Tuesday, November 27, 2018

From surgical boot to a stage clog

My cousin Tommy Harrington contracted polio as a child. He survived the illness but,like many others he ended with one leg shorter than the other.  The only remedy then was the surgical boot, a contraption consisting of a brace on the longer leg and a heavy boot with a thick sole on the shorter.  Like most children fitted with the boot Tommy hated it. He knew that it helped with his walking but it made him stand out from the other children. Also at this time in the early 1900s children whose limbs had been damaged by polio were "cripples" and rarely got beyond that either in description or aspiration.

Tommy Harrington would not accept that. He developed a liking for music possibly derived and perhaps learned from his grandfather Alphons Eder, a street musician,  how  to play the accordion and concertina. As well as being a natural musician, never learning to read music, he began writing comic songs and performing them for anyone who would listen.

Later he decided to go on the stage, developing a yodelling style of singing and dressed in his own version of a Dutch costume. He later said that the costume was inspired by wanting to cover his surgical boot so baggy trousers did that well.. Eventually he was able to have some special boots made which resembled wooden clogs, which he wore to the end of his stage career.

He appeared on the Music Halls which were still popular and numerous in those days, recorded many of his songs and even had hits, such as they were then.  I told much of this in a previous blog. I am reminded that he died twenty-five years ago but you will still find mention of him on the internet.  By today's standards a "celebrity".


  1. Very interesting. Polio victims didn't have a lot of accommodations. I'd be interested in learning what year (and where) he contracted polio.

  2. Bear in mind that this is family history. Tommy was born in Stepney in 1905 so presumably contracted the disease there some time early in childhood. At the age of six he would be expected to be living at home with his parents but he was not so I have always assumed he was in a sanitorium somewhere but have no evidence.


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