Manchester Radium Collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises documents about the Radium Committee and later Radium Institute's work between 1914-1923, with the majority of the items relating to that earlier period. It includes minutes and reports of the General and Technical and Scientific Sub-Committees. These papers provide useful information on how the radium scheme was planned and implemented, but there is very little information on how funds were raised for purchasing radium.

MRA/2 consists of documents relating to the Radium Department at the MRI, which presumably were compiled for the Institute. These include basic statistical and financial papers, as well as memoranda relating to the operation of the Department and its services (including a description of the London Radium Institute's scheme from 1914). There are documents relating to the new premises, and statistics relating to the first patients treated, and the first year’s accounts. Material from 1923 details the finances of the Manchester and District Radium Institute, the number of patients treated, and an account of Dr. Arthur Burrows visit to a radium institute in Stockholm, Sweden.

Administrative / Biographical History

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.


Arranged as series:

  • MRA/1 Manchester and District Radium Committee
  • MRA/2 Manchester Royal Infirmary Radium Department
  • MRA/3 Manchester and District Radium Institute

Access Information

The collection is open to any accredited reader.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies of material in the archive can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

A number of items within the archive remain within copyright under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; it is the responsibility of users to obtain the copyright holder's permission for reproduction of copyright material for purposes other than research or private study.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, John Rylands Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.

Custodial History

The archival history of this collection is unclear. It is incomplete and it is unlikely it is the 'official' archive of the Committee (which may or may not have existed). Copies of papers in the archive indicate they may have been kept by either William Milligan, the secretary of the committee, or Professor Robert Wild, a member of the Technical Sub-Committee. As the collection includes incoming letters from Milligan to Wild, the latter case is the more likely.

Related Material

See also the Christie Hospital Collection (CHC). has records for the Christie Hospital in this period, and later the Holt Radium Institute. The Ian Isherwood Papers (ISH/4/1/4)) contain a number of documents relating to the early history of radiology in Manchester including its use for cancer treatments (esp ISH/4/1)

The Manchester Medical Collection includes files relating to doctors involved in the Committee and Institute (MMC/2) as well as the Radium Institute (MMC/9/23).

Location of Originals

It is possible that copies of papers in this archive exist in other related collections.


Brian W. Fox, Christie's: Christie Hospital and Holt Radium Institute, a brief history of a world famous cancer hospital, (Christie Hospital NHS Trust, Manchester 1996) is a basic, informative account of the Hospital and Institute. The Radium Fund and Institute is discussed in passing by John Pickstone Medicine and Industrial Society (Manchester 1985).

Geographical Names