Cuthbert Cartwright Grundy 1846 - 1946

View from my Window by Cuthbert Grundy, 1937. Copyright Grundy Art Gallery

Cuthbert Cartwright Grundy R.C.A. R.I. F.L.S., painter, scientist, author and public benefactor was born into a wealthy Unitarian family living quietly in Bury on 10 July 1846. Cuthbert's grandfather was a Unitarian minister, his father a successful solicitor - both of whom were to have very different, but equally deep, impressions on the young man’s character and last throughout his life.

The Unitarian religion, with its emphasis on tolerance, equality and care for others, was to be a vital part of Cuthbert's life. It would inspire him to do everything he possibly could to make the world a better place in which to live. He believed in the natural equality of human beings, with prejudice, race hatred and social class having no place in his ideal modern society; and, in addition, each and every one of us has a duty of care to look after our fellow human beings, and protect each other in time of danger.

As a boy Cuthbert studied at Stand Grammar School in Whitefield near Manchester, which was able to trace its roots to a Unitarian foundation in the 17th century and known to set high academic standards. From there he went to Owens College, today's Manchester University, where he studied sciences, the liberal arts, and modern languages. On leaving college Cuthbert's career path was to follow his father into the family legal practice; however, fate was to take him in a different direction. Cuthbert suddenly became very ill and was apparently unable to continue with his intended career. Fortunately, he recovered from his illness but then, for reasons which are not clear, did not resume his law studies and decided instead to pursue other interests.

Cuthbert began to write erudite scientific papers for the burgeoning science community, aiming to widen the frontiers of knowledge in the fields of biology, chemistry, anthropology and medical topics. Then, in complete contrast, Cuthbert took up painting. He was to perform brilliantly in these two new pursuits and soon forgot about law studies. His scientific papers were greeted with enthusiasm at the Royal Institution and the Linnean Society, where his studies of the natural world were rated some of the best available at the time. He even wrote books about farming which are still in use to this day.

His paintings were met with equal enthusiasm, being of a standard to make him become one of the nation's most accomplished artists. Cuthbert's favourite compositions were beauty spots in rural settings with rivers, ponds, trees and lovely summer skies always taking pride of place. But he was also an accomplished painter of people, and we see self-portraits displaying this excellent natural ability.

In another turn of events, as part of the convalescence following his illness, his doctors advised him to take regular exercise and enjoy the outdoors as there was a real fear that his previous illness might return - and possibly this time prove fatal. So he took up sport and played golf, with sessions of athletics thrown in to provide a more vigorous form of physical training.

But another significant piece of advice was given to him, and one which was ultimately to have a beneficial spin-off as far as Blackpool was concerned. He was advised to leave Bury, and go to live, albeit temporarily, by the coast. And this was just what the family decided on doing, choosing Grange-over-Sands in which to settle for a while.

In 1878 Cuthbert’s father died and Cuthbert and his brother John, who were both still living at home with their mother, inherited the considerable family fortune. Then in 1884 his mother died and Cuthbert and his brother had reached yet another turning-point in their lives. They decided that it would be too trying on their emotions to remain at the family home in Bury, so they decided to make a new life in a new location.

The place they chose was Blackpool and started by renting rooms at a house in Alexandra Road, before finding somewhere more permanent in Moore Street where they bought two houses facing each other. In 1888 they moved into two newly-built adjoining houses on Lytham Road. Cuthbert was to live at 456 Lytham Road for the remaining 58 years of his life, a house that became known as “Grundy House” and stands to this day.

For the remainder of the 19th century the Grundy brothers made a new life for themselves in Blackpool, organising exhibitions and events, founding a Painting and Sketching Society and establishing Unitarian Sunday services which began initially at Grundy House on Lytham Road.

The brothers' painting prowess continued to flourish and exhibitions at the Royal Academy and Walker Art Gallery brought them even greater fame. But one thing continued to trouble them. Why did Blackpool not have its own art gallery in which to make a permanent exhibition of their and other painters’ best works? To remedy this, in the early years of the new century, their aims, interests and philanthropy were at last to become a practical reality. They financed the building of the Grundy Art Gallery in Queen Street, which opened its doors to the people of Blackpool and visitors on 26 October 1911.

An art gallery of course needs paintings and Cuthbert and John Grundy started off the Blackpool Art Gallery Collection with a donation to the people of Blackpool of a total of sixty-nine of their best works. To this day, the Grundy Art Gallery hosts exhibitions of works of art from far and near for the people of Blackpool and visitors to the town. But never far from their attentions was their support of worthy and philanthropic causes to help needy people. In this, South Shore would be particularly favoured.

In 1914 Cuthbert and John Grundy built a much-needed library on Highfield Road. The library was set in a large park and games area on land they owned, and it is known to this day as the Grundy Recreation Ground. A convalescent and care home for poor and needy children was established in the Stony Hill Avenue, eventually taken over by Blackpool Corporation for the same purpose.

Before long the news of Cuthbert Grundy's generosity, kindness and philanthropy reached the ears of the government in London, and it was Lloyd George himself who announced on the occasion of the King's birthday that Cuthbert Cartwright Grundy from Blackpool was to be knighted by his Majesty to honour his life's work. Significantly, Cuthbert Grundy did not dress up for the grand occasion on 18 August 1919. Instead he chose to wear ordinary clothes to identify his place in society among ordinary people with whom he lived and worked.

Cuthbert Grundy became a J.P. and did many things anonymously that would go to help the people of Blackpool. But he would, however, have to wait a further 20 years - when he was in his eighties - before his adopted home town would honour him with the Freedom of Blackpool. Then quietly, at home in Grundy House on 1 February 1946, just a few months before his 100th birthday, Cuthbert Grundy passed away, leaving the legacy in Blackpool we see and enjoy to this day.

In an obituary a journalist wrote: “He could have spent his days spoiling himself in self-indulgent luxury and letting the unpleasant side of life go hang. But he chose not to do this, thereby making the world just a little bit better place in which to live.”

Denys Barber

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