Leading a spectacular and colourful charge through history the 2024 Banner Exhibition will be opening at People’s History Museum on Thursday 1 February 2024 (until 30 December 2024). Historical anniversaries, political movements, international causes and campaigns for change are amongst the inspiring stories carried by the banners; banners commissioned and created by renowned banner makers, to those born out of community collaboration.
2024 is an important year in the history of the mining industry, with 50 years having passed since the successful strike of 1974 and 40 years since the major strike of 1984 to 1985. Banners are a hugely significant part of mining heritage, as a visual symbol of strength and unity that would have been paraded in celebration by collieries and carried in solidarity by unions. The Tyldesley Miners’ Association, which represented coal miners from Lancashire, and the Eastenders Against Pit Closures, Tower Hamlets Support Group, which campaigned on behalf of miners nationally until 1994, are both represented by banners in the exhibition. They are joined by the Gays Against Fascism banner, from around 1977. This banner was created in response to attacks that gay men were receiving from the National Front, and appeared on several marches during the 1984 to 1985 Miners’ Strike in solidarity with the striking miners.
The Mansfield Labour Party Women’s Section banner from the 1980s is a reminder of another remarkable anniversary in 2024: the centenary of the first Labour Party government, which took office on 22 January 1924. The banner also highlights the twists and turns of politics because, after 94 years of Labour Party representation, in 2017 Mansfield elected a Conservative MP for the first time. The banner itself, which is made up of individually embroidered squares, has also played witness to history having taken part in many demonstrations including against the Poll Tax in 1992.
One of the most thought provoking banners featuring in the exhibition was made in 1960 and represents the tobacco industry. What started as the Friendly Society of Operative Tobacconists in 1834 became the Tobacco Workers’ Union in 1925, when it became an industrial union and women were also allowed to join. The banner is a poignant reminder of how significant the tobacco industry once was as an employer and the public health events that have unfolded since. On 1 July 2007 it was made illegal to smoke in any pub, restaurant, nightclub and workplace and the current government has stated that it will introduce a cigarette ban to phase out smoking by 2040, described by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak as the “biggest public health intervention in a generation”.
In the 1930s it was the subject of alcohol consumption that was the focal point of the Cadets of Temperance, an organisation that was set up in New York in 1846 to discourage boys aged 12 to 18 and their parents from drinking alcohol. By 1854 it had worldwide branches and the banner on display is from the Manchester branch, having been created in the 1930s. The temperance movement was very strong in Victorian society and Keir Hardie, the first leader of the Labour Party, was an active participant in Scotland.
Like the Tobacco Workers’ Union, the National Union of Railwaymen (NUR) was one of many trade unions that extended its membership to include women after World War I; in this case, in recognition of the role that they played working on the railways. The NUR is renowned for its part in the General Strike of 1926, but prior to this was instrumental in a nine day strike that took place in 1919 with workers feeling that the government had failed to acknowledge the sacrifices they made during the war. A banner from the Rickmansworth branch of the union, which dates from around 1920, will be appearing in the exhibition. It is a very traditional woven silk banner that is vast in size and features hand painted images and rich, vibrant colours.
Camaraderie is part of the spirit of banners and in the exhibition you’ll see this demonstrated on an international scale. The Printers Aid Spain banner (1937) tells the story of the printing unions in Britain that sent aid and members to Spain during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). There were also calls to accept refugees, which after the government eventually conceded led to nearly 4,000 children being evacuated to Britain in 1937, most of whom would return home the following year. The Raise higher the red banners of the classe struggle! banner carries words of thanks from Russia to Britain, having been made in the 1920s following a visit by Maggie Jordan, a mill worker from Shipley in West Yorkshire who went to train textile workers in Moscow. In red velvet and carrying the coat of arms of the Soviet Union, it’s a banner that looks as rich in design as the story that it symbolises.
A century on from Maggie Jordan’s visit to Russia and banners are still as important as they ever were. For some, the collective creative process of making them is part of the unity they embody. An example of this is the 2019 Fire & Flood In Pennines banner that was made by Calderdale Extinction Rebellion, with the whole group developing the slogan and joining together to undertake the sewing. And bringing the exhibition right up to date, the Hypervigilance, Baby banner was created in 2023 by artist Dara SF Addams. It explores the trauma of living in a state of constant hypervigilance and features a lemur leaf frog as a way of illustrating this under-represented issue. The lemur leaf frog is a critically endangered species that spends its days camouflaged and hiding from potential threats.
The 2024 Banner Exhibition will open on 1 February 2024, when the museum will also reopen having closed for January whilst work to improve accessibility takes place as part of the Welcome Project at PHM. The banners that form the exhibition are located throughout the main galleries of the museum, giving visitors the opportunity to enjoy an immersive experience, which for those accompanied by children can also be an interactive one with a game of Banner Bingo. The 2024 edition features a star, rainbow, sword and crown amongst the symbols to discover and mark off on your bingo card. This is one of a number free Family Friendly activities taking place at the museum.
From Thursday 1 February 2024 People’s History Museum’s opening hours are 10.00am to 5.00pm, every day except Tuesdays. Museum entry is free, with most visitors donating £10. To find out about visiting PHM, its full exhibitions and events programme visit phm.org.uk and you can keep up to date with the latest news by signing up to receive PHM’s e-newsletter.
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A selection of images is available here: https://www.dropbox.com/scl/fo/lebafj3t24ni1alpyu3xf/h?rlkey=m95bvtaaf1knrvhiryon9tcrx&dl=0
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About People’s History Museum (PHM)
People’s History Museum (PHM) in Manchester is the UK’s national museum of democracy, telling the story of its development in Britain: past, present, and future. Through an eclectic and colourful mix of historic and contemporary collections, featuring banners, badges, posters, photography and more, the museum celebrates the radical stories of people coming together to champion ideas worth fighting for.
Offering an engaging programme of exhibitions and events, collaborating with communities to create authentic content, the museum is Family Friendly throughout – inspiring the next generation to be active citizens.
People’s History Museum encourages visitors to be empowered by the past to make a change for the future. We are all together in the fight for a fairer world. phm.org.uk
About Arts Council England (ACE)
PHM is an Arts Council England (ACE) National Portfolio Organisation (NPO). The work of PHM is supported using public funding by ACE, the national development agency for creativity and culture. ACE have set out their strategic vision in Let’s Create that by 2030 they want England to be a country in which the creativity of each of us is valued and given the chance to flourish and where every one of us has access to a remarkable range of high quality cultural experiences. From 2023 to 2026 they will invest over £467million of public money from government and an estimated £250million from The National Lottery each year to help support the sector and to deliver this vision. artscouncil.org.uk