Papers of: Physiological Society (founded 1876)

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 120 SA/PHY
  • Dates of Creation
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      144 boxes, 5 oversize boxes

Scope and Content

Records of the Physiological Society, including all the minute books from the foundation of the Society in 1876, the proposal books for candidates from 1888, correspondence, histories and photographs. The bulk of the material dates from after 1939.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Physiological Society was formed in March 1876 after John Burdon Sanderson invited 19 scientists interested in physiology to his house for informal discussions over how they should react to impending legislation on the use of animals in experiments. For the first four years the meetings were fairly informal and intimate affairs, with membership formally limited to forty, and business taking place over dinner in a hotel. In December 1880 the first afternoon meeting for the demonstration of experiments and presentation of results took place, a precedent which has continued, and now the demonstrations and presentations are at the core of the Society's meetings, although dinner still plays an important part. The archive contains the unpublished manuscripts of History of the Physiological Society 1926 - 1969 by HP Gilding (GB0120 SA/PHY/R.1/2), and The origin of the Physiological Society's dog , by RA Chapman (GB0120 SA/PHY/R.1/4), which was given as a presentation at a Society meeting in 1989.


By section as follows: A. Grey books; B. Committee; C. Scientific meetings; D. Special lectures, symposia and events; E. Membership; F. Publishing; G. Animal legislation; H. Education and the teaching of physiology: policy and legislation; J. Films and photographs sub-committees; K Secretary's miscellaneous correspondence; L. Treasurer's files; M Foreign Secretary's files; N. Grants and prizes; P. Archives; Q.1 Other societies; Q.2 International Union of Physiological Sciences; R. Histories and catalogues commissioned by the Society; Z. Photograph collection

The papers of Professor EB Verney were deposited in the Physiological Society archive by Dr RHS Carpenter in 1988, and had been housed previously in the library of the Cambridge Physiological Laboratory. With the agreement of the Physiological Society and the Cambridge Physiological Laboratory the Verney papers were removed from the Society's archive and catalogued as a separate collection (GB0120 PP/EBV), amalgamated with a small collection of Verney papers already held in the Contemporary Medical Archives Centre (formerly GB0120 GC/71). A small number of reminiscences and personal material had been sent to the archive by Society members, and, with the agreement of the Society, this material has been catalogued as a separate collection: "Physiological Society: Additional Deposited Papers", (GB0120 GC/151).

Access Information

Material over thirty years old is open to bona fide scholars subject to the usual conditions of access to Archives and Manuscripts material, by prior appointment with the Archivist after the completion of a Reader's Undertaking. The agreement of an officer of the Physiological Society is necessary for access to material less than thirty years old.

Acquisition Information

In 1990 negotiations were initiated by Dr JJ Jack, the Honorary Treasurer, and by Dr EM Tansey, leading to the transfer of the archive to the Wellcome Library in 1991 (Acc Nos 390, 408, 415, 420, 435, 454).

Other Finding Aids

Catalogued by Isobel Hunter, CMAC, Wellcome Library, May 1994 and August 1996. Hard-copy catalogue with personal names index available in Wellcome Library.

Archivist's Note

Description compiled by Helen Wakely

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies/photographs/microfilm are supplied for private research only at the Archivist's discretion. Please note that material may be unsuitable for copying on conservation grounds, and that photographs cannot be photocopied in any circumstances. Readers are restricted to 100 photocopies in twelve months. The agreement of an officer of the Physiological Society is necessary for permission to publish from the archive.

Custodial History

For many years the papers of the Society accumulated as they passed from each officer to his successor, and it was not until March 1954 that Professor WDM Paton suggested that an 'archival depot' should be set up at University College London (UCL) for non-current files. Current files continued to be held in the offices of serving officers, who, at the end of their terms of office, either passed them on to their successors, sent them to UCL, left them where they were, or disposed of them; there was no clear policy for the management of the Society's archive. In December 1972 Dr RH Adrian suggested to the Committee that the material at UCL should be deposited at Churchill College Archives Centre in Cambridge. After negotiation the Committee agreed to the transfer in November 1973, and cataloguing was undertaken by a professional archivist. In July 1977 an Honorary Archivist, DH Steven, was appointed, with a part-time assistant, to oversee the archive and to take care of further accessions which continued to come in from serving officers and sub-committee members. Because there has never been any organized method of sending material to the archives, its accrual has been fairly patchy, reflecting the fact that the officers only serve for a few years and have different priorities over what should be kept. On completion of cataloguing, a records management schedule was drawn up after visits to survey the files of serving officers to ensure that future accessions to the archive cover all important material whilst avoiding duplication.

Related Material

Held by Archives and Manuscripts, Wellcome Library: Research Defence Society (SA/RDS), Sir Edward Sharpey-Schafer (PP/ESS), and papers relating to International Physiological Congresses 1889-1939 (GC/71). Other relevant collections are listed in sources leaflet no. 9 Physiology .


History of the Physiological Society during its first fifty years 1876 - 1926 , Sir Edward Sharpey-Schafer, 1927; A short history of the Physiological Society 1926 - 1976 , WF Bynum, Journal of Physiology , (1976), 263