Anne Crawford Acheson: Blue plaque to commemorate Portadown sculptor who changed medical history

Anne Crawford Acheson
Anne Crawford Acheson

A Portadown sculptor who pioneered the design of the papier-mache splint during the First World War is to be commemorated by the Ulster History Circle.

A blue plaque to Anne Crawford Acheson (1882-1962) will be unveiled at First Presbyterian Church in the town tomorrow (11am) by her great-nephew, Rev John Glasgow Faris.

Anne was born at Carrickblacker Avenue, Portadown in 1882. She was educated at the Alexander School in Portadown and at Victoria College, Belfast before she moved to London to study sculpture at the Royal College in Kensington.

At the onset of the Great War, she joined the Surgical Requisites Association (SRA) based at Mulberry Walk in Chelsea.

Putting her talents to good use, Anne made a significant contribution to the war effort and changed medical history when she developed papier-mache splints for soldiers with broken bones.

The prototype procedure was later replaced by the use of plaster of Paris, which she used in sculpture, to create a method of supporting damaged bones that’s still in use today.

Anne, who later retrained as a precision engineer and draughtswoman, was the first woman to be elected to the Royal Society of British Sculptors, before becoming the organisation’s first female Fellow.

“Her fame alone as an artist commends her for a blue plaque,” said Chris Spurr, chairman of the Ulster History Circle. “However she is to be further commended for her pioneering design work, especially towards developing the anatomically correct papier-mâché splint, which helped to heal the limbs of many servicemen injured in World War I.

“The Ulster History Circle is delighted to commemorate this distinguished sculptor with a blue plaque at the Church she attended, and the Circle would particularly like to thank the Ulster-Scots Agency for their financial support towards the plaque.”

Meanwhile, a documentary detailing the contribution Anne Acheson made to modern medicine through her innovations during WWI is close to completion and is due to be aired on BBC NI in early November.