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Sir Charles SHERRINGTON, O.M, PRS (1857–1952)

Neurophysiologist and Nobel laureate

9 Chadlington Road, Oxford

Portrait of Sir Charles Sherrington
Sir Charles Scott Sherrington

by Reginald Grenville Eves
charcoal, 1927 NPG 3829

© National Portrait Gallery, London

He was born in Islington to James Norton Sherrington and his wife Anne and grew up in Ipswich when his mother remarried. He attended Ipswich Grammar School and influenced by his step-father Dr Caleb Rose, entered St Thomas’s Medical School in 1876 and won a scholarship to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge to read Natural Sciences in 1881, emerging with First Class Honours. In 1887 he was appointed lecturer in systemic physiology at St Thomas’s and made a fellow of Gonville and Caius. In 1895 he became Holt Professor of Physiology at Liverpool University. In 1913 he was invited to be Waynflete Professor of Physiology at Oxford and Fellow of Magdalen College, and remained in post until his retirement in 1936.

Sherrington revolutionised the field of neurophysiology and was one of the most distinguished and ground-breaking scientists of his time, laying the foundations for the development of neuroscience. He proposed that reflexes depend on the integration of signals from a wide range of nerve fibres and that the integration must happen at the minute connections between nerve fibres and nerve cells. He coined the term ‘synapse’ for such a connection. He continued to perform pioneering research in related areas such as the organisation of motor areas in the cerebral cortex. His published findings in The Integrative Action of the Nervous System (1906) and Mammalian Physiology (1919) are seminal works. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1932 jointly with Edgar Adrian. During his years directing the University Laboratory of Physiology he mentored and collaborated with later Nobel Laureates: Henry Dale, Archibald Hill, John Eccles, Ragnar Granit, and Howard Florey.

Sherrington received the highest accolades: he was knighted in 1922, served as President of the Royal Society (1920–25), and was admitted to the Order of Merit in 1924. The Oxford science area bears witness to his eminence, with the naming of Sherrington Road and the departmental Sherrington Building where his archives and memorabilia are kept.

9 Chadlington Road

For almost all his years in Oxford he and his wife Ethel Mary lived at 9 Chadlington Road (above), where they were noted for their hospitality. They were keen punters and canoeists on the Cherwell close by and he even wrote some scientific papers out on the river. Sherrington was a man of many parts, a talented sportsman in his youth, playing soccer for Ipswich Town, rugby for St Thomas’s and rowing for his college. He was a notable book collector, trustee of the British Museum and poet. His book Man on his Nature (1940) which addressed the mind–brain problem was very popular and selected as one of the hundred outstanding British books at the Festival of Britain in 1951. In 1939 he was living again in Ipswich and died in Eastbourne.

Sources:

  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, article by Wilder Penfold, revised by E. M. Tansey
  • Information supplied by the Oxford Department of Physiology, Anatomy, and Genetics (DPAG)

The plaque was unveiled at 9 Chadlington Road on 28 April 2022. The speaker was Professor David Paterson, Head of DPAG. Among those attending were the Sheriff of Oxford (Cllr Dick Wolff), the Chairman of Oxfordshire County Council (Cllr John Howson), and many professors of neuroscience.

Photographs taken at the unveiling ceremony:

Sherrington plaque

Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board

SIR CHARLES
SHERRINGTON OM, PRS

1857–1952
Waynflete Professor of Physiology
Founder of neurophysiology
Nobel Laureate

Lived here
1916–1934

dept. physiology, anatomy & genetics,
university of Oxford

© Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board

 

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