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Sir Percivall Pott and Sir James Paget

To celebrate the 300th birthday of Sir Percival Pott (1714-1788) and the 200th birthday of Sir James Paget (1814-1899) we have selected some items from our Library and Archives collections for display in the Library.

Examples from our exhibition

Sir Percivall Pott, ‘Observations on the nature and consequences of wounds and contusions of the head, fractures of the skull, concussions of the brain etc.’ 1760.

Pott describes how ill-suited the instruments designed by Albucasis, Guido, Andreas a Cruce and Fabritius ab Aquapendente were to elevate the parts of the cranium depressed by an injury. Since they required a screw to be inserted into the depressed piece of skull, they caused further harm and were ‘coarse….and hazardous’.

Sir Percival Pott, ‘A treatise on the hydrocele, or, Watry rupture and other diseases of the testicle, its coat and vessels’, 3rd edition, 1773.

In the 2nd and 3rd edition of Pott’s treatise on hydrocele he expanded his account on use of the seton to obtain ‘a perfect or radical cure’. The seton was made from sewing silk and the needle was used to pierce the scrotum from within outwards. The silk remained in the tumour until inflammation subsided on the tenth or twelfth day and was then withdrawn.

Sir Percival Pott, ‘Percivall Potts Abhandlungen von der sogenannten Thränen-Fistel und der Mastdarm-Fistel’, 1779, and‘Remarques sur cette espèce de paralysie des extrèmités inférieures’, 1783.

Pott's publications exercised a great influence upon surgery. They were perhaps better known on the continent than in Britain; no other surgeon save Lister achieved such popularity in France and Germany.

Certificate of thanks to Sir James Paget, from the International Medical Congress, 9th August 1881

Paget was President of the International Medical Congress, held in London in 1881.

Letter to Charles Darwin from Sir James Paget, 1 December 1881

Paget was friends with Charles Darwin, though he remained a committed Christian and insisted there was no clash between religion and science. In this letter Paget thanks Darwin for his book on earth worms. He says ‘It seems to me the best that ever you have written in showing the splendid and great truths that may be found in common things.’

You can search our Library Catalogue for further books by Sir Percivall Pott or Sir James Paget and our Museum and Archives catalogue, SurgiCat, for further deposited archive or manuscript items relating to Sir Percivall Pott or Sir James Paget.

Sir Percivall Pott (1714 - 1788)

Pott was born on 6th January 1714 in London. After attending a private school in Kent he became an apprentice to Edward Nourse, a surgeon at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in London. He gained knowledge of anatomy and experience in surgical techniques by preparing and dissecting cadavers for Nourse’s anatomy classes. In 1736 Pott passed examinations for admittance to the Company of Barber Surgeons—the forerunner of the Royal College of Surgeons of England. The Company awarded Pott the Grand Diploma, an honorary achievement, in recognition for his exceptional surgical skills. In 1745 he became an assistant surgeon at St. Bartholomew’s and was promoted to full surgeon in 1749.

In 1756, while on his way to see a patient, Pott was thrown from his horse and sustained an open compound fracture of his lower leg. He instructed his rescuers to build a makeshift stretcher from a door and poles to carry him home. Several of his surgical colleagues examined the injury and recommended amputation, the standard course of treatment at the time. Nourse, however, who also went to see Pott, advised otherwise, suggesting reduction, in which traction and pressure are applied to the fracture to correct the positioning of the bones. Nourse’s technique worked, and Pott’s leg healed without complication. During his recovery, Pott wrote A Treatise on Ruptures (1756), in which he disproved misguided theories on the causes and treatment of hernias.

Pott recognised a form of cancer located in the skin of the scrotum (epithelioma of the scrotum) as an occupational hazard peculiar to chimney sweeps. In his report an environmental factor was identified for the first time as a cancer-causing agent.

Pott also described a disease of the vertebrae in which the bones soften and collapse, causing the spine to curve and produce a hunched back. The condition, Pott disease, is now known to result from infection with the tuberculosis organism Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

Sir James Paget (1814-1899)

Sir James Paget was born 200 years ago, on 11 January 1814, in Great Yarmouth. After an apprenticeship to a GP he became a student at St Bartholomew's Hospital in 1834.

In 1836 Paget became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons. His surgical practice was not successful at first but he was appointed Curator of St Bartholemew’s Museum in 1837, and in 1839 he became Demonstrator of Morbid Anatomy there. He also catalogued the Hunterian museum’s pathological specimens. It was while working for the museum’s that he became a great scientist.

Paget became a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1843.

In 1847 Paget was appointed assistant-surgeon to St Bartholomew’s Hospital, and Arris and Gale professor at the Royal College of Surgeon. His Arris and Gale lectures were published in 1853 as Lectures on Surgical Pathology and helped to secure his fame as Britain’s leading pathologist and physiologist.

Paget became Surgeon Extraordinary to Queen Victoria in 1858. He attended both the Prince and Princess of Wales and in 1877 he became Sergeant-Surgeon to the Queen –the head of the Royal family’s medical staff.

Paget’s surgical practice grew into one of the largest in London. He discovered several diseases which are named after him and made some practical advances in surgery.

Paget fostered his relationship with the College and served as a Council member and on various committees from 1865. He was elected President of the College in 1875.

Paget was also president of several medical societies and Vice-Chancellor at the University of London, 1883-1895.

Paget married Lydia North in 1844 and they had six children. He was made a baronet in 1871. He died on 30 December 1899.

You can search our Heritage Collections for further books by Sir Percivall Pott or Sir James Paget and our Museum and Archives catalogue, SurgiCat, for further deposited archive or manuscript items relating to Sir Percivall Pott or Sir James Paget.

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