Since retiring, Mike Cook has devoted a lot of his energy and time to The Ipswich Society. Before that, he was a Consultant Anaesthetist at Ipswich Hospital where his work required, amongst other things, an intimate knowledge of how the human nervous system functions. One of the greatest pioneers in studying and understanding the nervous system of animals and humans was Sir Charles Sherrington. So for Mike to speak about Sherrington on 11 January was a marriage made in..... Ipswich.
Sherrington must have been fond of Ipswich. Although born in Islington, he came to live in the town with his parents at Edgehill House, Anglesea Road and entered Ipswich School in 1871, aged fourteen. And then after a long and pre-eminent career he chose in 1935 to retire to Ipswich, living briefly in Graham Road and then at 73 Valley Road when that house was ready. [Compare another man who also reached the very peak of his profession, Sir Alf Ramsey - he also lived in Valley Road and stayed there in retirement. Would this make an unusual quiz question?] Sherrington lived there for a few years but after his wife died and then in his middle 80s he moved to Cambridge and then to Eastbourne.
Sherrington did indeed reach the very peak of his profession. It's not a lightly used expression when you consider that he became President of the Royal Society, was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1924 (jointly with Lord Adrian), received 21 honorary doctorates and was appointed to the Order of Merit, the highest civil honour in the UK. The career that led to all those honours took place at St Thomas's Hospital, Cambridge University. Liverpool University (Holst Professor of Physiology) and Oxford University (Waynflete Professor of Physiology). His microscopic studies of dogs' and humans' brains led him to deduce how the nervous system works. The composition of the brain and the nature of the spinal cord were not much understood till then. He was able to map areas of the brain responsible for different functions of the body and he made these discoveries known through 220-300 scientific papers and a book which became the classic text of neurology for the first half of the last century. This knowledge proved indispensable for physiologists and clinicians.
Together with these extraordinary professional achievements. Sherrington' s range of interests extended to writing on philosophy, composing poetry and travelling widely in Europe, the USA and Canada. In Ipswich he officially opened the Northgate Street central library in 1924 and was President of Ipswich Museum, 1944-52.
Long an admirer of Sherrington's work, Mike Cook did originally bill his lecture as being about "Ipswich's most eminent son". Having had the case for Thomas Wolsey put to him, he did tone it down a little in his lecture to "second most eminent"! However, it's not a simple matter and wouldn't it be a fascinating debate on whose influence is greater and of more duration - Wolsey's or Sherrington's?