Manchester played a leading role in the development of therapeutic radium treatments in the first decades of the twentieth century. This culminated in the establishment of the joint Christie Hospital and Holt Radium Institute in Withington, Manchester in 1932.
By 1914, there was considerable scientific and medical interest in the potential uses of radium. Arthur Schuster and most notably Ernest Rutherford had developed a renowned research group in this area at the University of Manchester's department of physics. In addition, several Manchester medics, notably William Milligan, an ENT specialist at Manchester Royal Infirmary, were investigating radium therapy to treat cancers.
Supported by a generous initial donation by the Holt brewing family, the Manchester Radium Fund was launched in 1914 to raise funds to purchase radium (then an extremely expensive commodity) to be used for these new medical treatments. An organising committee comprised of Holt, Robert Boddington, also a brewer, Lawrence Pilkington, owner of a tile company, Edward Hopkinson, an electrical engineer and W. Armitage was established in early 1914. It was advised by a powerful Technical Sub-committee whose members included Rutherford, Schuster, Hopkinson, Milligan, Robert Wild (professor of materia medica), George Murray (professor of systematic medicine) and Charles Powell White, a cancer specialist at the Christie Hospital. Robert Wild had previously used radium for treating simple cancers on an experimental basis, and White was a vocal advocate of radium treatments.
The Radium Fund was a success; Manchester had local 'radium' days and collections made in the workplaces, public houses and clubs. By August 1914, a total of £31,000 had been raised. The Radium Committee then devised a scheme by which a Radium Department would be created at the Infirmary. This had its own laboratories, and employed a specialist medical physicist and radiologist. The Department stored the radium and undertook treatments, in addition to conducting clinical research. Other local hospitals, including St Mary's Salford Royal, Ancoats, the Skin Hospital, Manchester Northern and the Christie joined a scheme by which they used some of the radium for treatment at their own hospitals (although most patients were treated at the MRI). A Manchester and District Radium Institute, succeeding the Committee, acted as a supervisory body for the overall scheme. The Fund was an important development because it was the first time that Manchester's voluntary hospitals had cooperated in the delivery of services.
In 1920 the Institute moved to more spacious accommodation at Lister House, a former nursing home on Nelson Street, close to the Infirmary. The Institute was now essentially independent of MRI. The Institute had fourteen beds, but increasing numbers of patients and increasingly successful treatments, proved the number of beds to be insufficient. In 1930, the government set up the National Radium Commission to supply radium to National Centres, which included Manchester. The Northern Radium Centre was established at the Manchester Radium Institute with Dr Ralston Paterson as its director. By this time, a union between the Christie Hospital and the Institute promised better coordination of services and the possibilities of significantly expanding clinical and research facilities. Therefore in 1932, the Institute joined with the Christie Hospital and moved to a site at Withington, South Manchester, and was renamed the Holt Radium Institute.