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Sir Henry Head FRS (1861–1940): a life in science and society
  1. Alastair Compston
  1. Correspondence to Professor Alastair Compston, Department of Clinical Neurosciences, University of Cambridge, Addenbrookes Hospital, Hills Road, Cambridge CB2 0QQ, UK; alastair.compston{at}

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Henry Head was the outstanding clinical neuroscientist of his generation and prominent in the arts and literary society of Edwardian London

When the Medical Committee met on 4 February 1896 to consider the appointment of a new member of the consultant staff at Queen Square, Henry Head was placed third of five candidates. Sir William Gowers (1845–1915) explained that “everyone recognises his great ability… [but] whenever I spoke to Head (or rather he spoke to me) I always felt that I knew nothing… and was only too glad to escape”. Thus, having worked at the National Hospital intermittently since 1881, a patronising attitude to senior colleagues left Head, the outstanding original thinker in neurology of his generation, outside the self-styled ‘temple of neurology’. In ‘Henry Head, herpes zoster, and the graphic development of his scheme of the dermatomes in man’1 , Dr GD Schott, formerly consultant neurologist at Queen Square, writes about the archive of images that Head produced depicting the dermatomes of man. Head’s work leaned much on mapping the sensory and cutaneous features of herpes zoster.2 3 He told (Sir) Charles Sherrington (1857–1952) that, based on personal experience, the English language lacked words adequately describing the exquisite unpleasantness of herpes zoster and referred pain.

Head blossomed under the influence of (Sir) Michael Foster (1836–1907), JN (John) Langley (1852–1925) and Walter Gaskell (1847–1914) at Trinity College, Cambridge; Julius Bernstein (1839–1917) in Berlin; Ewald Hering (1834–1918) in Prague with whom he worked during a 2-year interval in the Cambridge Natural Sciences Tripos; and (John) Hughlings Jackson (1835–1911), his predecessor at the London Hospital where Head was appointed to the consultant staff in 1896. He earned his living through private practice and legal work while also serving the needs of the poor in the east end of London. …

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  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

  • Correction notice This paper has been amended since it was published Online First. Owing to a scripting error, some of the publisher names in the references were replaced with ‘BMJ Publishing Group’. This only affected the full text version, not the PDF. We have since corrected these errors and the correct publishers have been inserted into the references.

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