In 2022 it won’t just be a visit to People’s History Museum’s (PHM) galleries that will take you on a march through the history of rights and equality, but it’s Banner Exhibition for the year, which is also dedicated to this quest. Banners that have appeared as part of groundbreaking moments of protest, banners created to remember those that marched before them and the role of banners in contemporary culture all make up a compelling exhibition that will open to the public on Saturday 29 January 2022 (until Sunday 8 January 2023).
Banners that have witnessed key moments of protest have perhaps the most powerful presence. The Walthamstow and Chingford Solidarity Committee banner was part of a 1930s movement when a series of hunger marches took place, with the National Hunger March of 1932 at its core. People were protesting against measures such as a 10% reduction in employment benefit and drastic changes to the rules governing unemployment insurance. In the 1980s the campaign against nuclear disarmament reached its pinnacle, always a very visual campaign the European Nuclear Disarmament banner is typical of the many that appeared at anti-nuclear demonstrations at this time. A protest closer to home is the Withington Against the Poll Tax banner, which was made in 1990, the year that the Community Charge was introduced by Margaret Thatcher’s government. It was carried to represent the people of Manchester, 70% of whom refused to pay the poll tax, at a demonstration on 31 March 1990 attended by 70,000 people in Trafalgar Square, London.
The history and origins of trade unions is one of the strands that weaves its way through the exhibition, with PHM showing a very small part of what makes up the largest collection in the world. One of the most prevailing stories is that of the Tolpuddle Martyrs; a group of agricultural labourers who were tried and then transported to Australia in 1834 for trying to form a trade union. Appearing in Main Gallery One, where these events are further explored, is a banner that a century later recognised the efforts of these individuals, known as the 1934 Trades Union Congress Dorsetshire Labourers banner. Almost two centuries later and efforts to remember these reformers are ongoing, with annual celebrations having been held for the Tolpuddle Martyrs since the 1930s.
Many of the banners were created to represent the people behind them and the causes they stood for. In the case of the Suffrage Atelier banner of 1910, this represents an artist collective that campaigned for women’s rights and had close links to the Women’s Social and Political Union founded by Emmeline Pankhurst. The Suffrage Atelier made many of the surviving women’s suffrage banners, so to see a piece representing the organisation itself is especially poignant.
In other banners you see support by one group or organisation for another. The Lesbian and Gays Support the Miners banner of 1985 is a real visitor favourite. It last appeared on display at the museum during 2017, when it marked the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexual acts in England and Wales (1967 Sexual Offences Act), and was created by Mark Ashton, co-founder of the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners alliance who championed and fundraised for the National Union of Mineworkers during the strike of 1984-1985.
Symbolism is often a huge part of banners and two banners from the North West region demonstrate this with their floral references. The Wigan and District Cotton Operatives banner from around 1925 features the handshake of unity and the red rose of Lancashire. In Ye Old Trafford Habitation banner it is the yellow of the primrose that adorns this heavily embroidered banner. This was a local branch of the Primrose League, a grassroots organisation founded in 1883 to spread Conservative principles whose name was inspired by the favourite flower of former Conservative leader Benjamin Disraeli who had died in 1881.
Historic banners exude craftsmanship and artistry; rich fabrics, tapestry work and painted silks are all part of what makes them so visually appealing. Amongst them is the largest in the exhibition, the Workers Union, Holloway Branch banner. It dates from 1920, with the union having been formed on May Day 1898, amongst its workers were a high proportion of women. Its design and use of romantic symbols is heavily influenced by the work of Walter Crane, one of the most famous artists of the 1880s.
Some of the ideas represented in historic union banners are at odds with how people would see the world today. Looking at the collection from a contemporary perspective artist Seleena Laverne Daye has created The Journey We Made Across Land And Sea, To Build A Country Not For Me banner in a project led by PHM’s Community Programme Team in 2021. It is designed to give a voice to migrants and visually represents those working in care, agriculture, hospitality and textiles.
Introducing a year of activity at People’s History Museum that will focus upon the history of disabled people’s rights, activism and fight for inclusion is the Nothing About Us Without Us banner. This was commissioned by People’s History Museum in 2015 to mark the 20th anniversary of the Disability Discrimination Act (1995) as a community endeavour led by Venture Arts, and is now the inspiration for the title of its headline exhibition for 2022. Made up of hundreds of patches, each has been stitched by a disabled artist from across the UK who has added their name or something about themselves, with the red and gold colouring representing courage and ambition.
In all there are 26 banners in the 2022 Banner Exhibition, which cover the period 1850 to 2021, they are located throughout the museum’s main galleries where further links to the stories they tell can be found. The exhibition is one of a number of free activities at the museum, to which entry is free with a suggested donation of £5. To find out about visiting People’s History Museum, its full exhibitions and events programme based both at the museum and online visit phm.org.uk, and you can keep up to date with the latest news by signing up to receive PHM’s e-newsletter, subscribing to the blog, or following the museum on social media on Twitter @PHMMcr, Facebook @PHMMcr, and Instagram @phmmcr.
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A selection of images are available here: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/9yjqnodkax5r0fg/AADHuoHqwDES2RLkGiYuI4rXa?dl=0
Notes to editors:
About People’s History Museum (PHM)
People’s History Museum (PHM) in Manchester is the national museum of democracy, telling the story of its development in Britain: past, present, and future. The museum provides opportunities for all people to learn about, be inspired by and get involved in ideas worth fighting for; ideas such as equality, social justice, co-operation, and a fair world for all. PHM offers a powerful programme with varied themes; 2018 looked at representation and commemorated 100 years since the first women and all men won the right to vote in Britain, in 2019 the focus was on protest to mark the bicentenary of the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester, the 2020-2021 programme is on the theme of migration and 2022 will explore disabled people’s rights and activism. Previous winner of Kids in Museums Family Friendly Museum Award.
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.