William Walker is venerated as the man who saved Winchester Cathedral. The cathedral had ever since its construction been slowly undermined by the river Itchen that passes right by it and, by 1906, was in serious danger of collapse. Once this was realised, Walker—by then an experienced diver—was employed to shore up the foundations. For five years, Walker dived under the cathedral and replaced the ruined support with over 25,000 bags of concrete, 115,000 concrete blocks, and 900,000 bricks. He conducted his work alone and in complete darkness. While there are statues in Walker’s honour and his work remains simply astounding, I imagine that Walker may have been quietly exasperated with the way his life turned out. Viewed from above, it seems that each time he surfaced after another major success he was pushed back underwater for an even bigger job. The esteem his work brought with it had the effect of leading him into deeper and darker places for longer periods of time. And in fact the only memory of him that now abides is expressed in the figures that commemorate him: bronze statues of a diving suit with a moustached face poking out.
The crypt of the cathedral is now home to a statue by Anthony Gormley. The crypt still floods at times, the water rising up around the statue’s legs.