James Box – Artificial Limb Maker

Did a serious injury prompt the start of a family business?

In 1861, James Box was a young boy of about 14 years old. He lived with his parents, John and Ann Box, and several siblings, in Surrey, England.1 By 1871, James was on his own, having moved from Surrey to West Ham, Essex.  James was now 25 years old, unmarried and noted on the 1871 census was his occupation “Anatomical Mechanician”. In the last column of the census, under the heading, “Whether Deaf and Dumb, Blind, Imbecile or Idiot, Lunatic” is the comment, “Leg amputated”.2

Box snip 1871

What did an Anatomical Mechanician do and was James’ injury the impetus for a family business in which his wife, two sons, a daughter, his younger brother, and two nephews would all work?

In 1878, James and his younger brother, George, started their business in Manchester, Lancashire under the name, “J. Box and Co. Artificial Limb and Surgical Instrument Makers”.

leg
Artificial Leg, England, 1890-1950. Credits: Science Museum, London (broughttolife.sciencemuseum.org.uk)

The job of an anatomical mechanician or artificial limb maker was described in 1855 as, “When from accident or disease it has become advisable to have the whole or a part of the natural leg removed…the first thought invariably arising in a patient’s mind is how he can possibly walk and pursue his usual avocation when minus a limb. Difficult as the matter appears, it is by no means too much so for human ingenuity to accomplish…It is therefore, clearly the part of the “mechanician” to render himself acquainted with the anatomical details of the limb he has to imitate…and also ascertain any peculiar action by which the various joints are brought into motion or sustained at rest.”3

James Box’s inclusion in the 1883 Manchester and Salford Directory:4

JamesBox1847_1883Directory_arrow

 

Unfortunately, in the same year, James Box died at the age of 37. His brother, George, took over the running of the business. George seemed to be a busy man, heavily involved with the community, his church and trips to the United States.5

GeorgeBox1855_bio snip

George, his son, George Percival Box and his nephew, Henry A. Box were all part of the business in 1911.6

GeorgeBox1855_1911Directory arrow

The last mention of various members of the Box family working as Artificial Limb Makers and/or Surgical Instrument Makers are in 1939:7

Annie J. Box, aged 67, occupation: Surgical Appliance Maker (child of James Box who started the business).
James Joseph Box, aged 65, Artificial Limb Maker (child of James Box who started the business).
George Percival Box, age 56, son of George Box (who took over the business when brother, John died).

From the early 1870s to approximately 1939, various members of the Box family worked in the Artificial Limb and Surgical Implement business started by James Box. Did the amputation of James’ leg prompt the start of a family business? It certainly seems possible.

This post was written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge from Amy Johnson Crow. Week 36 prompt: Work

 


  1. 1861 census of England, Surrey, Leatherhead, p. 42 (stamped), James Box; image, Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com : accessed 22 February 2016); citing The National Archives, RG9, piece 420, folio 24; Epsom registration district, ED 1, household 293. 
  2. 1871 census of England, Essex, West Ham, p. 2 (stamped), James Box; image, Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com : accessed 22 February 2016); citing The National Archives, RG10, piece 1629, folio 114; West Ham registration district, ED 10, household 9. 
  3. Henry Heather Bigg, On Artificial Limbs Their Construction and Application (London: John Churchill, New Burlington Street, 1855), chapter 1, part 1, B; digital images, Internet Archive (http://archive.org : accessed 6 September 2018). 
  4. Isaac Slater, ed., Slater’s Royal National Commercial Directory of Manchester and Salford (Manchester, England: Royal National Directory Offices, 1883), 44; digital images, University of Leicestershire (http://specialcollections.le.ac.uk/digital/collection/p16445coll4/id/149008 : accessed 9 September 2018). 
  5. Manchester Archives, digital images, Mr. G. Box (https://www.flickr.com/photos/manchesterarchiveplus/sets/ : accessed 9 September 2018). 
  6. Isaac Slater, ed., Slater’s Manchester, Salford & Suburban Directory (Manchester, England: Slater’s Directory Limited, 1911), 32; digital images, University of Leicestershire (http://specialcollections.le.ac.uk/digital/collection : accessed 8 September 2018). 
  7. 1939 Register, Lancashire, England, Manchester, RG 101/4469J Letter Code: NJKC, Schedule 49, George Percival Box; digital image, Ancestry (http://ancestry.com : accessed 9 September 2018), citing The National Archives, Kew, London, England. Also 1939 Register, Lancashire, England, Manchester, RG 101/4469J Letter Code: MJNT, Schedule 71-1, Annie J. Box and James Joseph Box; digital image, Ancestry(http://ancestry.com : accessed 9 September 2018), citing The National Archives, Kew, London, England.