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On Track for Change: Receiving an artificial limb

We’re delighted to welcome back the team from Head of Steam – Darlington Railway Museum, with more from their ‘On Track for Change’ exhibition. This post looks at some of the people who received artificial limbs manufactured at the North Road Works in Darlington – including one necessitated by service in the First World War. Finding out more about the individuals behind the statistics is really important – and this post is an excellent example of what can be revealed through research. Our thanks to Alison, Ray and Shannon for this post!

As a part of the ‘On Track for Change’ exhibit, the Museum is hosting a number of free online talks, including one from the project on Thursday 26 August at 7.30pm. You can find out more and register to join Mike’s talk here.


‘On Track for Change’ has been a two year project at Head of Steam – Darlington Railway Museum to explore the history of artificial limb making by the railways. The project has been funded by Arts Council England National Lottery and Friends of Darlington Railway Centre & Museum. Further support has come from Tees Valley Museums.

In our previous blog, we discovered the history of artificial limb making at North Road Works in Darlington. The next step in our project was to find out more about those who received them. Who were they? What did they do? How did they acquire an artificial limb from the railways?

Edward Gladstone Hall's staff register
Edward Gladstone Hall’s entry in the NER’s Register of Enginemen & Firemen. His accident is recorded mid-right.
Courtesy Head of Steam – Darlington Railway Museum.

The individuals we found who received limbs came from a range of sources, mainly from our own collections. Edward Gladstone Hall featured in our Registers of Enginemen and Firemen. Edward was born in April 1891 in Stockton and began working for the North Eastern Railway (NER) in May 1907. He began as an engine cleaner at Newport and was later appointed fireman. In 1913, Edward was shunting at South Bank Brick Works when his foot was run over by an engine and his injury resulted in the amputation of his left foot.

After recovering from his injury, Edward was able to return to the NER working in the stores. He received a pay cut due to the change in occupation but quickly became a clerk for the company, a much better paid position. Edward worked for the railways until his retirement in 1956. Edward married his wife, Ada Mary Lawson in 1919 in Middlesbrough. He lived and worked in the Tees Valley area until his death in 1962.

More individuals were found in our staff registers, including Alfred Ampleford who highlights the large number of railway employees returning injured from the First World War. Alfred was born in Durham in 1885 and began his career for the North Eastern Railway (NER) in 1901 as a watchman at Tyne Port. In 1915, Alfred enlisted in the NER Battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers and was injured during the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

Alfred Ampleford (left) at official opening of NER Cottage Homes 1921. From the NER’s Staff Magazine.
Courtesy Head of Steam – Darlington Railway Museum.

Alfred was discharged from active service in December 1917 after having his leg amputated. He was examined by the NER Medical Officer, Dr McBride in 1918, who recommended his return to work as a gateman. Alfred declined this post and left the company but returned a few years later as a lavatory attendant. Alfred was married to Mary and together they had ten children. Perhaps it was to support his family that he returned to the railways in a lower paid position.

Alfred Ampleford's staff register.
Alfred Ampleford’s entry in the NER staff register.
Courtesy Head of Steam – Darlington Railway Museum.

Our earliest example was found in reference material during initial research. Census information revealed more details about him. Edward Bell was an engine driver for the Stockton and Darlington Railway (S&DR) who lost his leg in a railway accident in 1836. He was given money from the company for an artificial leg. Two years later, he approached the company directors for a further donation towards a new leg as the spring in his had broken. The company give him 20 shillings, half of the £2 needed for a new one.

He raised the rest of the money and received a new artificial leg. He went back to being an engineman for the S&DR. Edward retired in the 1860s as a signalman and lived in Witton-le-Wear with his wife and their three children. He died in 1899 after a long career on the railways.

The exhibition features more individual stories from wider sources such as the NER Traffic Committee Minutes at the National Archives and the NER Staff Magazines. From these individual stories and accident claims documented in our collections, we pieced together the process of applying for an artificial limb. Patterns soon started to emerge around donation amounts, occupation and offers to return to work after recovery.

Applying for a limb was part of the more general claims process the NER had in place for all accidents. The process was lengthy and involved the claims agents and the medical officers who ensured no one was defrauding the company. It was their recommendations that often determined if compensation or a donation was received. An artificial limb would also be awarded at this time if deemed appropriate.

As well as the accident and injury, the ‘character’ of the employee was also taken into account. As part of a claim, the staff record of the employee would be consulted and poor behaviour would be reported, such as turning up late or drunk to work. An employee’s character could drastically alter the final outcome.

An individual’s position on the railways often determined the outcome. For example, after years of training and investment from the NER, a locomotive driver could expect better compensation and provision of an artificial limb than a recently recruited porter. It could also influence any opportunities to return to work. A driver would be more likely to return to his original position or equivalent. A porter would likely be demoted.

Questions still remain around artificial limbs and the railways. How were limbs ordered from North Road Works? How many limbs were made? How long did it take complete an artificial limb? Who determined what limb was made? We would love to hear from anyone who may have more information or might remember the limb bench.

The ‘On Track for Change’ exhibition is open until Monday 30 August 2021. Please visit for opening times and booking information.


Alison Grange, Ray Holland & Shannon O’Neill

Alison is the Collections & Learning Assistant at Head of Steam – Darlington Railway Museum and has worked in museums since 2012. Her work at Head of Steam has focused on the social history of railways and improving access to the museum’s collections.

Ray joined the project after being invited by an occupational therapist during a rehabilitation session following an above-knee amputation. His love of history meant he was on board immediately and he was fascinated by the stories and hardships that had been endured by some of the recipients of limbs.

Shannon is a Collections Research Assistant for Tees Valley Museums and works with collections across five local authorities. Her research interests include medical and social history with a focus on the Victorian period.


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