James gillingham (1839-1924)
NEW limbs for old

James Gillingham was born in 1839, the son of David, a court shoemaker who had set up a high quality business in Chard called the 'Golden Boot'. David died when James was only ten years old and his mother carried on the trade with a manager. James eventually went to London and after a brief apprenticeship as a shoemaker came back to run the business and maintain his mother (very successfully too, as she lived to the ripe old age of 91!).

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In March 1863, like most other towns in the country, Chard was celebrating the marriage of the Prince of Wales. The town was decorated, bands were playing, there was a vast procession and cannons were being fired. Unfortunately, one of the cannons misfired badly. Will Singleton, gamekeeper to Lord Bridport of Cricket St Thomas, had his arm so badly shattered by the ramrod that young Dr Spicer, of Durstons in High Street, Chard, had to amputate the whole arm to the shoulder socket.

 

Some three years later, Singleton, still employed by Lord Bridport called at the ‘Golden Boot’ in High Street where James Gillingham carried on his late father’s shoemaking business. In conversation he told Gillingham that Lord Bridport ‘had made his case known in London but nothing could be done for him’. Gillingham later wrote:

 

'I offered to make him an arm, it should cost him nothing. I first went to see N. Spicer senior and N. Spicer junior, who had performed the operation, they said it was no use, nothing could be done. I said to the keeper “if you are willing, I will try”. The matter was decided. The arm was made and fitted; the keeper could lift a hundredweight or more, load and wheel a wheelbarrow, etc…. There was nothing remarkable in its make, only the principle of fit and adjustment'

.. and so the story of Gillingham's work in designing prosthetics began.

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William Singleton, far left, the motivation behind the work of James Gillingham

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Listen to William Singleton tell his story.