Russell Brain, 1st Baron Brain

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The Right Honourable
The Lord Brain
Sir Russell Brain and Dr. Henry Yellowlees. Wellcome L0030419.jpg
Russell Brain with Dr. Henry Yellowlees at the Mental After Care Association AGM, 1956
Born Walter Russell Brain
(1895-10-23)23 October 1895
Reading, England
Died 29 December 1966(1966-12-29) (aged 71)
Alma mater New College, Oxford
Known for Brain's reflex
Awards Fellow of the Royal Society[1]
Scientific career
Institutions University of Oxford

Walter Russell Brain, 1st Baron Brain (23 October 1895 – 29 December 1966) was a British neurologist. He was principal author of the standard work of neurology, Brain's Diseases of the Nervous System, and longtime editor of the homonymous neurological medical journal titled Brain. He is also eponymised with "Brain's reflex", a reflex exhibited by humans when assuming the quadrupedian position.[1][2]


Brain was educated at Mill Hill School and New College, Oxford, where he began to read history, but disliked it. The First World War having begun in 1914, the following year he joined the Friends' Ambulance Unit as an alternative to volunteering for combat, and was sent to York, moving later to the King George Hospital in London, attached to the X-ray department. On the introduction of conscription in 1916 his work enabled him to be exempted as a conscientious objector.

After the war he returned to New College, and studied medicine, obtaining his BM BCh in 1922 and a DM in 1925; he specialised in neurology. Apart from his clinical practice, he was a member on a large number of government committees pertaining to physical and mental health, and was involved in the care of Winston Churchill on the latter's deathbed in 1965.

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1931 and was President of the College from 1950 to 1956.

He was knighted in 1952,[3] made a baronet on 29 June 1954,[4] and on 26 January 1962 was created Baron Brain, of Eynsham in the County of Oxford.[5] In March, 1964 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society.[6] In 1964 he gave the presidential address (Science and Behaviour) to the British Association meeting in Southampton.[7] In this address he discussed how humanity was approaching the anthropocene and he reiterated Alfred North Whitehead's warning that "A muddled state of mind is prevalent. The increased plasticity of the environment for mankind, resulting from the advances in scientific technology, is being construed in terms of habits of thought which find their justification in the theory of a fixed environment."[8]


He married Stella Langdon-Down and had a daughter, Janet, and two sons, Christopher (b. 1926) and Michael (b. 1928). Christopher succeeded him as the 2nd Baron Brain and 2nd Baronet Brain. In 1954 Janet married Dr Leonard Arthur, tried in 1981 for the murder of a baby, but acquitted.

Religious beliefs[edit]

He became a Quaker in 1931 and gave the Swarthmore Lecture in 1944, ‘Man, society and religion’, in which he stressed the importance of a social conscience.


  1. ^ a b Pickering, G. W. (1968). "Walter Russell Brain First Baron Brain of Eynsham 1895-1966". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 14: 61–82. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1968.0004. 
  2. ^ "Brain, Walter Russell, first Baron Brain". The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 2004. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/32035. 
  3. ^ "No. 39480". The London Gazette. 29 February 1952. p. 1191. 
  4. ^ "No. 40224". The London Gazette. 6 July 1954. p. 3959. 
  5. ^ "No. 42582". The London Gazette. 26 January 1962. p. 683. 
  6. ^ "Library and Archive Catalogue". Royal Soiety. Retrieved 18 December 2010. [dead link]
  7. ^ Burton, K. J.; Renn, D. F. (Sep 1965). "The British Association for the Advancement of Science: The Southampton Meeting". Journal of the Institute of Actuaries. 91 (2): 199–202. JSTOR 10.2307/41140083. 
  8. ^ Hertz, David (1965). "The Unity of Science and Management". Management Science. 11 (6 series B): B89–B97. doi:10.1287/mnsc.11.6.b89. 

Further reading[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by
The Lord Moran
President of the Royal College of Physicians
Succeeded by
Robert Platt
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Baron Brain
Succeeded by
Christopher Brain
Baronetage of the United Kingdom
New creation Baronet
(of Reading)
Succeeded by
Christopher Brain