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MacDonald Critchley

Born  1900
Died  1997

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British neurologist, born February 2, 1900; died October 15, 1997.

Biography of MacDonald Critchley

MacDonald Critchley spent his professional life as a neurologist at the renowned National Hospital, Queen Square and Kings College Hospital, London. He was a former president of the World Federation of Neurology, and the author of over 200 published articles on neurology and 20 books, including The Parietal Lobes, Aphasiology, and biographies of James Parkinson and Sir William Gowers.

Macdonald Critchley's professional life centred on King's College Hospital and the National Hospital "for the Paralysed and Epileptic" as it was known when he was a Registrar in 1927. He was appointed to the staff as a physician in the following year and later became Dean of the Institute at Queen Square. His influence spread throughout the neurological world by his teaching and writings and he later became President of the World Federation of Neurology.

His contributions to knowledge depended not on technology, but on his powers of observation and meticulous dissection of human sensibility and behaviour. Of more than 200 articles and 20 books that he wrote the best known were those on aphasia and the parietal lobes.

Headache was one of his many interests. He started a Headache Clinic at King's College Hospital and was one of the founders of the British Migraine Trust. He delivered a paper at the First Migraine Symposium in London in 1966 on "Migraine : from Cappadocia to Queen Square", combining his clinical interest with his love of history.

Critchley was a handsome and impressive figure, a superb speaker and a lifelong student of the human mind. At one headache meeting in Florence, his Italian colleagues repeatedly referred to him as Lord Critchley, a title that seemed quite appropriate. His tastes were eclectic. He was fascinated by the unusual and bizarre. His collected essays range from an enquiry into "The Black Hole of Calcutta" to "Man's attitude to his nose" and "Tattooed ladies, tattooed men". On one visit to Australia he included serial killers in his lecture programme and showed a particular interest in the "Shark arm case" which hinged on the ownership of a tattooed arm disgorged by a shark. Essays and books in a more serious mode were biographies of his distinguished predecessors and contemporaries such as Parkinson, Gowers, Head and Holmes. His last book on the life and career of Hughlings Jackson, has been published posthumously this year. Macdonald Critchley's eyesight failed, but his internal vision remained clear to the end. The work on Jackson was published jointly with his wife Eileen.

Eileen A. Critchley was trained in physics and mathematics. She was her husband's researcher and clinical assistant for over 30 years.


  • M. Critchley:
    Sir William Gowers, 1845-1915. A Biographical Appreciation.
    London, William Heinemann, 1949.
  • M. Critchley:
    The parietal lobes. London, Edward Arnold, 1953.
  • MacDonald Critchley (1900-1997):
    The enigma of Gerstmann’s syndrome.
    Brain, Oxford, 1966, 89 (part 2): 183-198.
  • Macdonald Critchley, editor in chief:
    Butterworth Medical Dictionary. (2nd edition 1986). London & Boston: Butterworths.
  • MacDonald Critchley and Eileen A. Critchley:
    John Hughlings Jackson, Father of English Neurology.
    This book traces the life and scientific career of Dr. John Hughlings Jackson (1835-1911), the English physician who pioneered the development of neurology as a medical specialty during the reign of Queen Victoria.
  • M. Critchley and R. A. Henson, editors:
    Music and the Brain: Studies in the Neurology of Music.
    London: Heinemann, 1977.

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