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Prospect House

Built 1728 Home and Workshop of James Gillingham pioneer in making Artificial Limbs.

Prospect house was built in 1728 it was altered early in the 19th century and again in the 1860’s it is a grade 2 listed building, it is known for one of its former residence.

James Gillingham was born around the year 1840. He was the son of David, a court shoemaker who had set up a high quality business in Chard, but who had died when James was only ten years old. Mrs Gillingham tried to carry on the trade with a manager, but James, after a brief apprenticeship in London, came back to run the business and maintain his mother who lived to the ripe old age of 91.

Mr Singleton who worked at the Cricket St Thomas estate, lost a limb after a cannon fired to celebrate the marriage of the Prince of Wales in 1863 shattered one of his arms. His arm was amputated at the shoulder socket by a young Dr Spicer of Durston.

One story goes three years after the accident, Mr Singleton visited shoemaker James Gillingham at his shop,’ The Golden Boot’ in High Street. Whilst chatting Mr Singleton told Mr Gillingham no one could help him, later Mr Gillingham offered to make him an arm. James Gillingham went to see Dr N Spicer senior and Dr N Spicer junior, who had performed the amputation. They said it was no use, nothing could be done. So James Gillingham made and fitted a jointed wooden arm and the keeper was able to work again lifting a hundred weight or more load and wheel a barrow etc. Mr Gillingham added “There was nothing remarkable in its make only the principle of fit and adjustment”. Mr Gillingham’s skills soon became popular and as demand for his new work increased, he gave up his original business to concentrate on the venture. He had to get new machines and learn how to use them, working in metal, wood plaster, leather and fabrics.

The making of wooden arms and legs demanded hours of skilled workmanship. Eventually, the growing business moved to Prospect House here in Combe Street and continued there for 80 years.

Gillingham was also a prolific inventor, inventions such as radiators for greenhouses and workshops, patent fire-grates and fire escapes.

He never received anything from his other inventions, limb-making flourished and eventually Gillingham handed over control of the workshops to his son Sidney who as well as making the prosthetic limbs, was known in the town for a lifetime’s service as captain of the fire brigade.

By the year 1903 it was claimed that they had treated over 7000 patients, many as a result of the two world wars. The workshops at Prospect House gave hope to many thousands. Old James Gillingham died early in 1924, Sidney his son and later Geoffrey his grandson maintained the family connection until 1950 when the business passed into other hands and was closed in the 1960’s.

More information available at Chard Museum or on Chard Museum website

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