The People's History Museum (the National Museum of Labour History until 2001), is the United Kingdom's national centre for the collection, conservation, interpretation and study of material relating to the history of working people in the UK. The main story of the museum is told in two purpose built galleries located on the first and second floor. The galleries have been divided into seven themes and roughly follow a chronological order over the last 200 years. The story starts with the Peterloo Massacre of 1819 and ends in the present day. The first theme of Main Gallery One is Revolution. Two hundred years ago Manchester was at the centre of Britain’s Industrial Revolution. Based on the cotton textile industry, the town became the world’s first industrial city. Despite high wages in good times, workers endured appalling living and environmental conditions. Little could be done to improve these; there was no political structure and Manchester, for example, had no MP. On 16 August 1819 a reform meeting held on St Peter’s Field in Manchester attracted over 60,000 mill workers and their families. Magistrates sent in soldiers to arrest the leaders. There were 18 dead and over 400 seriously injured. The event became known as the Peterloo Massacre and led to the first reform of Parliament in 1832.
The second theme is Reform. This is all about the birth of democratic ideas. This includes the Levellers, the Chartists and individuals such as John Wilkes, Tom Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft, William Cobbett, Francis Burdett and the Cato Street Conspirators. The Great Reform Act was passed in 1832 giving the vote to some. Two of the oldest banners in the collection are on display in this section – the Liverpool Tinplate Workers banner from 1821 (the oldest trade union banner in the world) and the White Lion Lodge banner from about 1830 (the world’s oldest surviving miners’ banner). Manchester Manufacturers developed the Anti Corn Law League whose ideology was free trade and liberalism. They created the Manchester Guardian and the Free Trade Hall in Manchester marks the celebration of the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846. Their campaign led directly to the creation of the Liberal Party. The next theme is Workers. This covers secret societies (which existed before trade unions were legal and were often large, national organisations). Tolpuddle Martyrs - six workers arrested and convicted for attempting to form a union in 1834. They were all pardoned in 1836 following a public outcry. They then follow the growth of the trade union movement and the differences between unions for skilled and unskilled workers. Look at some workers who found it hard to join a union, for example home workers. The Trades Union Congress (TUC) held their first meeting in Manchester in 1868. Strikes include the strike in 1888 at the Bryant & May match factory in London and the Dock Strike of 1889.
The Voters section covers the various political parties. Both Engels and Marx founded their joint theories on examples from Manchester – the world’s first industrial city. Subjects covered include early socialism (plus the Clarion movement), the Conservative and Liberal Parties, the birth of the Labour Party, Communist Party of Great Britain, including the Spanish Civil War, fascism and post war politics including the General Strike. Another aspect of this section is all about how women had to fight for the right to vote on the same terms as men. Includes the formation of the Manchester Suffrage Society 1867 and the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) founded in Manchester by Emmeline Pankhurst and her sisters in 1903. Voters is the final section on floor one. The story ends in 1945 at the end of World War II. The story continues on level two. Citizens. The first theme in this gallery is all about politics and protest post 1945. Rather than being revolutionaires, reformers, workers or voters, have we become citizens? This theme looks at Britain after the vote has been secured for all. Politics from 1950 to 1979, then 1979 to almost the present day. Politics moves to being more issue based rather than about political parties – war and peace, equality, gay rights, green issues, strikes and migration changes as a result of the end of empire. Time Off? This section covers how time off was won as well as what people did in their new leisure time. Working class leisure activities such as football including items from the collection of the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA), plus music and the musicians union. Time Off? also includes the Co-op which was formed in Greater Manchester by the Rochdale Pioneers, friendly societies and the ‘saving for a rainy day’ philosophy. The last section is on Banners.
Throughout the museum galleries there are a range of interactives to help bring the story to life. These include ‘people in boxes’ - boxes containing items related to a person’s life that you can look at, read and interact with. They are based on real historical people. There are timelines located at various points throughout the galleries – click onto these to find out what other big events were happening in the country at the time. Follow the families throughout the last 200 years and see how their lives have changed. Find out what kind of house they lived in, where did they work, how much leisure time did they have and what did they do in this time. The galleries are not a square box - they have curved corners – they’ve made the most of these by using them as speakers corners. Listen to some of the most impressive speeches made in recent times. There are also special temporary exhibitions, in March there is 'Feminism is Dead'. Then 'Hidden Voices from Empire and War', Sat 7 May 2016 - Sun 17 Jul. Perspectives of colonised people during World War I. Large print text for the main galleries, tactile maps and several tactile drawings of scenes around the museum are available from reception. An induction loop is fitted at the museum reception. Infrared hearing loop facilities are available throughout the building (reception, Engine Hall, Coal Store, Meeting Room, Mini Theatre in Main Gallery One, Archive Reading Room and The Left Bank cafe bar). The museum is fully wheelchair accessible. Please be aware that entrances to some of the galleries are by fairly heavy glass doors which the Front of House staff will be happy to help you with Lift access to all floors. All lifts in the museum are wheelchair accessible and the main lift near reception also has audio announcements. The main galleries are designed to provide a range of sensory experiences, including several different audio, visual and touch elements. Assistance dogs are welcome.
Location : Left Bank, Manchester, Lancashire M3 3ER
Transport: Salford Central (National Rail). Victoria Station (Metrolink). Bus routes 8, 12, 26, 34, 36, 37, 38, 39 and 50 stop nearby.
Opening Times: Daily 10:00 to 17:00
Tickets: Free (Donations welcomed)
Tel: 0161 838 9190