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Royal College of Physicians

HEAD, Sir Henry (1861-1940)


Reference code(s): GB 0113 MS-HEADH

Held at: Royal College of Physicians

Title: HEAD, Sir Henry (1861-1940)

Date(s): 1891-1909

Level of description: Collection (fonds)

Extent: 8 volumes

Name of creator(s): Head | Sir | Henry | 1861-1940 | Knight | neurologist


Administrative/Biographical history:

Sir Henry Head was born in Stoke Newington, London, on 4 August 1861, the eldest son of Henry Head, a Lloyd's insurance broker of Quaker origin. Head was educated at Grove House School, Tottenham, and then Charterhouse, before entering Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1880. He graduated BA in Natural Sciences in 1884, with first class honours. He spent the next two years at the German University in Prague under the direction of Ewald Hering, working on the physiology of respiration. Head returned to Cambridge to study physiology and anatomy, and went to University College Hospital in London for his clinical work. He qualified MB in 1890, and MD in 1892.

Head obtained junior positions at University College Hospital, the City of London Hospital for Diseases of the Chest (later renamed the City of London Hospital for Diseases of the Heart and Lungs), the National Hospital, Queen Square, and the County Mental Hospital, Rainhill, Liverpool. He published his MD thesis on `Disturbances of Sensation, with Especial Reference to the Pain of Visceral Diseases' in the neurological journal Brain, between 1893 and 1896. His thesis, based upon patients he had seen at University College Hospital and the National Hospital, established 'Head's Areas', the regions of increased cutaneous sensitivity associated with visceral diseases. In 1894 he became a member of the Royal College of Physicians. He was appointed registrar at the London Hospital in 1896, and was elected assistant physician four months later. He subsequently became physician, and then consulting physician to the Hospital. In 1897 he was awarded the Moxon Medal by the Royal College of Physicians, for his research into clinical medicine. Head became a fellow of the Royal Society in 1899. The following year he became a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, and in 1901 delivered the Goulstonian Lectures to the College.

In 1903 he made observations on the sensory changes following section and regeneration of the radial and external cutaneous nerves. He instructed that his own nerves of his left arm were cut and sutured for this experiment. An eminent surgeon of the London Hospital, James Sherren, carried out the operation. From the results Head elaborated the conceptions of protopathic and epicritic sensibility. He published the results in Brain in 1908. In the same year he was awarded the Royal Medal of the Royal Society for his work on neurology. He was also awarded the Marshall Medal of the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society for his original research. He became editor of Brain from 1910-25, and also wrote a number of articles for Sir Thomas Clifford Allbutt's A System of Medicine. In 1911 he delivered the Croonian Lectures at the Royal College of Physicians.

During the First World War, 1914-18, Head was civilian consultant to the Empire Hospital for Officers, Vincent Square, where officers suffering from wounds to the nervous system were sent. He and his colleague George Riddoch produced a series of papers on the effects of gross injuries to the spinal cord. This work was important in laying the foundations for the management of traumatic paraplegia, which Riddoch developed during the Second World War and led to the saving of many lives. After World War One the possibility of Head becoming the first professor of medicine at the London Hospital was discussed, although ultimately nothing came of the proposal. In 1919, at the first signs of Parkinson's disease, Head retired from London first to Dorset, where he was the neighbour of the poet and author Thomas Hardy, and then to Reading. Head himself was greatly interested in literature, particularly eighteenth century poetry and prose, and privately published a collection of his own verse and translations of German verses, in Destroyers and Other Verses (1919).

In 1920 he was president of the Section of Neurology at the annual meeting of the British Medical Association held at Cambridge, and in the same year was elected an honorary fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. The results of his self-experiments on sensation between 1903 and 1907, which were previously published in Brain, along with other articles by Head and five of his colleagues were published in Studies in Neurology (1920). In 1921 he delivered the Royal Society's Croonian Lecture. Head's last important publication was Aphasia and Kindred Disorders of Speech. It appeared in two volumes in 1926, and was based on the examination of a large number of men suffering from gunshot wounds to the brain.

In 1927 he was knighted. His other honours include receiving honorary degrees from the universities of Edinburgh and Strasbourg. It has been said of Head that he `ranked with the great English neurologists' and was `a teacher of infectious enthusiasm and vitality, who combined a scientific outlook with a vivid imagination' (Munk's Roll, 1955, p.422). His contribution to the medical profession included `important advances in respiratory regulation, sensory physiology and the analysis of the aphasias' (Breathnach, 1991, p.107).

Head married Ruth Mayhew in 1904. She became a respected author and wrote several books including two novels and an anthology of Thomas Hardy's writings. She died in 1939. Head died eighteen months later at Reading on 8 October 1940. He left the greater part of his fortune to the Royal Society, for the advancement of medicine.

Destroyers, and Other Verses (London, 1919)
Studies in Neurology, Henry Head, with W.H.R. Rivers, J. Sherren, G. Holmes, T. Thompson, & G. Riddoch (London, 1920)
Aphasia and Kindred Disorders of Speech (Cambridge, 1926)


Scope and content/abstract:

Sir Henry Head's papers, 1891-1909, consist of his casebooks of patients with Herpes Zoster, with sketches and photographs, chiefly from Head's work at the London Hospital, 1891-1909, and his casebooks of patients with various diseases, with sketches and charts, from his work at the City of London Hospital for Diseases of the Heart and Lungs, Victoria Park, 1894.


Language/scripts of material: English

System of arrangement:

Conditions governing access:

Restricted access may apply to parts of the collection containing information on patients.

Conditions governing reproduction:

All requests should be referred to the Archivist

Physical characteristics:

Finding aids:



Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Head's casebooks from his work at the City of London Hospital for Diseases of the Heart and Lungs, were presented to the College by Head on 19 May 1926; The provenance of the rest of the collection is unknown


Related material:

There is material relating to Head held elsewhere in the College archives, including the casebook of Alfred Walter Campbell, detailing pathological examinations of patients with Herpes at the Rainhill Mental Hospital, with references to a number of Head's cases, 1898 (MS334); There is a letter of Head's and reference made to him in correspondence amongst the College's Autographed Letters Collection (ALS);

Head's correspondence and papers are held at the Wellcome Library for the History and Understanding of Medicine; His correspondence with Macmillans is held at the British Library, Manuscripts Collections; Letters of Head and his wife to Siegfried Sassoon, 1922-37, are held at the Cambridge University Library, Department of Manuscripts and University Archives. See the National Register of Archives for details.

Publication note:


Archivist's note: Sources: Lives of the Fellows of the Royal College of Physicians of London, Vol. IV, 1826-1925, compiled by G.H. Brown (London, 1955) [Munk's Roll, 1955, pp.421-22]; Dictionary of National Biography, 1931-1940, L.G. Wickham Legg (ed.) (London, 1949) [DNB, 1949, pp.410-12]; `Henry Head: The Man and His Ideas', Russell Brain, Brain, Vol. 84, Part IV, 1961, pp.561-66; `The Legacy of Henry Head', C.S. Breathnach, Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, Vol. 84, February 1991, pp.107-109; `Obituary - Sir Henry Head', British Medical Journal, Vol. II 1940, pp.539-41; `Obituary - Henry Head', The Lancet, Vol. II 1940, pp.534; Historical Manuscripts Commission On-Line National Register of Archives.
Compiled by Katharine Martin

Rules or conventions: Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives, Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions: Compiled October 2003

Clinical medicine | Medical sciences
Drawings | Visual materials
Medical records | Documents | Information sources
Physicians | Medical personnel | Medical profession | Medical sciences
Primary documents

Personal names
Head | Sir | Henry | 1861-1940 | Knight | neurologist

Corporate names
City of London Hospital for Diseases of the Heart and Lungs
Royal London Hospital x London Hospital