Sir Godfrey Thomson

Authority on intelligence testing, Bell Professor of Education, alumnus.

Thomson Godrey plaque


Born in Carlisle in 1881, Godfrey Thomson was raised in Tyneside after his mother left his father, taking the infant Thomson with her. He lived with his mother and her three sisters, and she earned a very modest income from working with a sewing machine firm in Newcastle.

Thomson had plans to become a ‘pattern maker’, a specialist joiner who made wooden models of steel castings for engineering works, after leaving High Felling Board School.  However, after sitting a scholarship examination, Thomson found himself at Rutherford College, where he discovered various interests in mathematics, music, and etymology. 

Rutherford College was supported largely by the students entering and winning examinations as part of a government scheme, and Thomson soon became a veteran in these examinations, obtaining prizes for English and Mathematics among others.


After studying at Strasbourg under the Nobel prize winning physicist, Professor Ferdinand Braun, Thomson returned to Newcastle where he attained the post of assistant lecturer at Armstrong College. It was here he gained an interest in Educational Psychology.

In 1925, Thomson accepted his position in Edinburgh as Bell Professor of Education and his family moved to Edinburgh.  It was here-in what became the Godfrey Thomson Unit-that Thomson and his team would formulate the Moray House Test. 

The test, which included questions on verbal reasoning, English, and mathematics, was also used by local authorities throughout the UK for School selection. Thomson was not wholly comfortable with this, but concluded testing was preferable to nepotism, and worked on making the tests as fair as possible. 

Thomson could have made a considerable fortune on the tests, but instead insured all royalties were transferred into a research fund to facilitate their continual improvement.

On his retirement in 1951, Thomson, who had proved highly popular among staff and students, was presented with two portraits of himself by RH Westwater, one of which hangs in Moray House to this day.  He passed away in 1955.

The plaque

Thomson's plaque is located at the Royal Mile, north facade of the School of Education buildings.


In honour of Sir Godfrey Hilton Thomson


Pioneer of educational testing, Bell Professor of Education, Director of Moray House College (1925-1951)