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People’s History Museum welcomes the Bones of Paine

18 November 2019

Left to right Thomas Paine's lock of hair, People's History Museum and Thomas Paine's desk, 1792 and 'Rights of Man' book, 1792 © People's History Museum

People’s History Museum (PHM) will be welcoming the Bones of Paine to the museum, exactly 200 years after they were turned away by the city of Manchester.  This quirky chapter of history is being retold in a project led by Working Class Movement Library and outdoor arts specialists Walk the Plank that on Saturday 30 November (from 4.00pm) will see a giant illuminated Bones of Paine puppet lead a parade of musicians, stilt walkers and dancers through the streets of Salford and into Manchester with a finale at People’s History Museum.

Thomas Paine was one of Britain’s most prolific radicals, whose support of the American Revolution earned him a place as one of the Founding Fathers.  He died in the USA in 1809, but in 1819 his bones were dug up by journalist William Cobbett who brought them to England in an attempt to give them a proper burial.  He arrived in Liverpool and travelled to Manchester where in November 1819, with the aftermath of Peterloo still very fresh in the minds of the authorities, he was turned away from the city and the bones disappeared.

200 years later the steps William Cobbett took from Salford to Manchester will be retraced when the Bones of Paine – a larger than life skeleton puppet sitting in a chest,  will travel from Working Class Movement Library in Salford to People’s History Museum in Manchester.

As well as symbolically being the national museum of democracy, People’s History Museum stands on the edge of the River Irwell that separates Manchester and Salford.  The museum also holds one of the greatest Thomas Paine treasures in its collection; the desk on which he wrote his most famous work Rights of Man, a book advocating that men over the age of 21 should have the right to vote.  It would enrage the government so much he had to escape the country; first to France and then to the USA.  He would never return.

Thomas Paine’s desk and an original copy of Rights of Man is on permanent display in Main Gallery One at People’s History Museum alongside his death mask and a lock of his hair, both of which add further intrigue to this story.

To mark the bicentenary of Thomas Paine’s bones being turned away from Manchester, on Wednesday 27 November (until Thursday 26 March 2020) Working Class Movement Library’s exhibition, Thomas Paine: citizen of the world will open.  The exhibition explores Paine’s adventurous and eventful life, with a focus on his three key publications Common Sense, Rights of Man and Age of Reason, original early editions of which will be on display.

The Bones of Paine parade will leave Working Class Movement Library at 4.00pm on Saturday 30 November, stop at New Bailey at 5.00pm and arrive at People’s History Museum at 5.15pm, which will be staying open until 6.00pm especially to welcome the marchers and give them the chance to see Thomas Paine treasures.  The museum’s Left Bank cafe bar will also be open, where as well as hot and cold drinks, it will be serving Bones of Paine biscuits, created to mark the occasion.

The event is the grand finale of a joint National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF) project for People’s History Museum and Working Class Movement Library; which has supported both organisations in the acquisition of new collection pieces.  The Bones of Paine project is funded by Arts Council England, supported by East Salford Community Committee and delivered by Working Class Movement Library and Walk the Plank.  More information:

People’s History Museum is open seven days a week, usually from 10.00am to 5.00pm, Radical Lates are on the second Thursday each month, open until 8.00pm.  The museum and its exhibitions are free to enter with a suggested donation of £5.  To find out about visiting the museum, its full exhibition and events programme visit


For further information, please contact Fido PR: /

0161 832 3588

A selection of images can be found here:

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 annual themes; 2018 looked at representation and commemorated 100 years since the first women and all men won the right to vote in Britain, 2019 sees a year of activities around protest movements to mark the bicentenary of the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester, and the programme for 2020 will be on the theme of migration.  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.

About the National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF)

Thanks to National Lottery players, The National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF) invest money to help people across the UK explore, enjoy and protect the heritage they care about – from the archaeology under our feet to the historic parks and buildings we love, from precious memories and collections to rare wildlife.  Follow NLHF on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and use #NationalLotteryHeritageFund.

About Working Class Movement Library (WCML)

The Working Class Movement Library was founded by the late Ruth and Edmund Frow in the 1950s and is now acknowledged as one of the most important collections of historical material on radical working class organisations in the country.  Thomas Paine was the Frows’ hero, and WCML holds a marvellous Paine collection.  The Library is open to the public on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday afternoons.  At other times visitors are welcome to make appointments to view or use the collection.  Admission is free.

About Walk the Plank

Walk the Plank is one of the UK’s leading outdoor arts specialists with 27 years’ experience of creating award winning spectacles that empower artists and communities to produce remarkable pieces of work in the public realm.  Based in Salford, Walk the Plank works regionally, nationally and internationally on projects of every shape and size.  It’s a National Portfolio Organisation of Arts Council England.

About the Bones of Paine project

The project is funded by Arts Council England and kindly supported by East Salford Community Committee.  It includes an exhibition at Working Class Movement Library Thomas Paine: citizen of the world, which opens on Wednesday 27 November, and a range of events.  On Saturday 30 November 2019 the Bones of Paine parade is the finale to the Library’s National  Lottery Heritage Fund supported Voting for Change project.

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