Dr Richard Formby: founder of the Liverpool Medical School

Dr Richard Formby: founder of the Liverpool Medical School


By T. Cecil Gray

Dr Richard Formby was born in 1790 and grew up in the relative peace of Formby - a village close to Liverpool. His father, the Reverend Richard Formby was Lord of the Manor, a role he combined with that of clergyman responsible for two churches - in Liverpool and Formby - something he managed by virtue of his excellent horsemanship, the two parishes being 13 miles apart!

One of 10 children who were educated by tutors at home, it was at a family conference when Richard's complete lack of vocation was giving cause for concern that someone said, 'If I were you Richard I would become a doctor'. To everyone's astonishment, he agreed and so was entered, in 1804, aged 14, as a pupil at Liverpool infirmary. His formal medical education began at 17 at Caius College Cambridge, where he thoroughly enjoyed himself and did not 'read hard' - but nevertheless managed to impress the university authorities. In the same year he advertised in the Liverpool Mercury;

Dr Formby will commence a course of LECTURES in ANATOMY and PHYSIOLOGY on Tuesday 17th instant at eight in the morning …….

And thus was sown the seed of the Liverpool Medical School.

Dr Formby's major role in the founding of the Medical School, his innovations and life as a physician are charted in this sparkling biography set against a background of turbulent social change. In 1852, following a stroke, to his surprise and delight he was invited to give the Harveian Oration at the Royal College of Physicians. He used the occasion to complain about the method of making hospital appointments!

The author, T Cecil Gray was himself a distinguished physician and was a major player in the Liverpool medical scene.


  • Prologue
  • The Reverend Richard Formby
  • Schooling and tragedy
  • Miss Johnson's inspiration
  • Cambridge
  • Edinburgh
  • Bold Street: nascent School of Anatomy
  • 'Hon i soit qui mal y pense'
  • Meeting with Charlotte; Marriage; Professor of Anatomy
  • Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians; The advent of Mr William Gill
  • Dr Formby's family; An overactive lifestyle; Charlotte's depression
  • Physician to the Infirmary; Cholera!
  • The Medical Library; The Medical Society and Dr Rutter's dream
  • The Liverpool Royal Institution School of Medicine
  • A bumpy decade
  • Liverpool Infirmary Medical School
  • Behind the scenes
  • The Asylum
  • The Harveian Oration
  • Peace at Shorrocks Hill
  • Epilogue

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Dr Richard Formby: founder of the Liverpool Medical School