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Henry Head, herpes zoster and the graphic development of his ‘scheme of the dermatomes in man’
  1. G D Schott
  1. Correspondence to Dr G D Schott, National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, Queen Square, London WC1N 3BG, UK; g.schott{at}

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In the archives of the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) are five large volumes containing hundreds of the original sketches and photographs created by Sir Henry Head, FRS (1861–1940), physician to the London Hospital, editor of Brain from 1910 until 1925, and at that time one of England’s foremost neurologists (figure 1). A few further original sketches are in the Wellcome Library, and doubtless there may be some others in collections elsewhere.

Figure 1

Portrait photograph of Sir Henry Head, c. 1900–1920, by G C Beresford (Courtesy of the Wellcome Library, London).

Head’s sketches, drawn free hand in their entirety or as additions to preprinted body outlines, depict the cutaneous eruption suffered by some of the 450 patients with herpes zoster infection ‘that have come under…personal observation’ (Head and Campbell, p396).1 Many of the sketches formed the basis for the printed illustrations in Head’s famous publications on zoster which appeared in Brain over a hundred years ago and which proved crucial to ‘one of the earliest representations of the pattern of peripheral sensory dermatomes … [and] was but one of Sir Henry’s major contributions to sensory physiology’.2 Indeed, the first of Head’s composite maps of these dermatomes is likely to be the beautifully coloured illustration at the opening of volume RCP 329 in the Royal College of Physicians collection, with its legend ‘Tentative suggestions [1891] for distribution of Posterior Roots’ (figure 2).

Figure 2

Head’s ‘Tentative suggestions [1891] for distribution of Posterior Roots’ (RCP 329, unnumbered opening illustration). ©Royal College of Physicians.

Head followed up 21 patients until their death, whereupon his colleague A W Campbell, pathologist to the Lancashire County Asylum at Rainhill, undertook a neuropathological study which included examination of the spinal cord, ganglia and roots, and sometimes the peripheral nerves, enabling the relationship between the rash and the …

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  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed

  • Author note RCP numbers in the text refer to volume numbers in the archives of the Royal College of Physicians of London: ‘Case-records from the London Hospital, in the handwriting of Sir Henry Head and illustrated by drawings, photographs and charts, 1891–1899. MS-HEADH/329-333’. The archive relating to the holding in the Wellcome Library, London, is catalogued as ‘Volume of post mortem reports on herpes zoster patients’ under reference PP/HEA/B3.

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