People’s History Museum (PHM) is preparing to put on public display one of its most treasured collection items, the Manchester Women’s Social and Political Union banner of 1908. It represents the fight for Votes for Women and puts Manchester’s, and specifically Emmeline Pankhurst’s, role in this quest at its very heart. In June 1908 the banner was first unfurled in Manchester’s Stevenson Square alongside the suffragette leader and 115 years later, on 21 June 2023 it will go on display again in its home city.
Affectionately known as the Manchester suffragette banner, its colours are almost as vibrant as when it made its first appearances, its stitching as intricate and beautiful as when it was made in the workshop of Thomas Brown and Sons and its words, ‘First in the Fight’, as impactful as ever. It was created to remind people that the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) had started in Manchester in 1903, at what is now known as the Pankhurst Centre, before moving its headquarters to London. On 20 June 1908, by which time WSPU supporters were known as suffragettes, it was revealed to a packed Stevenson Square where the crowds were assembled to see Emmeline Pankhurst speak. The next day it appeared at the Women’s Sunday rally in Hyde Park, London which was attended by around 500,000 people from across the country and where speakers included Emmeline Pankhurst, Annie Kenney, Christabel Pankhurst and Adela Pankhurst. In the posters advertising the event it was declared that there would be seven processions with 700 banners on display, of which the Manchester suffragette banner is one of the few known to have survived. This was followed on 19 July 1908 with an appearance at a rally in Manchester’s Heaton Park, when Emmeline Pankhurst was photographed famously stopping a tram.
The next chapters of the banner’s story have taken some detective work by the team at People’s History Museum, who acquired the banner in 2017 with the support of a crowdfunding campaign when it unexpectedly came up for auction. For many years the banner was looked after by suffragette, embroiderer and factory worker Elizabeth Ellen Chatterton who was born in Salford in 1857. From memories passed through her family it is believed that Elizabeth Ellen worked on the embroidery of the banner and that she may have been employed at Thomas Brown and Sons. In 2003/4 it was thought that the banner vanished following a house clearance, however, it was in the safe keeping of a small charity called HOPE (Halton Moor and Osmandthorpe Project for the Elders) where it lay in a filing cabinet before its next stop: the auction room.
Since arriving at People’s History Museum the Women’s Social and Political Union banner has become a firm favourite with both visitors and the museum team. In 2018 it was part of PHM’s headline exhibition Represent! Voices 100 Years On and there is much excitement building ahead of its next appearance.
Jenny Mabbott, Head of Collections & Engagement at People’s History Museum, says, “Because the Manchester suffragette banner’s 115th birthday falls in June, and 2023 is also the mid-point between 2018, when it helped us to mark the centenary of the first women getting the vote, and 2028 when it will help us to mark the centenary of all women getting the vote, it seemed like the perfect time to put it on display. It will be accompanied by a public programme of events, talks and Family Friendly activities that will explore its story and significance.
“With all our objects there are always conservation considerations to be weighed up, which is one of the factors behind why we carry out an annual rotation of the banners on public display. One of the reasons we asked people to support us in a crowdfunder campaign to bring the banner to PHM is because we strongly believe that it couldn’t get better care anywhere in the world than from our dedicated Conservation Team.”
The Manchester suffragette banner will go on display in Main Gallery One of People’s History Museum, where it can be seen opposite suffragette Hannah Mitchell’s kitchen and as part of the ‘Voters’ section of the gallery. You can read more about the banner’s story here.
People’s History Museum’s opening hours are 10.00am to 5.00pm, every day except Tuesday. 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 find out about the programme of activities that will support the Women’s Social and Political Union banner and other 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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Notes to editors:
People’s History Museum
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 will invest £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