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Thread: A tale of a little red hat or two

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
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    Default A tale of a little red hat or two

    An old friend of mine gave up smoking & took up knitting to occupy himself, after much teasing I asked him to make me a Cousteau knit cap, He spent months peering at old images of team Cousteau & watching the various movies until he felt he had it nailed, a few months later he proudly presented me with his fine handiwork which I wear fairly often. It is a meticulous copy considering he had never seen the real item, even down to the quirky pointed shape.

    Standard issue for divers since the earliest days was a red knitted hat, or "cap, comforter" in admiralty speak - most early pictures of hard hat divers above the surface show them wearing one, hence the adoption by later famous underwater explorers like Hans & Lotte Haas and Jaques Cousteau.

    I happened across the auction below whilst trawling ebay for Siebe Gorman artifacts, and suddenly I have begun a collection of red divers knit caps... (and a ww2 issued commandos cap comforter) and the story behind the second red knitted hat is a bit special.

    As well as the hat a fantastic letter of provenance arrived tucked into the brim detailing how Tony came to own the hat and its journey from one of Englands greatest divers to the current owner.

    (The original also had a lucky penny tucked into the brim so I am now on the hunt for a 1906 one penny...)

    If you want one and there are any left Tony only trades through eBay & his contact email is also below, he is involved in demonstration hardhat dives in historical gear with 'the admiralty pattern diving unit' on the Isle of Wight & works with the local museum.


    (Text from the auction)
    Ash Diving Services are pleased to offer the next of a limited number of exact copies of a famous divers' red comforter.

    William Walker (1869-1918) was a typical old fashioned Siebe Gorman standard dress diver, who plied his trade in the years leading upto the First World war. His career had two highlights, firstly he achieved the elevated position of Siebe Gormans' Chief Diver, over-seeing some 200 divers working around the world. Secondly, and more notably, he single-handedly saved one of Englands' oldest Coronation Cathederals.

    Between 1906 and 1911, William Walker worked to under-pin the foundations of Winchester Cathedral, which had originally been built on a peat bog a thousand years earlier. For six years, he spent six hours a day in 20' of black water, working blind in the pitch black. Against these odds he managed to lay 25,000 bags of concrete, 115,000 concrete blocks and 900,000 engineering bricks. For his gallant efforts he was awarded the honour of the Royal Victorian Order. Today, a bust is on display at the cathedral.

    As far as it possible to go back, this red comforter was the common pattern used by divers at the end of the 1800's and the early 1900's, including the Army, the Royal Navy and the many hundreds of civil-engineering divers. The red woollen hat was and still is, their trademark. By the 1950's the general use of S.C.U.B.A. equipment began, and with well known diving personalities, the likes of Cousteau and Hass, the red woollen hat soon became the world wide, recognised symbol of the diver.

    In 1976, I was fortunate enough to obtain William Walkers' red woollen comforter and a letter of authenticity. After many years of continued use the comforter became the worse for wear, so I asked a retired lady hand-knitter to produce an exact replica for me. After several requests from fellow divers for a similar piece of kit, I have coersed her to produce a limited number of 100. The finished product is that expected of the old school. The attention to detail is exemplary, which includes yarn, weight, needle size, stitch, dimension, construction and of course, colour. Each item takes 9-10 hours to complete.

    The outcome is a hand made authentic replica, exactly as it was, brand new, 100 years ago.

    The next William Walker 'Cathedral Comforter' with an overview of provenance is now ready for dispatch.This item will be dispatched securely, by first class, recorded delivery.

    William Walker

    William Walker is probably the most famous hardhat diver in the world. He is known as the man who saved Winchester Cathedral. In 1079 the foundations of the cathedral were placed on a layer of peat without knowing it. Over the years it turned out that the cathedral was sinking. Soon the layer of peat was discovered. The only way to save the cathedral was to remove the complete layer of peat and replace it with concrete. The space below the cathedral was 3.5 meters high and filled with turbid ground water. A diver had to do this job. William Walker was a diver at the Siebe Gorman company. He spent his days below the cathedral from 1906 till 1912. Thanks to him Winchester Cathedral is still standing there. If you ever visit it you will see a statue to honor Walkers effort

    Text from

    More on William Walker can be found on wikipedia

    William Walker in a siebe gorman hardhat divers suit, with Winchester cathedral in the background.

    Winchester Cathedral, saved by his efforts (some of the older readers may remember the David Crosby / CSNY song)

    The statue of William Walker on display inside the cathedral, installed long after he passed on to replace an earlier statue based on the wrong diver!

    Another satisfied owner's report
    Knotty Ash and The Little Red Hat

    While checking out eBay recently, I ran across a red divers hat (comforter) up for bid. Along with the hat was this intriguing story of how it originated and the replica now being sold by Tony "Knotty" Ash of Ash Diving Services, Isle of Wight, England.

    The cherished red woolen hat was originally owned by William Walker, the famous diver who saved one of England's 11th century Coronation Cathedrals from collapsing. Walker also achieved the position of Chief Diver for Siebe Gorman, responsible for over 200 divers, working around the world.

    William Walker was born in 1864 and started his diving career in 1887 at the Royal Naval dockyard, Portsmouth, England. Starting as a pontoon nipper, then divers tender and finally qualifying as a Standard diver. Beginning in May 1906, William Walker was to spend over five years, single handedly underpinning one end of Winchester Cathedral. In that time he laid more than 25,000 bags of concrete and 115,000 concrete blocks. This was all achieved blind as the work was carried out in black water. To acknowledge his service to the Church and his profession, there is a bust erected at Winchester Cathedral celebrating his achievements.

    William Walker's red woolen hat was obtained by Knotty Ash when auctioned at a Royal Navy divers reunion in 1976. Supported by an excellent provenance confirming original ownership, it is known to be the hat worn by 'Billy' while on the Cathedral job. The hat can also be identified by several well-known photographs, in particular the front cover and page 20 of the book "William Walker the diver who saved Winchester Cathedral'' by Frederick Bussby (available from the HDS-USA).

    Due to age and poor condition of the original hat, Knotty is no longer able to wear the hat as a divers comforter, so he decided to have a replica knitted to replace it. After several requests from other divers to obtain one of the hats, Knotty coerced a local retired lady into knitting a limited number. She has produced an exact, hand knitted, authentic reproduction of William Walkers red woolen hat, paying close attention to the yarn, weight, needle size, stitch, dimension, construction and of course color, Guards Tunic Red.

    This style of hat was not only used by the famous Cathedral diver as there are many early photographs of divers wearing this 'sandcastle' style hat. If you are interested in obtaining a true piece of diving history for your next hard hat dive, check out eBay (diving helmet) to purchase one of Knotty's replicas of William Walker's little red hat or email Knotty at to order one direct.

    We are also pleased to welcome Knotty as a new member. He is not only a pro-diver, but a really nice guy as well. ~ Charlie Orr
    Last edited by; 10-24-2007 at 19:18.
    Delete me, this is not posting.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jul 2007

    Default wow

    that is an amazing peice of history. The man who saved a cathedral BY DIVING!
    I was given a red woven knitted woolie hat from an old lady friend of my mothers in 2000 and though a loose knit it was a comfort in winter, only now i appreciate the sentiment. The man is truly a legend and rightly honoured by his bust, i have been to winchester before and feel enlightened now, thank you for this informative post and god bless that man, the diver.A rare breed and well appreciated.

  3. #3
    Member JoeW's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    600KM N.W. of the Big Smoke in NSW. Australia...


    Great story GD .Good how the 3 stories Cap /Diver/ Church are linked. Very interesting. And I remember that song of CSNY, dam it I must be old.
    Last edited by JoeW; 10-24-2007 at 19:18. Reason: addition
    "Contact! Wait Out.."

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Sep 2016


    New here from Australia and I am just looking for a story about history for my class. This is really a nice story and could anyone knew how we get this kind of comforters nowadays?

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    Middle Tennessee


    The Ghost dog returns!!! WOW

  6. #6
    Super Moderator dave's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2008


    please note - this thread was originally posted on 10-25-2007...
    Last edited by dave; 09-24-2016 at 11:33.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    Middle Tennessee


    Oh, good catch. Someone has played a little trick. I mentioned him in a post just yesterday and then he shows up.

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