Pioneers in Artificial Limbs

In 1863, Chard was celebrating the marriage of the Prince of Wales. Unfortunately, one of the cannons firing as part of the celebrations misfired badly and Will Singleton had his arm so badly shattered by the ramrod that it had to be amputated to the shoulder socket.Some three years later, Singleton called at the ‘Golden Boot’ in High Street where James Gillingham ran a shoemaking business. In conversation he told Gillingham that his employer ‘had made his case known in London and nothing could be done for him’. Gillingham offered to make him an arm at no cost. Once it was made and fitted Singleton could lift a hundredweight or more and wheel a wheelbarrow. Gillingham later wrote:

“There was nothing remarkable in its make,
only the principle of fit and adjustment.”
“I soon became popular. As the claims on my time in this direction increased, I gave up my original business and threw my whole energy into the new sphere of usefulness. I had to get a plant, forge, lathes and tools and learn how to use them. I soon began to work in metal, wood and plaster, leather and fabrics. I had to sink my earnings for years to establish myself.”
This was the start of a business which, for three generations produced artificial limbs unequalled anywhere in the world.

Gillinghams Factory for Making Artifical Limbs

By 1903 Gillingham had treated over 7,000 patients and later in the century many disabled ex-servicemen from both World Wars were to receive artificial limbs made in Chard.James Gillingham died early in 1924. Sidney, his son, and later Geoffrey, his grandson, maintained the family connection with the business until 1950 when it passed into other hands. The firm finally closed in the 1960s.