Sherrington, Charles Scott 1857 - 1952


(1857-1952), Knight and physiologist

Sir Charles Scott Sherrington was born on 27 November 1857 in Islington, London. He was educated at Ipswich Grammar School and Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge before studying medicine at St Thomas’s Hospital, London in 1876. He returned as a scholar of Gonville and Caius College in 1881, carrying out research in the physiological laboratory of Sir Michael Foster (1836-1907). He graduated first class from the Natural Sciences Tripos in 1883, before completing his medical studies at St Thomas’s in 1884.

After working in several laboratories in Germany and France, Sherrington became lecturer in systematic physiology at St Thomas’s in 1887 and, later, Holt Professor of Physiology at Liverpool in 1895. In these two posts, Sherrington conducted various neurophysiological investigations which led to important contributions in the understanding of the nervous system. This included elaborating on the neuron connections of the spinal cord and brain stem and the mechanisms behind the coordination of muscle movement. He also coined several key terms and concepts, including ‘synapse’ and ‘reflex arc’.

In 1913, Sherrington was invited to take up the Waynflete Chair of Physiology at the University of Oxford and, with the outbreak of the First World War a year later, he undertook a number of investigations into industrial fatigue for the War Office. Between 1920 and 1925, he served as President of the Royal Society, and in 1932, he was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine with E.D. Adrian (1889-1977) for their discoveries on the function of the neurons.

Sherrington retired from Oxford in 1935 but continued to write and lecture. In 1940, he published Man on his Nature, which explored the relationship between the ‘brain’ and the ‘mind’.

Sherrington married Ethel Mary Wright (d.1933) in 1891, with whom he had one son, Carr E.R. Sherrington. Sherrington died in Eastbourne, East Sussex, on 4 March 1952.