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Neurologist James Samuel Risien Russell receives English Heritage London blue plaque

One of Britain’s first black British consultants, pioneering neurologist James Samuel Risien Russell has today been commemorated with an English Heritage London blue plaque.

The plaque marks 44 Wimpole Street, the impressive house which served as J. S. Risien Russell’s home and private practice from 1902 until his death in March 1939.

Dr Risien Russell played a critical role in establishing the British school of neurology in the 1890s and was revered in his day. A brilliant researcher, with a flair for scientific experimentation, Risien Russell advanced our knowledge of the anatomy of the brain and nervous system, as well as defining specific conditions including SACD (subacute combined degeneration of the spinal cord). The importance of his contribution has only recently been understood, thanks to new research by the Windrush Foundation.

In the late 1920s, Risien Russell retired to concentrate on private practice, conducted from his address in Wimpole Street and, as a result of his skilled diagnosis and management of diseases of the nervous system, was hugely successful. He died ‘very suddenly’, aged 75, on 20 March 1939 in his consulting rooms, between appointments.

Elizabeth Douglas, Collections Officer at the Royal College of Physicians, said: “We are delighted to see Dr Risien Russell (FRCP 1897) honoured with a blue plaque. The award recognises his life’s work as a renowned neurologist and acclaimed professor. The careers of pioneering Black physicians like Russell are an integral part of British medical history.”

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We published an article about Dr Russell in the April 2019 edition of Commentary.