Parkinson’s Awareness week 2016

It is Parkinson’s disease Awareness Week (running from the 18th -24th April), during which we raise awareness of and bring attention to the second most common neurodegenerative condition (after Alzheimer’s).

Unfortunately my planned lecture about Dr James Parkinson (Monday 18th April, 6pm at Trinity Hall College, Cambridge), has had to be cancelled for unforeseen reasons. My apologies to anyone who had planned to attend.

Please do get out and about, attending other Awareness week events – all of which can be found on the Parkinson’s UK website.

To whom we owe much

Here at Searching4James we owe a great deal to the efforts of many people in the pulling together of details about the life of our James.

Today we pay tribute to one of them: Prof Leonard George Rowntree.


Prof Leonard George Rowntree. Source: History of Medicine (IHM)

Much of what we know about our James is due to the efforts of this man. He was the one who wrote:

English born, English bred, forgotten by the English and the world at large, such was the fate of James Parkinson”

Leonard was born in (the Canadian) London, Ontario, in 1883. He was interested in medicine and entered Western Ontario Medical School in 1901. Upon completion of his degree, he was interned at Victoria Hospital in 1905, before entering general practice in 1906 in Camden, New Jersey. In 1907, however, his life changed: after listening to a lecturer by Sir William Osler at the College of Pharmacy (Philadelphia), Rowntree decided to leave his practice and enter medical research.


Sir William Osler, one of the founding professors of the John Hopkins Hospital. Source: Wikipedia

Rowntree initially began to conduct his research with Professor John Jacob Abel at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.  During the summer months, he would reopened his Camden office, while the local Camden physicians vacationed (nice guy).

In the summer of 1911, during a trip to London (England this time), Rowntree made a visit to Hoxton Square to find the home of Dr James Parkinson. He wrote an article about his investigations into our James in the Bulletin of John Hopkins Hospital. Regarding the square and the house of James Parkinson, he wrote:

Hoxton square was formerly a parish square, only the residents on the square being privileged to enjoy its attractions, each family having a key whereby admittance was gained. It was an attractive place. There still stands in this park, close to Parkinson’s house, an immense and beautiful plane-tree, an Oriental ansifolia, which has attained the age of 150 years. Parkinson must have known of it in his youth, it grew up with him, and he must have learned to love it.

(Last February, we visited Hoxton Square and took this photo of the view from No. 1 Hoxton square. I can’t see the  oriental ansifolia in that photo so I wonder if it is still there). But we digress – Rowntree continues:

Today, however, Hoxton is a public square, open to all, not surrounded by homes of the wealthy but by all varieties of small factories and work shops.

The old house at No. 1 Hoxton Square still exists. From without it has partaken of the fate that has befallen the neighbourhood and suggests only age, neglect, poverty and even squalor, but from within it recalls days of prosperity, of culture and even of luxury.

The house is a plain old three story building facing the east, on the northwest corner of Hoxton Square. Behind the main building and connected with it is a smaller two-story one with a central door opening into the little side street. This apparently was Parkinson’s office. Behind this again is another smaller building which may have served as a laboratory, as a library, or perhaps as a museum. Leading up to the deeply set, black, massive looking front door are a stone walk and deeply worn stone steps. The house is only a few feet back from the street and before it stands an old iron fence.

Uninteresting though the exterior is, upon entering this building one is impressed at the large size of the rooms and with the evidences of the prosperity of other days. We see in almost every room great carved open fire-places of elaborate design, and between some rooms large connecting arches. The deep panelling of walls and ceiling which was formerly so much in vogue is well preserved in some of the rooms on the second floor. One is surprised to find such an interesting interior behind such an uninviting exterior.

It is interesting to read the Bulletin of John Hopkins Hospital article written by Prof Rowntree about James Parkinson. In the the final two paragraphs, he gives a very sober assessment of our James:

What then did Parkinson accomplish during his life? He cannot be considered a brilliant investigator and certainly he made no startling contributions to science. He was a man of the Old Master type described by Holmes rather than the highly specialized scarabaeist. Master of medicine, chemistry, geology, paleontology and oryctology, he was a writer of many textbooks, great as a compilator, keen in observation and desirous of seeing everything named and placed in its proper class. His most important contribution to medicine was the offsprint of the last two qualities.

NOTE: The Holmes he is referring to is not of the ‘Sherlock’ variety, but the ‘Oliver Wendell’ kind. In the third of his “Breakfast-table” series, Holmes introduces a man who is spending his entire life studying beetles. The man rejects the title “entomologist” and prefers to be called a “Scarabaeist”. Back to Rowntree:

He was a member of the Geological Society of London, the Wernerine Society of Edinburgh, and of the Caesarian Society of Moscow, a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons. ‘Tis true his chief contributions to medicine consisted simply in describing a disease and giving it a name, thereby establishing it as a clinical entity. It may be argued that he neither discovered its etiology nor found a cure; but the disease has stood an open challenge to investigators for a full century. “Let him that is without sin cast the first stone”

Coming from someone who spent a considerable amount of time reading James’s works and researching his past, this conclusion is rather remarkable. But then, so was Prof Rowntree.

Following World War I, Dr. Rowntree moved to the Mayo Clinic, where he would spend the next 11 years.  There he introduced lumbar sympathectomy as therapy for malignant hypertension and discovered the principle of intravenous contrast urography.

In 1932 Dr. Rowntree returned to the Delaware Valley as director of the Philadelphia Institute for Medical Research.  During World War II he became chief of the Medical Service of the Selective Service System. Colonel Leonard George Rowntree  was awarded the Medal for Merit for his efforts in the war. He later retired to Florida, but continued to be active by helping to found the University of Miami School of Medicine. Leonard George Rowntree died in 1959.

Other than his 1912 article on our James, I can find no other works by him on the topic. I can only assume that he felt that he had exhausted his efforts to track down any new information, or he was too busy with his new research career. But I am left wondering why during his visit to London he sort to discover more about James Parkinson. Was it just a passing fancy? Or was there a long term interest? We shall never know.

The political radical

In 1793, James published his first political pamphlets. There were five of them, all published under the name of ‘Old Hubert’.


Pearls cast before swine, by Edmund Burke, scraped together by Old Hubert.


An address to the Hon. Edmund Burke from the swinish multitude.


Knave’s-Acre Association : Resolutions adopted at a meeting of placemen pensioners by Old Hubert.

The budget of the people, collected by Old Hubert.

The village association, or, The politics of Edley : containing The soldier’s tale, The headborough’s mistake, The sailor’s tale, The curate’s quotations, and Old Hubert’s advice.


Dr James Parkinson: the public lecture

New year, new projects.


I have signed up to give a public lecture on the life of Dr James Parkinson as part of Parkinson’s Awareness week (18-24th April). The lecture will be held in the lecture hall at Trinity Hall college, Cambridge (CB2 1TJ) on Monday 18th April (starting at 6pm).

The event will be free to the general public, but if attendees feel compelled to rid themselves of their excess cash we’ll have a couple of collection buckets on hand. And all donations will be going directly to Parkinson’s UK.

Wander along if you are in the neighbourhood.

Too many wrong James Parkinsons

In his wonderful book, “A Short History of Nearly Everything”, Bill Bryson mentions our James in the chapter dealing with Geology.

Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

Bryson’s book. Source: Amazon

He correctly notes James as a founding member of the geological society and mentions his Essay on the Shaking Palsy as one of the first documents describing Parkinson’s disease. But then he adds the following:

‘Parkinson had one other slight claim to fame. In 1785, he became possibly the one person in history to win a natural history museum in a raffle. The museum, in London’s Leicester Square, had been founded by Sir Ashton Lever, who had driven himself bankrupt with his unrestrained collecting of natural wonders. Parkinson kept the museum until 1805, when he could no longer support it and the collection was broken up and sold.’

This is completely incorrect.

And being a big fan of Mr Bryson’s books, it truly pains me to write that.

Here we have yet another wrong James Parkinson:

This particular James Parkinson – chance proprietor of the Leverian collection (between 1785 – 1806) – was born in Shrewsbury in February 1730 and died in at some point in 1830. Similar to our James, there are no portraits or likenesses of this James either. To confuse matters even further, he was the son of yet another James Parkinson (and his wife, Jane Birch). Parkinson jr. started out in the world as a law stationer, but he then went on to become an accountant and land agent.

On 23 March 1786, Parkinson’s wife bought two tickets in a raffle for the enormous collection of Sir Ashton Lever. So large was the collection of natural items, that that Lever had acquired a Leicester House in 1774 to allow the public to view it for a fee. But Lever had continued to collect items until it finally bankrupted him in 1785, at which point the collection contained 28,000 specimens. Both the British Museum and the Empress of Russia declined to buy it. So, in the end Lever decided to raffle it off, and offered the public 8,000 tickets which were sold at a guinea each.

probably by; after William Holl Sr; Samuel Shelley,print,published 1835

Sir Ashton Lever. Source: Wikipedia

James Parkinson’s wife bought two tickets, gave one away, and then sadly died before the ticket was drawn as the winner of the raffle. Parkinson was left with the museum, and tried to maintain it over the following twenty years until he was forced to sold the collection in lots by auction in 1806. He died 7 years later.

And so ends the story of another wrong James Parkinson.

A year in review

On the 24th October last year, I started this little shrine to Dr James Parkinson on a bit of whim. I thought it would be interesting to learn a bit more about the man and hopefully try to add something to our knowledge of him. I’m not sure I ever expected to add much (given the exhaustive efforts of those who have come before us), but my little treasure hunt and documenting it all here has thus far been a real pleasure.

The highlight of the year was accidentally coming across the James Cumin Parkinson photo on the Lecale and Downe Historical Society website last November. I have to admit that it was late at night when I stumbled upon it and there was a confused moment of shock in which I really didn’t realise what I was looking at.

Visiting Hoxton (particularly St Leonard’s church) and the various libraries/collections have been interesting outings, and special thanks must be extended here to those individuals (too numerous to name) who have helped out along the way. None of this would have been possible if not for their kind efforts.

I am not sure what the year ahead holds for S4J – many different requests for information are in play, but whether they bare fruit is debatable – but I’ll keep posting here as things play out. Watch this space.

The man who made James famous

For those who work in the field of neurology, Jean-Martin Charcot requires no introduction.


Jean-Martin Charcot (Source: Wikipedia)

Widely considered the ‘Father of modern neurology’, the importance of Charcot’s contribution to modern medicine is rarely in doubt. One only needs to read the names of the students that he taught at the famous Salpêtrière Hospital (in Paris) to appreciate that everyone who became someone in the field of Neurology passed through his classes.

These names include Sigmund Freud, Joseph Babinski, Pierre Janet, Pierre Marie, Albert Londe, Charles-Joseph Bouchard, Georges Gilles de la Tourette, Alfred Binet (inventor of the first intelligence test), Jean Leguirec, Albert Pitres, etc. The great William James – one of the founding fathers of Psychology – came all the way from America to sit in the classes. Charcot was one of the most revered instructors in Europe, immortalised in a painting by André Brouillet:


A Clinical Lesson at the Salpêtrière (“Une leçon clinique à la Salpêtrière“)
by André Brouillet (Source: Wikipedia)

Between 1868 and 1881, Charcot focused much of his attention on what was called ‘paralysis agitans’ (named by one Dr James Parkinson in his ‘Essay on the Shaking Palsy’). Charcot rejected the label ‘Paralysis Agitans’, however, suggesting that the former was misleading in that patients were not markedly weak and do not necessarily have tremor (Charcot, 1872). Rather than Paralysis Agitans, Charcot suggested that Maladie de Parkinson (or Parkinson’s disease) would be a more appropriate name, bestowing credit to the man who first described the condition. Charcot made a similar gesture with Tourette’s disease, naming it after one of his own students (Georges Gilles de la Tourette) who used the name ‘maladie des tics‘ to describe the nine patients he had studied while working with Charcot.

And so it was with this small gesture that – 70 years after our James had passed away – Charcot made the man famous.


Charcot J-M 1872. De la paralysie agitante. In Oeuvres Complètes (t 1) Leçons sur les maladies du système nerveux, pp. 155–188 A Delahaye, Paris: [In English: Charcot J-M. 1877. On Parkinson’s disease. InLectures on diseases of the nervous system delivered at the Salpêtrière (transl. Sigerson G), pp. 129–156. New Sydenham Society, London.]

The Internet Archive

While I will maintain a page here of Dr Parkinson’s writings, I have just discovered what can only be described as the online ‘the mother load’ of Parkinson documents.

Founded in 1996, the Internet Archive is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit that offers permanent access for researchers, historians, scholars, people with disabilities, and the general public to historical collections that exist in digital format.

By searching their database for James Parkinson, you can have access to many of his writing (one or two other JPs pop up, but it’s to be expected). Scanned from books into a digital format, and you can view it all via different file types (eg. txt, pdf, etc). An utterly amazing resource.