WIlliam Loveday.

Today’s forgotten hero is William Dunmore Loveday. A man from very humble beginnings who saved thousands of lives.

He was born in the small Northamptonshire town of Irthlingborough in 1864, and was a 3rd cousin 3 times removed to the lady I married there a lot later on. His father, William, was a shoemaker and his mother, Louisa, was a drapery shopkeeper on the High Street. Business for both must have been good for by 1891 our William was a medical student. In 1901 William was living in Wantage Berkshire and practising as a surgeon, in WW1 he became the Medical Superintendent of St Katherine’s Red Cross Hospital there. As a doctor and surgeon he undoubtedly saved a lot of lives. But that’s not his full story.

In 1916 he designed, and patented, the Wantage Adjustable Crutch. That saved thousands of people.

Crutches had been around for many hundreds of years. Often crudely made by the user and all had the same problem. The weight would be borne by the armpit of the user. This seems like a good solution. The area is strong enough and it leaves the arms free. But it seriously restricts the blood flow both to and from the arms. If the user does not take care to ease his weight from the crutch often enough and for long enough the consequences can be dramatic. The arm can turn gangrenous. At the very least the patient, having already lost a leg, will have to lose an arm. Or possibly both arms. If not treated in time gangrene is fatal.

The Wantage crutch was subtly different. There was a padded leather rest under the shoulder, but the crutch would be adjusted so this was just a little too short to support the user’s weight, that was done with a cross piece where the patient used his straight arms to bear his weight. During WW1 one factory in Wantage produced over 60,000, and that wasn’t the only producer in the town let alone the country.

In 1918 Dr. Loveday was awarded the Order of the British Empire for his work in developing the Wantage crutch. In 1932 Dr William Dunmore Loveday OBE, MRCS, LRCP  died in Hartly Witney in Hampshire.


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