The Department of Anatomy was one of the original constituents of the Owens College Medical School, established in 1873, following the amalgamation between the College and the Manchester Royal School of Medicine.
Anatomy teaching was a key part of the College's medical curriculum, and the professor of anatomy, along with the professor of physiology, were both full-time academic posts (other medical teaching posts were part-time, and undertaken mostly by consultant staff of the Manchester Royal infirmary.) Anatomy was studied for the second examination of the M.B. Ch.B degree (that is after completing their pre-clinical examinations). Students were required to present certificates indicating they had dissected a whole human body.
The first occupant of the chair was Morison Watson (1846-1885), who held the chair from 1874-1884 and was an expert in animal anatomy. Following his sudden death, he was succeeded by Alfred Young (1851-1912), who was professor until 1909. Young was known for his work on the anatomy of blood vessels, as well as playing an important role in improving medical education at the College. Young in turn was followed by Grafton Elliot Smith (1871-1937), the eminent anatomist, embryologist and anthropologist. When Smith left Manchester for the University of London in 1919, he was succeeded by one of his staff, John Stopford (1888-1961), who built up the department's reputation for research. Stopford himself undertook important research on peripheral nerve damage, which was based on work done on the war wounded. Stopford held his chair concurrently with the vice-chancellorship of the University from 1934-1937. On relinquishing his chair, he retained a personal chair, and Frederick Wood Jones (1879-1954) became professor of anatomy and head of department. Jones was the author of many books on the comparative anatomy of animals, especially primates. He also wrote a number of anthropological studies of early man and accounts of evolutionary theory. Following Jones' retirement in 1945, G. A. G. Mitchell (1906-1993) was appointed to the chair in 1946. Like Stopford he was an expert in the autonomic nervous system. The last head of the independent department of anatomy was Philip Harris, professor from 1974-1989. In 1986, anatomy was subsumed into the new School of Biological Sciences.
- Morison Watson 1884-1885
- A.H. Young 1885-1909
- Grafton Elliot Smith 1909-1919
- J.S.B. Stopford 1919-1937
- F. Wood Jones 1938-1945
- G.A.G. Mitchell 1946-1974
- Philip Harris 1974-1989