Sunday, 6 August 2017

It’s a dickens of a story: A Tale of Two Christies

One of the things I have on my to do list is to visit the Edinburgh Festival. Despite spending half my time in the North West of England and the other half in Scotland, I have yet to get to the festival. I was reminded of this last week as the festival started on Friday (4th August). Although it runs through until the 28th of August, for much of that time I am back in the North West of England - I have, however, been to the Glyndebourne Festival, and strangely there is a connection.

John Christie, was an English landowner and founder of the Glyndebourne festival which was held at his house in Sussex. If you not been and have the opportunity to go, I can recommend it – it’s a chance to dress up (evening wear is the dress code) and picnic in wonderful surroundings and listen to fabulous music and opera. John Christie fell in love with one Audrey Mildmay, a Canadian soprano. He was smitten. When Audrey went down with appendicitis and had her appendix out, he declared his was troubling him too and had his removed at the same time. Despite their age difference, she was some 8 years younger than he was, they eventually married. Together they set up a wonderful musical legacy that from its inception in 1934, still receives international acclaim.

In 1947, the very first Edinburgh Festival was held. The idea was conceived by one Rudolf Bing, who at the time was the manager of the Glyndebourne Opera Festival. With the help of both John Christie and in particular, his wife Audrey, and Harvey Wood, Head of the British Council in Scotland, the idea was brought to life. Ever since for 3 weeks in August the festival brings top class performers of music, theatre opera and dance from around the world to show their talent. The Fringe Festival has been going just as long and this allows aspiring performers to have a stage and create a new audience. Both national institutions Glyndebourne, and the Edinburgh Festival, are recognised the world over for the high quality performances they showcase.

Back in Manchester there is another national institution that also has an international reputation for excellence. This is The Christie, a hospital specialising in treating and researching cancer. The hospital was originally supported by a wealthy industrialist by the name of Joseph Whitworth (engineer, inventor and philanthropist). He died in 1887, and left large sums of (£500,000 equivalent to £60,000,000 today) to 3 trustees, one of whom was Richard Christie. Who as far as I can find out, was no relation to the John Christie above.

In 1892 some of this money was used to build a Cancer Pavilion and Home for Incurables. It was the only hospital outside of London that specialised in cancer treatment only. In 1901 it was renamed the Christie Hospital in honour of Richard Christie and his wife Mary who had done so much to establish the hospital. Richard Christie was an interesting person in his own right. A professor of history and then political economy, he used some £50000 (equivalent to £5,900,000 in today’s money) to build the beautiful Whitworth Hall (now part of the University of Manchester campus). He also left some 15,000 books, many of which were first editions, to what is now the John Ryland’s Library.

The Christie is the largest single site hospital in Europe for the treatment of cancer. It sees some 44,000 patients a year. The hospital employs 2500 members of staff, who are supported by over 300 volunteers. It is one of the largest hospital charities in the UK. Like Glyndebourne and Edinburgh festivals the work of Christie is excellent and world renowned. The hospital I have a connection with proudly entered into a partnership with The Christie and Macmillan to establish a chemotherapy and treatment centre at the Wrightinton, Wigan and Leigh NHS Trust. It opened its doors to patients in 2015. For the patients of Wigan needing chemotherapy, the centre means they avoid a 60 mile round trip to the Christie for their treatment, which in terms of improving patient care, is absolutely music to my ears!