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Becky Alexis-Martin

This chapter explores the connections between Manchester, Hiroshima and peace through the ginkgo tree. The green spaces of Manchester are the adopted home of a living fossil. The paired lobes of the leaves of Ginkgo biloba are marked by prehistoric striations, unchanged for 270 million years. Like Homo sapiens, the ginkgo is the sole survivor of a once ample family tree. Unlike us, a single tree can survive for over two thousand years, outliving our regimes and empires. The ginkgo has somehow persisted, seemingly oblivious to the melodramas of both dinosaurs and humans. However, isotopic traces of our human age are sequestered away within the ginkgo’s trunk during each growing season, to be accessed only by the dark art of dendrochronology. Through the growth and planting of the Manchester-Hiroshima ginkgo trees, the histories of two cities have become entangled as peace becomes globalised.

in Manchester
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Becky Alexis-Martin

This chapter considers the legacy of nuclear medicine in Manchester, from its origins to the present day. The Cancer Pavilion and Home for Incurables was founded in the city in 1892. As attitudes towards cancer changed, ‘Incurables’ was dropped from its title. By 1901, the Cancer Pavilion had a thirty-bed capacity and became the Christie Hospital. At the Christie, a form of electromagnetic radiation known as Roentgen waves had come into use as an ‘X-ray treatment’ for cancerous growths. Professor Robert Briggs Wild, a pioneer of X-ray treatment in Manchester, became interested in the benefits of a newly discovered element called radium-226. This element had been identified by the Curies in 1898, and then isolated for use by 1902. While the first nuclear medicine treatments have now become redundant, the Christie remains one of Europe’s most important hospitals for nuclear medicine innovation.

in Manchester
Abstract only
Becky Alexis-Martin

From toxic wallpaper and beer, to poisonous sweets and the ‘cake of death’, Manchester has a rich cultural history pertaining to arsenic. This chapter explores this history across the city from banal to fantastical instances of poisoning. We now know that in 1857 each sumptuous sample of Manchester’s Heywood, Higginbottom, Smith & Co wallpaper contained arsenic. This beautiful dye also snuck into the food chain, with several children poisoned in Manchester by eating sweets coloured with copper arsenite during the 1840s. This banal yet lethal element imprinted itself on Manchester, not just through the famed penny dreadful poisonings of disgruntled partners, but also through the lackadaisical attitudes of the city’s manufacturers. Arsenic is no longer a commonplace product in Manchester. Rather than toxic beer, research at the University of Manchester now investigates the complexities of arsenic contamination through rice-based diets, in the city and worldwide.

in Manchester