Plaque unveiling for pioneer brain surgeon 

18/06/2015 00:00 
Surgeons from the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery (NHNN) paid tribute to early pioneer Sir Victor Horsley during a ceremony to celebrate his lifetime achievements.

An English Heritage Blue Plaque was unveiled in his honour at no 129 Gower Street, one of his London homes.

Sir Victor, who died nearly a hundred years ago, was neurosurgeon to University College Hospital and the NHNN and the first to be appointed to a hospital position in 1886. During his career at the NHNN he successfully transformed patients’ lives by performing ground-breaking epilepsy, spinal tumour, vascular and brain surgery, in an era where there were no x-rays  or antibiotics. The NHNN named a ward after him in honour of his contribution to neurosurgery.

Retired NHNN neurosurgeon Michael Powell, who campaigned for the plaque, was determined to keep his memory alive.  “When I arrived 32 years ago at the NHNN he was a forgotten man.  One of the wards had been dedicated to him and carried his name -   but no one was quite sure why. He was just 27 years old when he became the first hospital neurosurgeon in 1886 and was a pioneer and we felt it was important to continue to publically recognise his achievements.”

Did you know?

• Victor Horsley was a passionate and visionary social reformer in the Edwardian and Victorian era, campaigning for votes for women, national insurance and help for the poor.
• He refused to wear top hat and stiff collars favoured by other doctors. He said they were unhygienic in hospital - and impractical  when cycling around town.
• He was anti-smoking and anti-drinking
• Speakers at the plaque unveiling described him as ‘decidedly eccentric’ and at times ‘argumentative’ and ‘tactless’. He was however  ‘adored by his patients and trainees’.
• In May 1886 he undertook his first brain op on a young man who had suffered 3,000 epileptic fits in a fortnight. The NHNN didn’t have an operating theatre so he modified a day room. The operation was a success.
• He was the first to describe the absence of the thyroid gland. This paved the way for future pituitary treatment.
• He was a dedicated and well-loved family man, according to his surviving grand-daughter who unveiled the plaque. His wife became his secretary.

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