Gillinghams (company)

Gillinghams, an artificial limb producer, based in Chard, Somerset, was established by James Gillingham. Gillingham ran an ordinary shoemaking business, the Golden Boot, in Chard. In 1866, he met a man who had lost an arm in a cannon mishap and had been told by doctors that there was nothing to be done about it. Eager to put his craftsmanship to test, Gillingham offered to make the man a new arm for free.

The new leather limb he built was strong and rigid but also perfectly fitted. The medical world noticed his talent, and Gillingham soon began producing a variety of artificial limbs. Using a secret process wherein he molded the leather to the client’s limb before hardening it, Gillingham started a business making prostheses.

By 1910, he had restored mobility and function to over 15,000 patients, including many disabled ex-servicemen from both World Wars. He photographed many of his patients, and published the photos in medical journals to advise surgeons on the best amputation methods.

Gillingham died 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.