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By Peter Thorpe on

Drawing of an artificial leg from Crewe

Find out more about an unusual item from our archive with Search Engine Assistant Peter Thorpe.

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.

rtificial lef

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.

Artificial leg drawing


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.

Hardwicke locomotive

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.

4 comments on “Drawing of an artificial leg from Crewe

  1. This is a nostalgia piece for me. As a former medial officer at Crewe works, in fact the last BR doctor there this drawing was on the wall in my office. It was actually heading for the rubbish bin until one of my colleagues and predecessor, Dr Dennis Brady rescued it and had it mounted in a frame on the wall. At privatisation I removed it to Rail House in Crewe and donated it to Crewe Heritage Centre. I am pleased to see it has made its way into the national archives. There is a reference to it in Reed’s book ‘Crewe Locomotive Works and its Men.
    I am now in New Zealand and am saddened to hear that Crewe Works has diminished to nothing and that Britain imports railway stock rather than being the world’s railway manufacturer.

    Ian Gourlay, Kawerau, New Zealnd, ex BR Medical officer Crewe and Manchester 1983-95

    1. Hi Ian, Thank you for the fascinating information! Interestingly the drawing shows no obvious evidence of being framed in the past, and I understand the drawings in our Crewe archive were transferred from the British Transport Commission’s collections well before 1995. I wonder whether this is a different version of the drawing and Crewe Heritage Centre still have your framed example?


      1. Peter

        I think it was the only one. The frame was a simple wood and glass one made in the works to hang it on the medical centre wall. I left the frame in the Works Medical Centre and took the drawing as a rolled up scroll to Rail house. When I gave it to Crewe Heritage Centre it was as a rolled up scroll. From memory i think I may have passed it to them earlier then 1995 as the BR Medical Service withdrew from BREL when in was privatised in 1989. It would therefore have been given to the Heritage Centre between 1989 and 1991. It is wonderful to have the leg on view at work again as it is now my computer desktop. Somewhere at home I have a full size copy which was done by the S&T Engineers on their plan printer in Rail House, Crewe. It would be interesting to know if there are more than one original in circulation.
        In the 1980s we did advertise in the local paper to see if anyone still had one of these limbs in an attic or shed but we had no reply.


  2. FWW’s brother Col W G Webb was my husband’s grandfather. I am interested in the Family History and would very much like a copy of his artificial limb design. Much has been written about his mechanical prowess but little about the man behind it- except that he was stern and austere! I am trying to get a record for the family of any softer or more thoughtful side. He must have had one as he made considerable provision in his will for the good of Crewe residents. How is it known ‘he had a fear of mental illness all his life’?

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