Excitement is building as the days count down to the Manchester Women’s Social and Political Union banner (WSPU) of 1908 going on display at People’s History Museum (PHM) in Manchester from Wednesday 21 June 2023. It will be exhibited at the national museum of democracy 115 years after it was unfurled to the public for the first time, an event that took place in Manchester’s Stevenson Square alongside Emmeline Pankhurst to whom the banner is dedicated along with the city that was ‘First in the Fight’ for votes for women.
It’s five years since the Manchester suffragette banner, as it is affectionately known, was discovered, joined PHM’s collection and went on public display at the museum for the first time. This was made possible by hundreds of individuals who supported a crowdfunder campaign, which meant the banner could be central to how PHM marked the centenary of the first women achieving the vote in 2018. It will be on display from 21 June 2023 to 7 January 2024 to mark the banner’s birthday and will then go into store before being part of the programme to mark the centenary of all women getting the vote in 2028.
One of the wonderful things about any historic object is bringing to light its life story, and this is an ongoing process for the Manchester suffragette banner. A fascinating addition has been the invaluable research of Elizabeth Crawford, author of The Women’s Suffrage Movement (1998). Until recently it was known that the banner was first unfurled in Stevenson Square on 20 June 1908, but little else. Thanks to Elizabeth’s research we now know more about the person who was given this honour: Rachel Scott, the WSPU’s first secretary.
There were some early challenges, not least because Mrs Rachel Scott was also the name of the wife of C P Scott, founder of The Guardian. However, it was soon established that they could not be one and the same person, with Mrs C P Scott having died in 1905. Elizabeth’s research confirms that the banner’s unfurler was born Rachel Lovett in Chorlton, Lancashire in 1863. She was one of at least nine children to Thomas Lovett and his wife Elizabeth. Her father was a labourer in the oilcloth industry and her older sisters became weavers or winders. Rachel would become a teacher who married the son of a schoolmaster, David Scott. David worked for the engineering firm Royles for most of his life, eventually becoming a member of the board of directors. He was a strong supporter of socialist newspaper The Clarion and a member and supporter of the Independent Labour party (ILP).
It was through the ILP that Emmeline Pankhurst met Rachel Scott, who was one of a small group of women that she invited to join her at a gathering at her house in Nelson Street, Manchester (now the Pankhurst Centre) on 10 October 1903 – the historic moment that would see the founding of the WSPU who would become known as the suffragettes. Rachel Scott was appointed the WSPU’s first secretary and was actively involved at meetings, demonstrations and events. Perhaps in recognition of her dedication, on 20 June 1908 it was Rachel that unfurled the banner to the Manchester WSPU in Stevenson Square. This took place the day before the Women’s Sunday rally in London’s Hyde Park which was attended by 500,000 people from across the country.
You can read Elizabeth Crawford’s research findings in full here.
A further chapter of the banner’s story has also come to the surface thanks to a report that has been traced in The Manchester Courier. Dated 21 June 1909, the article carries an image of the Manchester suffragette banner appearing as part of a demonstration held on 19 June 1909. It is seen as part of a parade that marched from Manchester’s Albert Square accompanying Patricia Woodlock, who had just completed her fourth prison sentence for the suffragette cause.
Jenny Mabbott, Head of Collections & Engagement at People’s History Museum, says, “The Manchester suffragette banner is a truly fascinating object. Finding out more about the role it has played in suffragette history is incredibly inspiring and we are very grateful to Elizabeth Crawford for the work that she has done, which significantly has taken us back to those that were instrumental in the founding of the WSPU. Our team are spending time researching the banner’s early days as we continue to piece together its story and are thankful to all that have played a role in this. We are also fortunate that it is in such good condition, its purple and gold almost as richly vibrant as they would have been when it was handcrafted over a hundred years ago in the workshop of Thomas Brown & Son. Everyone at the museum is very excited to be putting this special object on display and alongside it we’ll have a programme of activities for visitors to take part in.”
Visitors to People’s History Museum will be able to see the Manchester suffragette banner situated in the section of the galleries that explores the history of votes for women. They will also be able to undertake a self-guided Radical women trail, which is new for summer 2023 and includes the women of Peterloo, the Match Girls and suffragette Hannah Mitchell. There will be two versions available: Radical women trail and the Family Friendly Little suffragettes trail for younger visitors.
Jenny Mabbott will be carrying out a series of Radical women tours throughout the summer that visitors can join her on. On Thursday 22 June, Thursday 20 July and Thursday 21 September she will introduce the story of the suffragettes alongside that of other radical women who have also campaigned for equity, equality and a fairer world for all. The tours are bookable in advance, with all the details here.
The Manchester suffragette banner is a special addition to the 2023 Banner Exhibition, which reflects significant moments of protest over the last 200 years and can be found throughout the main galleries. Read more about the banner’s journey to PHM here. To celebrate one of the museum’s most significant treasures going on display, there will also be a new range of suffragette inspired products being launched in PHM shop on 21 June 2023, many of which are exclusive to the museum and all the sales of which contribute towards its work.
Significant appearances of the Manchester suffragette banner, known to date:
20 June 1908
The banner was first unfurled in Manchester’s Stevenson Square by Rachel Scott, secretary of the WSPU alongside Emmeline Pankhurst.
21 June 1908
The banner was taken to the Women’s Sunday rally in Hyde Park, London which was attended by around 500,000 people.
19 July 1908
The banner appeared at a rally in Manchester’s Heaton Park, where Emmeline Pankhurst was famously photographed stopping a tram.
19 June 1909
The banner accompanied a demonstration that marched from Albert Square in Manchester and marked the release from prison of suffragette Patricia Woodlock.
The colourful story of the Manchester suffragette banner:
In 1908 Emmeline Pankhurst relocated from Manchester to London, so that her campaigning could be closer to the heart of government. The banner, which was created that same year, was Manchester claiming its rightful place as ‘First in the Fight’.
If you think the banner has ecclesial qualities to its design, that’s because its makers, Thomas Brown & Son, were also makers of church furnishings.
When the banner appeared at the Women’s Sunday rally in Hyde Park in 1908 it was one of around 700 banners on display, of which the Manchester suffragette banner is one of the few known to have survived.
Since its arrival at PHM the banner has captured the nation’s heart and as a result has been on a number of television programmes including Channel 4’s Britain’s Most Historic Towns with Professor Alice Roberts, BBC Breakfast and SKY History’s Britain’s Greatest Obsessions.
On 13 October 2017 the banner was introduced as a special surprise to 2016 US President Elect Hillary Clinton on BBC’s The One Show, as someone inspired by the suffragettes and who channelled their spirit by wearing white outfits during key moments of her election campaign.
People’s History Museum’s opening hours are 10.00am to 5.00pm, every day except Tuesdays. 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, or following the museum on social media on Twitter @PHMMcr, Facebook @PHMMcr, and Instagram @phmmcr.
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A selection of images is available here: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/h6xgxezd00tm19q/AADeO_CP6MLHlG6E1MpX2d4ia?dl=0
Notes to editors:
About People’s History Museum (PHM)
People’s History Museum (PHM) in Manchester is the UK’s national museum of democracy and a leading activist museum. It shares stories about the struggle for equality and equity, explores the vital role that democracy plays, and celebrates the radical history of people coming together to demand change in order to create a fairer society. These ground-breaking stories include the fights for universal suffrage, workers’ rights, votes for women and more recently LGBTQI+ rights. The museum and collection have never been more relevant. PHM helps people to discover that they have the power to make change.
PHM co-creates programmes with communities, ensuring that lived experience shapes the authentic and challenging content; 2018 looked at representation, 2019 focused on protest to mark the bicentenary of the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester, 2020-2021 explored migration as a human experience and 2022-2023 is led by the landmark exhibition Nothing About Us Without Us which explores disabled people’s rights and activism.
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 body for arts and culture across England, working to enrich people’s lives. ACE support a range of activities across the arts, museums and libraries – from theatre to visual art, reading to dance, music to literature, and crafts to collections. Great art and culture inspires us, brings us together and teaches us about ourselves and the world around us. In short, it makes life better. Between 2018 and 2022, ACE has invested £1.45 billion of public money from government and an estimated £860 million from The National Lottery to help create these experiences for as many people as possible across the country. artscouncil.org.uk.