28th February 2021, 8:00am


Thomas Percival – The beginnings of the Manchester Lit & Phil

According to his son Edward, it was in 1780, that Thomas Percival started hosting meetingsat his own house; the resort of the literary characters, the principal inhabitants and of occasional strangers.’ This gang of strangers would become the first meeting of the Manchester Lit & Phil, and Percival would become the society’s first president. During his presidency, the bulk of the Society’s membership was made up of radical reformers and slave abolitionists.

Percival was a physician, moralist and a non-conformist, the architect behind sweeping changes to public health. In the 1789 and 1795 the population of Manchester was devastated by epidemics of typhus and typhoid. Percival’s research focused on the impact of epidemics in the health of the working class, and he sought to improve the living and working conditions in the city. In 1795, Percival established the Board of Health which worked to stop the spread of further diseases. The Board also campaigned against other social evils within Manchester, such as child labour.

 Medical Ethics, the most well-known of Percival’s work, was a codification of Percival’s medical practice, a document that was later adopted by the British and American Medical Associations.


Discover more

  • The University of Manchester Library holds some papers on the history and proceedings of the Manchester Board of Health.  A description of them can be found here.
  • The Wellcome Collection's online archive holds historical papers relating to the Manchester Royal Infirmary and papers written by Thomas Percival.