Monday, 6 January 2014

Sir Percivall Pott: A Doctor from Threadneedle Street

Sir Percivall Pott (London, England, 6th January 1714 – London, England, 22nd December 1788)


Percivall Pott, engraved from an original picture by Nathaniel Dance-Holland, 1785
Percivall Pott, engraved from an original picture by Nathaniel Dance-Holland, 1785

It's no secret to regular visitors that I have a very fine medical friend in the considerable form of Dr James Dillingham of Edinburgh, favoured physician of our queen and known to have unquestioned access to Buckingham House, no less. It is he who shared with me the story of Sir Percivall Pott, surgeon of renown and our guest today.

Pott's start in life was not a promising one; he was only three years old when his father died and the family were plunged into penury. Luckily for the young man, he could count the Bishop of Rochester as a relative and it was the Bishop who met the costs of his education. Bright and inquisitive, Pott decided in childhood that he wished to pursue a career in medicine, the field in whch he make his name. 

the young Pott was apprentice to Edward Nourse at St Bartholomew's Hospital at the age of 15 and learned his immense surgical skill from Nourse. He was awarded his license to practise at the age of 22 and within a decade was assistant surgeon at St Bartholomew's, attaining the role of surgeon in 1749, a role he held until just a year before his death.

Pott became a groundbreaking surgeon, pioneering new techniques and using a serious compound fracture to his own leg to direct doctors on a new technique intended to save the leg, where amputation would usually be the first option. In 1765 he was elected Master of the Company of Surgeons and three years later went on to publish the hugely influential Some Few Remarks upon Fractures and Dislocations, among other seminal medical texts.

In 1775 Pott made an important discovery when he discovered a correlation between exposure to soot and scrotal cancer in chimney sweeps. He was the first person to establish a link between environmental carcinogens and cancer and it was partly due to him that the 1788 Chimney Sweeper's Act came into being.

Pott counted the finest names in London amongst his patients and today his name lives on in a number of the disorders he chronicled, not bad for a lad from Threadneedle Street!

18 comments:

  1. Delightful and educational post. Thank you!

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  2. Good old Percivall Pott, he sounds like an excellent chap, and his name is worthy of a Smollett novel.

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    1. It really is, and who would think some good could come of a compound fracture!

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  3. What an amazing rise to professional stardom! I can't imagine ever being brave enough to direct an operation on my own compound fracture... The very thought! Mind you, I suppose if the alternative were to have the limb amputated I would be motivated.

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    1. I think I might share your motivation!

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  4. Personally, I find the idea of a 15 year old boy learning to be a medic quite chilling - they aren't many (if any ) 15 year olds I'd trust with my anatomy.
    G x

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    1. Hmm... when you put it like *that*, I'm suddenly not so sure!

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  5. Excellent piece...an brilliant example of why history is so fascinating; why I love it..Thanks!

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    1. Much obliged, thank you for visiting the salon!

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  6. Percival Pott was also the first surgeon to describe the changes associated with tuberculosis of the spine. This condition was later dubbed Pott's Spine, a term still used in bioarchaeology and palaeopathology.

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  7. I have links to the great surgeon Sir Percivall Pott, I had written to the Bank of England concerning the artist JMW Turner being the face of £20 notes in 2020, I think Sir Percivall should also adorn a note.
    The genius 'Painter of Light' JMW Turner is a brilliant choice, and as I informed the Bank of England, I have links to the artist and I also have an ancestor who is the son of a draftsman called Sir Percivall Pott, Queen Victoria's surgeon who lived at the site of the Bank of England at Threadneedle Street. Our relative, Miss Constance Pott, the pioneering graphic designer and etcher produced a picture titled New Bank of England. There is much more family history in the book TURNER TREES - link to Facebook page can be found below:

    https://www.facebook.com/Turner-Trees-1580214022276505/

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    1. That sounds fascinating; if you ever fancy a guest blog here at the salon, do let me know!

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  8. Thank you Catherine, I do fancy a guest blog at your salon and I will let you know presently, Kind regards, Keith Pott Turner.

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