Macmillan charity pioneer honoured with plaque at his Sidcup home
PUBLISHED: 12:13 05 November 2010
A civil engineer who established what is now one of the biggest charities in the country — set to celebrate its 100th birthday next year — has been commemorated with a plaque at the home he lived in for 30 years.
Douglas Macmillan’s experience of watching his father die of cancer of the oesophagus moved him to set up what is today known as Macmillan Cancer Support.
Last Friday historians, charity volunteers, an MP and the charity’s bosses gathered to see a plaque unveiled on the house in Knoll Road, Sidcup, where Mr Macmillan lived.
Revealing the plaque, Bexley Mayor Val Clark said: “I had no idea it started in Sidcup. I was absolutely amazed that it was started by one man in his own home. The more I found out about the history of Bexley, it makes me proud to be the mayor.”
Mr Macmillan established the Society for the Prevention and Relief of Cancer in 1911. In 1924, he bought the house in Sidcup, and the name of the charity changed to the National Society for Cancer Relief and registered as a benevolent society.
It had the motto “miseris succurere disco” — “I learn to succour the distressed,” — with the dream of setting up hospices for people with terminal cancer.
In 1933, before the Welfare State was even introduced, the charity began providing 278 cancer patients and their families with a small weekly allowance to cover the cost of medicines, dressings and food.
Douglas’ father, who was a Somerset magistrate, died in 1911 at the age of 61 when his son was 27. Douglas later wrote of his dad: “He was scarcely past the prime of an intensely active and useful life and had never known illness previously. It was a cruel tragedy during those last months to watch him wasting into weakness. When the end came, being, I suppose at an impressionable age, I was more affected than by anything else in my experience. Could nothing be done to prevent such seemingly needless destruction?”
It was in 1989, when the Bexley Civic Society asked English Heritage to commemorate the work of Douglas Macmillan, but they instead chose to erect a blue plaque at his other former home in Ranelagh Road, Pimlico, in 1997.
The Society’s former president John Mercer said: “I have been interested in local history and I knew Denise Baldwin who lived here and together we had the idea to put a plaque up. After English Heritage decided to put the plaque up in Pimlico, we thought we would put our own up.”
Historian Mrs Baldwin, who has lived at the site for 28 years, heard rumours that Macmillan had lived there but it was only when her husband brought the deeds home that they knew for sure.
She said: “It is good to think that the children who walk past the house to go to the school down the road will see who lived here. It was hard to find out information about him. Now me and my friend Katherine Harding give illustrated talks about him.
“There are still things in the house that were here when he lived here — such as the fireplace and the boarded loft and the pond that he dug.”
The charity’s regional director Stephen Richards told the crowd: “Douglas started the work of the charity and I am sure he would be really proud of the of what he achieved.”
James Brokenshire, MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup said: “I was very struck with the drive of Douglas Macmillan — that he would have been so affected seeing his own father suffer with cancer to set up the charity. It is remarkable what he achieved.”
Also at the unveiling ceremony were the four people who set up and ran their own Macmillan charity shop in Crayford High Street, for 20 years, raising more than £1,250,000. They all met at a bereaved support group run by the charity at Queen Mary’s Hospital in Sidcup. The four-piece was made up of three people who lost their partners to cancer and a general nurse at the hospital.
Alfred Beckett, 91, from Bexley, whose wife died of cancer, said: “We had some wonderful volunteers work for us. It was a friendly place. We didn’t want to pack it up. It was hard work and it was hard finding volunteers in the end.”
Fellow founder Barbara Logan, from Sidcup, who also lost her husband to cancer, added: “It is cancer that has brought us all together.”
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