Britsburgh – made in Cambridge?
What do Queen Elizabeth II’s longest reign, 30-odd years of very close friendship, Trinity College Choir and Acorn Computers have in common? You may be surprised to know it is Britsburgh, a celebration of all things British in Pittsburgh, masterminded by those with a stronger link to Cambridge than you might think.
The Queen has just become Britain's longest-reigning monarch, exceeding the record of her great-great grandmother Queen Victoria, whose reign lasted for 63 years, seven months and two days.
Although the Queen kept her word to mark the occasion with little fuss, Britsburgh is this week providing plenty of activities for those in Pittsburgh to fuss about.
An events calendar started yesterday and runs to September 14. It has been created and organised by the leaders of British-American Connections Pittsburgh (a non-profit organisation whose goal is to promote British culture, education and business) – and has taken on a life of its own.
Roger Cranville and his wife Clair (both ex-Acorn Computers), now based in Pittsburgh, have breathed new life into British American Connections Pittsburgh – a team that includes Cambridge-born Kevin Coleman of Alliantus (also ex Acorn and BACP’s director in the East of England region and the Cranvilles’ close friend).
Kevin Coleman takes up the story: “The Cambridge link is stronger the more you delve into it. Clair Cranville, who has been pivotal to the project, is the daughter of Cambridge academic John Kenneth Hulm.
“He was an award-winning and internationally-known scientist, engineer, and activist in the field of superconductivity. He had the rare distinction of being elected to both the National Academy of Sciences (1988) and the National Academy of Engineering (1980) for his many contributions to the understanding of the fundamental properties of materials at very low temperatures.
“Hulm graduated from Gonville & Caius, was a Cambridge research fellow and pursued a post-graduate degree under David Schoenberg (Fellow of Gonville & Caius and a pioneer in the field of low-temperature physics).
“In the autumn of 1949, Hulm travelled by ship from England with his wife and month-old baby, Clair, to the University of Chicago. His highly productive research work there resulted in his discovery of the A-15 superconducting alloys, binary compounds of elements that exhibited superconductivity at temperatures as high as 17 degrees Kelvin.
“In 1954, John accepted an offer from the Westinghouse Electric Corporation research laboratory in Pittsburgh, where he assembled a team of researchers on the physics of materials, and particularly on superconductivity.
“After 35 years, with many awards and honours, he retired from Westinghouse in 1988 as Chief Scientist, having been director of corporate research and R & D and the science attaché at the US embassy in London on the way.
“Clair returned to live ‘back home’ in Cambridge in her early twenties and with a degree in maths and excellent computing skills was one of the first women in the region working in the technology field. Not surprisingly, Acorn recognised her talent and she was key to driving forwards its push into scientific markets. At Acorn, she met her husband Roger and also myself – we have remained friends through all the twists and turns of careers and family life on different continents.
“Roger and Clair relocated to Pittsburgh from Cambridge in 1991 but they have been frequent visitors to the UK because they still have friends and family here. Even though it was a big wrench to go to the US it was a great decision for them.
“We started talking about Britsburgh when they were in Cambridge earlier in the year and we discussed putting on a few events to celebrate the Queen’s milestone. It took on a momentum of its own and after a small test run with our partner, Mansions on Fifth in Shadyside, Pittsburgh, it seemed obvious that we should do more.
“It’s just gone amazingly well, thanks to a strong team in the USA, which includes some serious players in the PA business community – a lot of them Brits.
So Britsburgh is now off and running and with support from the Office of the Mayor of Pittsburgh (and a nice letter of endorsement from Buckingham Palace). ‘Britsburgh Week’ is proving to be a brilliant celebration of all things British in Pittsburgh.
Sadly Her Majesty won’t make it but a Queen Elizabeth II lookalike competition is just part of the 23 events and a Queen Elizabeth pop-up is appearing throughout Pittsburgh as part of a selfie competition.
“Additional events include a British cooking experience, afternoon teas, a Celtic Ceilidh (cultural celebration) at Heinz Memorial Chapel, Britsburgh at the Ballpark (PNC Park), a British beer college and whisky tasting, and a British-themed sports and music extravaganza – a Very British Day out at Highmark Stadium. Somewhere in the mix is a British vintage car event too. “The grand finale will be when one of the world’s top choral choirs – Trinity College Choir – gives a concert at Calvary Episcopal Church – due in no small part to the connection with Steven Layton, yet another Cambridge link to Pittsburgh.
“Britsburgh will offer something to everyone and be a lot of fun, and it’s a pity I’m here in cold Britain. The premier event of Britsburgh will take place at Mansions on Fifth on Saturday(September 12) and it will be a magnificent night of ‘pomp and circumstance’ – the social event of the year in Pittsburgh.
“Britsburgh flags are being flown, t-shirts worn and pins worn on lapels, to show support for a festival that, for the first time, captures Britain in the ‘burgh, but has more than a passing influence from Cambridge.
If you are interested in finding out more about the BACP in the UK, contact Kevin Coleman: kc [at] alliantus.com