UCL Division of Biosciences


History of the Anatomy Laboratory

The Anatomy Laboratory is situated in the Rockefeller building in the iconic neighbourhood of Bloomsbury, an area well regarded as being the central hub of culture, intellect and education in London. Home to such institutions such as the British Museum, RADA, the central headquarters of the University of London, the British Medical Association and of course University College London; it is no surprise that the early years of anatomy at UCL were shaped by distinguished scholars and thinkers.

Anatomy at UCL goes back to the foundation of the college in 1830’s. Following on from the success of the Great Windmill Street School of Anatomy the anatomist and neurologist Charles Bell went on to set up the Middlesex Hospital Medical School and the Medical School of University of London (now UCL) where he held the chair in Anatomy for a brief time.

He was soon succeeded by Richard Quain Professor of Descriptive Anatomy, and his brother Jones Quain Professor of General Anatomy. The latter perhaps best known for having written the first anatomical textbook to be published by UCL, Quian’s Elements of Anatomy. 

George Dancer Thane Jr (1877-1919) was Professor of Anatomy for 42 years; however, he had spent a total of 63 years studying and teaching in UCL. He was one of the founders of the Anatomical Society of GB and Ireland and also edited and contributed to future printings of Quains Anatomy textbook.  Thane was the first in UCL to teach Anatomy at the Slade School of Art, a relationship that continues to this day. 

Grafton Elliot-Smith (1920-1934) a renowned Egyptologist brought sabbatical with him to the US universities and brought in donations from Rockefeller Foundation which built the current location of the Anatomy Lab in 1920s. His specialist area of study was physical anthropology and the neurological evolution of the primate brain. The Anatomy Laboratory still houses his vast collection of primate brains for comparative study. 

JZ young (1945-1974) is one of the most influential biologists of the 20th century, with most of his work focusing on the nervous system.  His research greatly influenced the work of Sir Andrew Huxley and Sir Alan Hodgkin, who went on to be awarded the Nobel Prize in 1963 for their work on nerve action potentials. The current chair of anatomy is named after him and is held by Prof Claudio Stern of Cell and Development Biology. 

Comparative Anatomy Lecture Theatre, UCL 1882. The first stage of the North Wing vacated by the Slade School after 1881.

sir grafton elliot smith