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A Pilgrimage to Shoreditch

Posted on: 04 April 2019

Janet McLeod, Senior Parkinson’s Nurse Specialist writes about the time she travelled to the United Kingdom and Europe, finally achieving a long hoped for goal….

“As a nurse passionate about all things related to Parkinson’s I have always wanted to visit the area where Dr James Parkinson lived and worked- Shoreditch in London. On our last day in England’s capital we travelled to Shoreditch by tube and bus. It seemed appropriate that this was a rainy and overcast London day as it fitted with my imaginings of James Parkinson observing the locals that he described in “The Essay of The Shaking Palsy” (1817).

Our first challenge was to find Dr Parkinson’s grave in the grounds of the Church of England church in Shoreditch- this was not to be. I met the church verger who explained that no one knows exactly where in the graveyard that the grave is located. The verger spent a long time with me once he knew the reason for my interest and how far we had travelled.

James Parkinson was christened, married and worshipped in this ancient and well worn church. The current building was built on the foundations of a church constructed in 1185. At this time Shoreditch was a small village with houses lining the High Street. Let us skip to the 19th century when Dr Parkinson (I cannot bring myself to call him James!) was living and working in the area. By then the streets of Shoreditch were lined with theatres and music halls and the church became a worship place for actors. In 1817, the year Dr Parkinson published his description of the disease which was to bear his name, the recently redesigned church was fitted with gas lights and some of these fittings remain on an outside wall.

I was delighted to find the James Parkinson’s memorial plaque erected by the nursing staff of St Leonard’s Hospital. Another memorial was especially poignant for me- the stained glass window at the front of the church was designed to commemorate significant people who had ever had an association with the church. The bottom row of people represented includes Dr Parkinson standing beside and with his arm around Florence Nightingale. Perhaps the artist had a vision of how nursing would be involved with The Shaking Palsy in years to come!

Leaving the church we made our way to the home of Dr Parkinson. I was initially disappointed to find the lower floors were now a restaurant. In spite of that we enjoyed an extended lunch and explored the available rooms. It was exciting to hear that the upper storeys of the building are now expensive apartments.

When we left the family home we made our way to St Leonard’s Hospital where Dr Parkinson had worked and was so well respected by the nursing staff. It is a National Health Hospital and although I did not venture inside I could imagine that the exterior has not changed since Dr Parkinson was working there.

I hope you have enjoyed my description of a pilgrimage to honour a great medical and social mind who lives on in the everyday language of people affected by Parkinson’s.”