The People’s History Museum, Manchester, England

Posted on May 23, 2012 by

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The People’s History Museum takes the visitor on a journey through two centuries of struggle for democracy in Britain. It is a fascinating story told through a wide range of media including political posters, artefacts from the industrial revolution, banners from workers struggles, clothing and sets from the period, video of workers in conflict with the police, audio of great feminist speakers and interactive displays encouraging questionning of one’s own attitudes.

The story starts with the industrial revolution and the growth of Manchester’s cotton and textile industry. Pictures of slaves and cotton plantations in America act as a reminder of the human cost of wealth.

Conditions for the working classes were harsh and the world’s first working class movement, the Chartists, called for ‘universal suffrage’, though at the time this meant the vote only for men. A copy of the original ‘The People’s Charter’ from 1838 is on display and can be seen as part of the museum’s online collection.

Votes for women came much later. According to the display Queen Victoria believed that women shouldn’t vote! None the less, women were demanding the vote by the 1860s and due to lack of success became militant by 1903, finally in 1918 women over 30 received the vote. It wasn’t until 1928 that the age was reduced to 21. The display asks ‘How far would you go to get the vote?’.

The picture below shows one of the many original banners used to tell stories throughout the museum. ‘Women Workers: to fight; to struggle; to right the wrong’

Posters are also used throughout the museum; the one below was used by the Labour Party in the 1906 general election

(taken from the online collection http://www.phm.org.uk/our-collection/exhibitions-picturing-politics/after-the-war/)

The Introduction of the Welfare State after the Second World War made a huge difference to the standard of living and education of the British people. The government ‘took responsibility for the health, wealth and happiness of the British Population’.

Workers’ rights and trade unions grew and when in 1979 the Conservatives and Margaret Thatcher came to power there was conflict between the trade unions and the government.  The miner’s strike, in 1984, was a major turning point in British working class history. New taxes were also unpopular.

The museum shows the people’s history through artefacts from the day including a wonderful collection of trade union and political banners. The banners are made from textiles, fine threads and embroidery and the museum houses a Textile Conservation Studio to preserve the 400 plus collection of banners. Viewing of the studio is highly recommended. The oldest trade union banner belonged to the Liverpool Tinplate Workers of 1821. The banner below is from the union of Letterpress Printers.

There are many enjoyable displays not covered here including sets of a typical working class kitchen from the 1940s, a replica co-operative shop and a music collection.

The museum is on three floors with the main exhibitions on the first and second floor. The people’s café on the ground floor looks across the river and so is a great way to reflect on the experience.

Well worth a visit!

Entry fee: FREE

Location: Left Bank, Spinningfields, Manchester, M3 3ER

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