-half hour bottom time in about eight feet of water last January and I was nearly dead afterwards. I can't imagine six hours a day stacking cement bags for five years.
posted by atchafalaya at 4:44 PM on April 10, 2008



This guy died to the FLU? What a pansy!

Well, it was the style at the time.
posted by tomble at 7:22 PM on April 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


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