A History of Psychology at the University of Liverpool

1895 - The Beginning...

Although there was no official department of psychology at Liverpool University until 1947, psychology has a long history at the University. One of the most famous figures in this respect was the Nobel prize winning physiologist Sir Charles Sherrington, who held the Holt Chair of Physiology at Liverpool from 1895-1913. Charles Sherrington is often considered to be founder of modern neurophysiology. During his time at Liverpool, Sherrington was joined by the educational psychologist, Sir Cyril Burt as assistant lecturer in physiology and lecturer in Experimental Ps‌ychology at the University of Liverpool from 1908-1913. It was during this time that Burt began his controversial work on intelligence and heredity which later informed the introductions of the 11+ tests for entry into grammar school.


Sir Charles Sherrington            Sir Cyril Burt


1947 - A Dedicated Department of Psychology

The first dedicated department of psychology was set up in 1947, under the chairmanship of Professor Leslie Hearnshaw, in pleasant Victorian surroundings in Abercrombie square, the Department flourished. Hearnshaw’s specialism was the History of Psychology and one of his most acclaimed works was his painstaking biography of Sir Cyril Burt, which brought allegations of some fraudulent components in Burt’s work on hereditary factors in intelligence into scholarly perspective. Hearnshaw also oversaw the introduction, in 1961, of the first teaching of clinical psychology at Liverpool, which took place within the Department of Psychology.


Staff meeting chaired by Hearnshaw                            Abercrombie Square in the 1960's

On Hearnshaw’s retirement in 1974 (you can view an obituary for Lesley Hearnshaw from 1991, here - Lesley Hearnshaw Obituary), Professor Dennis Bromley took over the headship. When Bromley took over, the Department of Psychology had only recently moved into its new purpose built accommodation, the Eleanor Rathbone Building (ERB), which Psychology shared with Sociology.


Professor Leslie Hearnshaw          Professor Dennis Bromley


1974 - A State of the Art Home

The ERB was state of the art in every respect, thanks greatly to Bromley's input.  As well as being a pioneer in the psychology of human ageing, Bromley also had interests in personality and social psychology; hence the ERB was well equipped with laboratories for social psychological and cognitive studies, as well as an integral animal house for rats and monkeys and a large recording studio. However, although the clinical psychology staff had originally moved into the ERB along with the rest of psychology in 1973, they moved in 1979 to form the Sub-Department of Clinical Psychology, then part of the Department of Psychiatry, later becoming the Department of Clinical Psychology. Within this department, the teaching of clinical aspects of psychology gradually extended to medical, dental and nursing and Allied Health Professions students. Our research into psychological processes in health and healthcare – now a major component of psychological research in Liverpool - began when Philip Ley, known especially for his pioneering research on doctor-patient communication, led the clinical psychology training programme in the 1970s.

The psychology laboratory, 1970's

1983 - The Departments' Growth

When Bromley stepped down as Head of the Department of Psychology in 1983, Richard Latto took over. Latto remained head for 15 years, and it was under his headship that the Department expanded considerably. The 1990s, in particular, saw the beginnings of a gradual expansion, starting with the appointment of three research professors, David Canter, Robin Dunbar and Andrew Mayes in the areas of forensic, evolutionary and cognitive neuropsychology.  Under Latto’s guidance, the Department not only emerged with growing research strengths but a commitment to establishing and following best practice in teaching and ethical standards. Indeed, amongst his achievements, Richard Latto was subsequently to receive the inaugural British Psychological Society Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions to psychology education.

Professor Richard Latto


1998 - Restructuring for Modern Times

By the time Stephen Cooper took over as Head of Department in 1998, the expansion of the Department was well under way, and partly in recognition of this, it was renamed as the School of Psychology. In response to a growing and more demanding student population, more staff were recruited and the ERB was revamped accordingly. The animal house had gone, and in its place were new laboratories and facilities that reflected a range of new staff interests and expertise, including language development, appetite, addiction, electrophysiological and visual and auditory perception research, as well as existing strengths such as forensic and investigative psychology. The School also had one of the first Student Experience offices in the University, with dedicated staff on hand to deal directly with students. As well having a very impressive research profile, Stephen Cooper, like Richard Latto, was actively involved in educational matters, serving on the British Psychological Society’s Graduate Qualifications Committee, Ethics Committee, and Research Board. Again this expertise has very much shaped the way the teaching of psychology is delivered at Liverpool. When Stephen Cooper retired from the headship in 2004 his place was taken by Ian Donald.  Best known for his work in organisational psychology, Ian Donald applied his expertise to dealing with the ongoing restructuring and expansion of the School until the emergence of the present structure within the recently established Faculty of Health and Life Sciences.

Professor Ian Donald


2013 - A Contemporary Structure

Historically, one of the most important and welcome developments in this recent restructuring has been the reintegration of the research aspects of clinical and non-clinical psychology within a new Department of Psychological Sciences, which was founded in 2013 and led by Professor Jason Halford, to bring together all existing Psychological, Psychiatric, Behavioural Medicine, and other behavioural disciplines within the recently established Institute of Psychology, Health and Society (IPHS). The Institute, under the headship of Professor Peter Kinderman, covers a wide breadth of psychological and health based research.  The teaching of clinical and non-clinical aspects of psychology has now also been integrated within the new School of Psychology, led by Professor John Downes, within the Institute of Learning and Teaching.


Professor John Downes,              Professor Jason Halford               Professor Peter Kinderman

Return to Department of Psychological Sciences home page

Read a history of psychiatry at Liverpool