Pioneering Oxford neurologist and physician Thomas Willis is credited with the discovery of the arteriosus circle at the base of the brain, which bears his name today, the Circle of Willis. With his 400th birthday one week away, we take a look at Willis's residence and base for his Oxford practice, Beam Hall on Merton Street, opposite Merton College.
Willis moved into this substantial property in 1657, expanding his practice and taking on partners, and proceeded to make compelling medical advances while based there that would ultimately build the foundations of modern neuroscience. He had become arguably the wealthiest man in Oxford by 1660 and was appointed Sedleian Professor of Natural Philosophy at the University of Oxford in the same year, before moving to London in 1667.
Willis's ability to expand his practice in such a prestigious location can arguably be attributed to the famous case of Anne Greene in 1650. Willis and William Petty became probably the first people to perform an effective resuscitation unwittingly after 22-year old domestic servant Anne Greene was hanged and brought to them for anatomical dissection. They discovered she had a faint pulse and weak breathing, so seeking the help of their Oxford colleagues, they tried a series of remedies to warm and revive her, which led to Anne Greene being able to speak some twelve or fourteen hours after treatment, eating solid food after four days and making a full recovery within a month. This achievement marked Willis’s career as a physician. Additionally, Anne Greene's recovery since became critically important for understanding the physiological protection of the brain. Animal models of resuscitation discovered the physiological mechanisms behind neuroprotection four centuries later, to which Professor of Stroke Medicine Alastair Buchan of Oxford's Radcliffe Department of Medicine and his team contributed.
In a new video interview, Professor Zoltán Molnár talks to Professor Alastair Buchan, as Fellow of Corpus Christi College, the college that owns Beam Hall, to find out more about the history of this building, the origins of the Circle of Willis and the scientific legacy of Anne Greene's resuscitation.
Alastair Buchan in conversation with Zoltán Molnár: Willis's residence and base for scientific discoveries, Beam Hall from DPAG Digital Media on Vimeo.
FURTHER INFORMATION ON THOMAS WILLIS
Thomas Willis: 400th anniversary lecture by Zoltán Molnár at the NeurotechEU opening
Thomas Willis (1621-1675) 400th Anniversary Lecture, Anatomical Society Meeting 2021 - Zoltán Molnár
Molnár, Zoltán, "Thomas Willis (1621-1675), the Founder of Clinical Neuroscience", Nature Review Neuroscience 5:4 (2004), 329-35
Thomas Willis (1621 - 1675) Celebrating the 400th Anniversary of the Founder of Neurology online exhibition (see under current exhibitions, St John's College)