The department of physiology was one of the largest and most important departments in the University's Faculty of Medicine, responsible for key parts of pre-clinical medical teaching. With precursors in the former Manchester Royal School of Medicine, the department was part of the original Owens College medical school, created from the amalgamation with the School in 1872-3.
The department was the beneficiary of the Brackenbury endowment, given by Miss Hannah Brackenbury, which supported the Brackenbury Chair of Physiology and Histology (the senior professorial chair in the department). Most, if not all, holders of the chair were medically qualified. Arthur Gamgee (1841-1909) was appointed as the first professor of physiology in 1875 [he had been lecturer between 1873-1875, in tandem with William Smith, who also taught physiology). Physiology was seen as important to the Medical School's research credentials, but in the event it proved difficult to build an effective research programme. Gamgee resigned his professorship in 1885, and was succeeded by William Stirling, who came from the University of Aberdeen. Stirling (1851-1932) proved an effective teacher and administrator, but published little and did little to advance the cause of research in the department. The Cambridge physiologist A V Hill (1886-1977) succeeded Stirling in 1920. Hill had a strong reputation for research in Cambridge, where he had specialised in biophysics, then a novel subject area. His tenure of the chair coincided with he award of the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1922 for his work of the production of heat and mechanical work in muscles. He left Manchester in 1923 for a post at UCL. Herbert Raper, professor from 1923 to 1946,was a leading biochemist, and developed the clinical research laboratory at the Manchester Royal Infirmary. In the psot-war period, the department was at the centre of efforts to build up the Medical School's research reputation. The professor during this period (1946-1965) was Walter Schlapp, noted for his work in cardiovascular and neuro-physiology, but who spent much of the later part of his career involved in administration.
John Mills, Brackenbury professor from 1966 until his death in 1977 was a noted researcher into human circadian rhythms. He was succeeded by Stanley Thomas, who had previously occupied the junior physiology chair. After Thomas retired, Maynard Case became head of department, and oversaw the department's incorporation into the School of Biological Sciences.
Physiology was taught not only to medical and dental students, but to those studying biochemistry, ophthalmics, pharmacy, psychology, speech therapy and nursing. The department also taught an honours degree in physiology. There was, in addition, a large postgraduate school In 1986, the department of physiology became part of a new department of physiological sciences within the School of Biological Sciences; this new department also included staff from pharmacology and zoology.
- Arthur Gamgee, 1875-1885
- William Stirling, 1886-1919
- A V Hill, 1920-1923
- Harry Raper, 1923-1946
- Walter Schlapp, 1946-1965
- John Mills, 1965-1977
- Stanley Thomas, 1978-1981
- Maynard Case, 1982-1986
. Professor Case then became head of department for physiological sciences in the new School of Biological Sciences.