Our archive stores contain around one million engineering drawings. Most of these are designs for locomotives, carriages and wagons, ranging from general arrangement drawings of an entire vehicle down to components such as springs and valves – and even table lamps and luggage racks for carriages.
In somewhat smaller numbers there are also architectural and civil engineering drawings, along with designs for other railway equipment like carts, cranes and turntables.
Here’s a more unusual item from the collection: a drawing of an artificial leg, produced by the Crewe Works drawing office in 1885.
The details on the drawing (“2 off, 1 to full lines and 1 to dotted lines”) show that the plans were for the production of two artificial legs.
So why was this drawing produced in a works that was best known for producing thousands of locomotives?
The answer is connected with the work of Francis William Webb. Webb had been works manager at Crewe, the locomotive works of the London & North Western Railway (LNWR). From 1871 until 1902 he served in the post of Chief Mechanical Engineer for the company. Webb is best known for the many locomotives that he was in charge of designing, one of which, Hardwicke, is on display here at the museum.
However Webb was more than just a locomotive designer. He also played a large part in the re-organisation of the LNWR engineering works, which resulted in the company being far more self-sufficient. Whilst works manager, he was responsible for the start of steel production at Crewe, and after his appointment as Chief Mechanical Engineer he moved all signalling work in-house (at the time, it was common for the railway companies to use specialist contractors to supply signalling equipment).
This self sufficiency extended to the company producing its own rails, bricks – and even the production of artificial limbs for disabled staff. Serious injuries to staff were remarkably common on the railways at this time, especially for the permanent way staff working on the track, and workers involved with shunting vehicles. During 1885 alone, 55 LNWR workers were killed and 398 injured due to the travelling of trains or movement of vehicles.