|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!