Letters from Hugh Cairns

Scope and Content

Hugh William Bell Cairns (1896-1952) was one of the pioneers in the evolution of neurosurgical training. Cairns was an Australian and was educated at Adelaide before going to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar after World War One. He worked at the London Hospital, and after a year with Harvey Cushing in Boston in 1926, established a small neurosurgical department there - the first specialist neurosurgical centre. In 1937 Cairns became the first Nuffield Professor of Surgery at Oxford. At Oxford, Cairns evolved a clinical school of medicine with an emphasis on bed-side teaching and during the war established a military hospital for head injuries and neurological disorders. Jefferson and Cairns worked closely together in the foundation of the SBNS (Society of British Neurological Surgeons), wartime provision for neurosurgery, and the professional and academic development of neurosurgery.

This series comprises original letters from Hugh Cairns to Geoffrey Jefferson, but also includes some copy letters to Hugh Cairns, and some letters from Cairns to Gertrude Jefferson. The letters cover both personal and professional aspects of the relationship between Hugh Cairns and Jefferson. The professional development of neurosurgery in the first half of the twentieth century is charted, especially in relation to the SBNS, consultative work for the Ministry of Health by Jefferson and Cairns, and the relationship between neurologists and neurosurgeons. Geoffrey Jefferson referred to these letters in Jefferson, 'Memories of Hugh Cairns', in Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, 1959, p. 155-166. He may have extracted the letters from the rest of his correspondence for this purpose.


This series was originally in the same file as the next series, JEF/1/6/4. However, the content is very different and it seemed appropriate for the file to be divided into two series. These letters are arranged chronologically.