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Yorkshire's influence on the foundation of British Neurology
  1. John M S Pearce1,
  2. Andrew J Lees2,3
  1. 1Department of Neurology, Hull Royal Infirmary, Hull, UK
  2. 2National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, London, UK
  3. 3Reta Lila Weston Institute for Neurological Studies, UCL, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Professor Andrew J Lees, The National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, Queen Square, London WC1N3BG, UK; andrew.lees{at}

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In a paper to the Royal Society in 1939, Lord Adrian (1889–1977) described the era between 1870 and 1900 as ‘a classical period in the history of medicine, the period when neurology became a science.’1 Spillane similarly referred to ‘ a memorable decade [1874–84] in the history of Neurology.’2 ,3

Although the birth of modern British Neurology is justifiably linked with the opening of the National Hospital for the Paralysed and Epileptic in 1860, scientific neurological research could fairly be stated to have begun in Yorkshire. Compston observed: In many respects, the modern study of disordered brain function in Britain has its origins in Wakefield, Yorkshire. This was where James Crichton-Browne turned the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum [WRPLA] into a research institute that attracted, amongst others, Sir David Ferrier and John Hughlings Jackson.4

In this paper, we would like to suggest that the influence of Yorkshire in the history of British Neurology actually began before this period with Thomas Laycock at the York Medical School. A remarkable concatenation of events stemming from the pioneering work in mental illness of the Tukes in York, the confirmation of cerebral localisation in the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum (WRPLA), and crucially Laycock's romantic neuroscience paved the way for a major leap forward in the study of nervous disease in England in the nineteenth century. Many of the leading Yorkshire lights in this movement were members of a Nonconformist minority and contributed to both the lasting neurological tradition of the Royal London Hospital and the success in establishing the National Hospital for the Paralysed and Epileptic as a cradle for neurological thought in England.

Thomas Laycock (1812–1876)

Thomas Laycock is remembered today by neurologists as one of the formative influences5 behind the neurological inclinations of Jonathan Hutchinson and John Hughlings Jackson …

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  • Author note Based on an invited paper (author JMSP) given to the Association of British Neurologist’s meeting, Newcastle upon Tyne, October 2011 and inspired by the 150th anniversary of the National Hospital, Queen Square in 2010. This is an attenuated version of a longer essay, available from the authors.

  • Contributors AJL, JMSP: contributed equally to the conception, research and writing of the paper.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.