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John Kidd, who was also Lee’s Reader of Anatomy and Regius Professor of Medicine, became Aldrichian Praelector of Anatomy in 1822.  He was the first doctor to abandon the traditional attire of physicians: a full-bottomed wig, large turned up cocked hat and gold-headed cane.  Kidd also purchased 37 St Giles, which on his death he left to Christ Church to become the residence of Dr Lee’s Reader.

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John Kidd (left) © Wellcome Trust, Kidd lecturing at Christ Church (centre) © Christ Church Library and Archives, and 37 St Giles (right) © Oxford History

However, by the beginning of the 19th century, medical science at Oxford had deteriorated and the numbers of Oxford medical students was falling. This was in some part due to the attraction of London, where the Royal Society was flourishing, and the difficulty in acquiring bodies for dissections. 

In 1832, The Anatomy Act passed in Great Britain: anyone intending to practice anatomy had to obtain a license, but then they had access to unclaimed corpses and donated bodies. The popularity of anatomy lectures at Oxford increased as a result.

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The Anatomy Act © Wellcome Trust

Henry Acland, a medical student from Edinburgh, became Dr Lee’s Reader in Anatomy in 1845. Rather than contest the movement of students away from the University for practical experience, Acland encouraged medical students to come to Oxford for a rigorous education in the medical sciences, and then complete their clinical training in London hospitals.

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Henry Acland © Wellcome Trust

Saying this, in 1850, The Royal Commission on the University commented that, “Oxford has ceased altogether to be a school of medicine”. Many medical students chose to study their profession elsewhere.

Therefore, a University Reform Bill was passed in 1854 that made substantial changes to how the University of Oxford was run. The Bachelor of Medicine was split into two parts: the first part covered scientific subjects; and the second part covered clinical subjects. This is more or less still the structure of the medical degree at Oxford today. This statute was grounded in Acland’s idea that the BM should be a complete University education but at the same time only a partial professional education i.e. an examination in the sciences preliminary to the practice of medicine. Human anatomy was thereafter studied after the honours exam in physiology, usually in London hospitals, since Acland felt it was related to the professional rather than general scientific training of medicine.

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A 19th century Oxford medical student © Wellcome Trust

In 1860, Merton endowed a Linacre Professorship of Physiology (now a Professorship of Zoology). That same year, the University Museum opened for a meeting of the British Association. Physiological and Anatomical specimen collections were moved here, and so the Christ Church Anatomy School ceased to be used for the purpose of its foundation less than a hundred years after it opened. The foundation of the University Museum marks the starting point of modern physiology at Oxford.

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The University Museum (left), and a 19th century Anatomy and Physiology class (right) © Pitt Rivers

After the University Commission in 1877, the Linacre Professorship of Physiology became the Professorship of Human and Comparative Anatomy, and the new Waynflete Professorship of Physiology was endowed by Magdalen. In 1883, the Laboratory of Physiology was established under the direction of John Burdon Sanderson, the first Waynflete Professor of Physiology at Oxford.

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The interior of Old Physiology (left), the Old Physiology Class of 1894 (centre), and the front door to Old Physiology (right)

Sanderson is known for having reported that penicillium inhibited the growth of bacteria. He also studied electrophysiology, the electrical activity of the heart, which now makes it possible to locate an arrhythmia (abnormal heartbeat). Electrophysiology has remained a major theme of research within the department. Indeed, a Research Centre was established in 2005 in the Department in honour of Sanderson.

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John Burdon Sanderson

Sanderson believed anatomy to be essential to physiological studies, and that the two subjects should be studied simultaneously. Therefore, he appointed Arthur Thomson from Edinburgh as University Lecturer in Human Anatomy in 1885. 

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Arthur Thomson at his desk

At first he lectured in the University Museum, but then a brick shed was erected in the yard of new physiological laboratory. This included a dissecting room and a lecture theatre. Then in 1886, an iron-roofed structure was erected as an extension, providing another dissecting room; thus, the original dissecting room became a second lecture theatre. 

However, this building was deemed inadequate and the Department of Anatomy was moved to a new building in 1893, the present-day Le Gros Clark Building. The new building had a dissecting room, a prosecting room, a museum, a lecture theatre, a vestibule and two private rooms.

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The Department of Anatomy: museum (left), dissecting room (centre), and vestibule (right)

Indeed, Physiology and Anatomy were the first two individual departments of medicine established at the University.

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