The Twickenham Museum
People : Watermen and Divers

Professor Cockles
Twickenham's tin-can diver entertains the crowds again

Trevor Baylis warms up the crowd, ably assisted by Ralph Cox and Ed Harris from the Twickenham Museum

The Original Professor Cockles

Professor Cockles (George Wiltshire), Twickenham’s Tin-can diver, was an underwater stunt diver. He entertained crowds in Twickenham from the 1930s to the 1970s. His bizarre equipment was made from scrap material. He was frequently called upon to rescue items from the river and he also saved many people from drowning.

From 1932, when still only 17, he was featured in magazines and newspapers. Articles appeared in both local and national newspapers. The front page of a national newspaper, in 1934, reported that “a crowd gathers each week to watch him diving with the aid of his weird-looking apparatus”. Most of these “exhibitions” were on The Embankment at Twickenham. A longer article on Professor Cockles, illustrated with original photographs, can be found on this web site here. The Museum has much of his original equipment.

Cockles prepares to enter the river

Cockles Dive Re-enacted

On 18th June 2005, as part of the Twickenham Festival, the Museum sponsored a re-enactment of one of Cockles' dives, in collaboration with GH Engineering & Diving Services Ltd. More than 400 people expectantly watched from the Embankment and the footbridge to Eel Pie Island. Trevor Baylis, O.B.E., inventor of the clockwork radio and Eel Pie Island resident, acted as Master of Ceremonies, standing at the end of the bridge. He introduced the event and related some of his own youthful diving experiences.

Professor Cockles then appeared through the crowd wearing a tin-can helmet and an air bottle made from a fire extinguisher - Cockles' original equipment - and slowly walked down to the water's edge.

The crowd on the footbridge watches as Cockles submerges

After waving to the crowd, he stepped gingerly into the river and waded out to the centre, next to the bridge to the Island. As he gradually disappeared underwater, air was fed to his helmet via a tube from Cockles' original stirrup pump on the embankment, operated by a succession of children.

Cockles reappears with the keys and an eel

Cockles retrieves a bunch of keys and an eel

Halfway to the island, when only the rubber duck attached to his helmet was visible, he attempted to find a bunch of keys which had been “lost” in the river. A stream of bubbles was all that could be seen. At the second attempt, he found the keys and waded back towards the shore. As he emerged, he held up the keys together with an eel he had found in the murky depths! To thunderous applause, he emerged triumphant on the Embankment.

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