Thomas Laycock (physiologist)

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Thomas Laycock's grave, St Johns, Princes St, Edinburgh

Thomas Laycock (1812-1876) was an English neurophysiologist who was a native of Bedale near York. Among medical historians, he is best known for his influence on John Hughlings Jackson and the psychiatrist James Crichton-Browne. Laycock’s interests were the nervous system and psychology.


Laycock was the son of a Wesleyan minister. He trained as an apprentice surgeon-apothecary in Bedale, followed by medical studies at the University College London. He continued his education in Paris, where his instructors included Alfred Armand Velpeau (1795–1867) and Pierre Charles Alexandre Louis (1787–1872), renowned as an initiator of statistics. In 1839 he received his medical doctorate from the University of Göttingen. Afterwards he returned to York as a lecturer at York Medical School as well as a physician to the York Dispensary. From 1855 until his death in 1876, he held the chair of medicine in Edinburgh. [1]

In 1852, Laycock encountered Hughlings Jackson, a new student; he also taught Jonathan Hutchinson whom Jackson was to meet in 1859 and share a house with at 14 Finsbury Circus, London for three years. In Edinburgh, Laycock was friendly with the asylum reformer William A.F. Browne (1805-1885) and was a major influence on his son James Crichton-Browne (1840-1938).

Laycock is known for a concept involving "reflex action of the brain", postulating that the reflex was an intelligent, but unconscious reaction to stimuli. He asserted that although the brain was an organ of consciousness, it was still subject to the laws of reflex action, and in this regard was no different from other ganglia of the nervous system. [1] He also held a fundamental belief in the "unity of nature", and saw nature as working through an unconsciously acting principle of organization.

His wife Ann died in 1869 and is buried in York.

Thomas took a post at the University of Edinburgh as Professor of the Practice of Medicine and died there. He is buried in one of the upper terraces of St Johns on Princes Street.