PHM Story | Ideas worth sharing

People’s History Museum is the national museum of democracy, telling the story of its development in Britain: past, present, and future.

Watch members of PHM’s team come together to share our Impact Report; charting the museum’s success over the last decade. #PHM2020


People’s History Museum is the home of ideas worth fighting for – where our radical past can inspire and motivate people to take action – to shape a future where ideas of democracy, equality, justice and co-operation are thriving.

What do we believe?
We all believe in a thriving society; one where people are engaged, involved and actively playing their part.  As the ‘go to’ place for democratic engagement we want to help shape this future. We want to make the world a better place!

What will we do?
We will make sure people care about the world they live in, get involved in their communities, engage with the democratic process and use their right to vote.  We will provide information, inspiration and ideas for people who ask: Why should I get involved? Why should I care? Why should I vote? Who are we?  We are a museum of ideas – ideas that are powerful, radical, innovative and world-changing – ideas that unite and bring people together – today’s ideas worth fighting for, as well as yesterday’s.  Walking through the museum brings you face to face with these world-changing ideas – election by ballot, votes for women, workers rights to fair pay, equality for all regardless of gender, race, sexuality, age or disability – and many more.  We are the only place where these ideas are brought to life through our collections, exhibitions and programmes.  Every object in our collection has played its part in the fight for democracy and equality. Each placard, banner, badge and poster has been held by different hands fighting for different causes – but all working together to make a difference.  We share inspiring stories that need to be told – of the people who fought for ideas – people who dared to be different and who made a change. We are keeping the people’s history alive and will continue to do so.

What is important to us?
We are the People’s Museum; we welcome everyone and we connect people.  We believe in the importance of conversation, discussion and debate. Our museum is full of passion and emotion – triggering memories, reminding people of ideas worth fighting for today, provoking change in people’s thinking and doing.

How do we work?
We are at our best when we co-operate and work with others – with our partners, our audiences and with each other. We support current and future activists and campaigners. We provide space for other people’s voices, ideas and campaigns. We collaborate and co-create with communities, groups, artists and others.  We open up our collections, stories, spaces and staff to all. We share our unique resources to ask questions, generate ideas and provoke action.

What do we stand for?
For sparking people’s curiosity and imagination, creating energy and excitement, eliciting a reaction and giving power to the people!


People’s History Museum is a charity and is a company limited by guarantee with a maximum of 20 trustees.  It is independent and has no political affiliation.

The museum is Accredited by Arts Council England.  In 1998 it was awarded Designated status by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), which recognises the museum as having pre-eminent collections of national importance.

Registered charity number: 295260

Registered in England as the National Museum of Labour History, number: 2041438

Statements and responses

The latest thinking from People’s History Museum

People's History Museum, drawing by Michael Beswick © People's History Museum

Key facts & figures about PHM

  • One of only two national museums in Manchester city centre
  • The first public building in Britain to be built with an extraordinary Corten metal shell
  • Contains 1,384 square metres of exhibition space
  • Holds a collection of 60,000 objects, designated of national importance
  • Has 1,500 historic objects on public display
  • Displays the largest number of trade union and other banners in the world
  • Allows visitors to see behind the scenes into Britain’s only conservation studio dedicated to the preservation of banners
  • Houses a unique archive containing the collections of the Labour Party, the Communist Party of Great Britain and much more
  • Offers an inspiring Learning Programme for all ages, from pre-school to adult learners
  • Has dedicated community exhibition spaces open to individuals and groups to display their own exhibitions
  • Offers an exciting programme of public events throughout the year including tours, talks and performances
  • Attracts over 125,000 visitors a year
  • Continues to attract a higher proportion of foreign visitors than any other museum in the city
  • Has high quality spaces available to hire for meetings and events including the magnificent Engine Hall and the stunning Coal Store Conference Room
  • Has a gift shop selling a unique range of books and souvenirs based on the museum’s outstanding collections
  • Houses Open Kitchen Cafe & Bar, the first museum cafe & bar in the country that intercepts food that would otherwise go to waste
  • Celebrates the stories of the radical thinkers whose big ideas have shaped our society, and invites you to Support us

PHM timelinedownload the museum’s timeline

A group of activists, including the Trade Union Labour and Co-operative History Society (TULC), begin to collect historical campaign materials about the rights of working people.

Thomas Paine1975
The National Museum of Labour History (NMLH) is opened by Prime Minister Harold Wilson in Limehouse Town Hall in Tower Hamlets, London.  The collection on display to the public includes writer and political activist Thomas Paine’s (1737-1809) desk and banners that would go on to form what would become the largest collection of political and trade union banners in the world.

The museum rescues material that would simply have been lost otherwise.  The museum also acquires the complete collection from prominent activist Walter Southgate (1890-1986).  This sees the museum grow from one room in Limehouse Town Hall to the entire building.

The museum acquires a vast part of influential artist Cliff Rowe’s (1904-1989) work including paintings, works on paper, sketchbooks and folios.  Many of the images capture female scientists at work.

July 1986
A Board of Trustees is created by Michael Foot MP and General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers’ Union (TGWU) Jack Jones.

The museum’s future is threatened by a lack of funding, the collection is rescued by Manchester City Council and the Greater Manchester authorities, with the help of the Trades Union Congress (TUC).  The move to Manchester begins.

February 1989
Director Dr Nick Mansfield is appointed and builds up a team of qualified staff, and the existing collection begins to be properly catalogued and conserved.

Tin Plate Workers society banner, around 1821 © People's History Museum1990
Interest in the museum and the work it is doing to engage people in the story of British democracy continues to grow and the collection rapidly expands.  This includes the acquisition of important 19th century trade union banners.

The oldest surviving trade union banner, the Tin Plate Workers Society banner of 1821, is one of those acquired.

April 1990
The Labour Party archive arrives – the most complete political party archive in the world, which is later followed by Labour Party poster, photographic and object collections.

May 1990
After challenging work to fund the move from London and catalogue the collection, The National Museum of Labour History opens in its new location on Princess Street in central Manchester, in the building where the first meeting of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) took place over one hundred years earlier.

A series of changing exhibitions begins, with partners including the Musicians’ Union and the Professional Footballers’ Association.

The museum is awarded national registration, under a recently introduced Museum Registration scheme.

A commemorative plate is donated to the museum, a piece created to recognise the Dagenham Ford sewing machinists’ strike of 1968 and the Equal Pay Act that followed in 1970.

People's History Museum28 May 1994
Larger premises are needed, so a second site is opened at Manchester’s Grade II listed Edwardian Pump House, which had been closed since 1972.  The building allows for public galleries, exhibition spaces, learning programmes, events and a shop and cafe.

The expansion to a second site is accompanied by a vision to expand the museum further in the future, so that all its activities, services, operations and staff can be on one site.

Following the disbandment of the Communist Party of Great Britain, the museum acquires the party’s collections of working class material.  This includes several hundred early 19th century radical and anti-radical cartoons, posters from the Tory and Liberal parties and women’s suffrage movement posters.

The Employment Department donates a unique collection relating to the impact of the state on working people.

The museum embarks on the National Banner Survey of all historic banners in UK museum collections.  It is the very first attempt to create a national survey of one group of objects. Over 3,000 museums take part.  The survey records are still hosted on the collections database and are searchable on the museum website.

The Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) introduces a ‘Designation Scheme’, for collections of ‘pre-eminent national importance’.  The museum’s complete collection is given Designated status.

Spring 1998
Created with professional actors, writers and directors in conjunction with Peoplescape Theatre, a series of Living History performances is developed to tell the stories of historical moments through the lives of individuals.  Events covered include the Match Girls’ Strike (1888) and the Jarrow March (1936).  Regular performances have been ongoing ever since; part of public programmes and bookable for groups as part of the Learning Programme.

26 September 1998
The Tories and the People: Mass Conservatism 1867-1997 exhibition is opened by Leader of the Conservative Party William Hague MP.  It is the first of four exhibitions on British political parties, and draws on the museum’s extensive collection of Conservative Party objects from the original iteration as the Tories to today.

26 February 2000
The Builders and the Dreamers: One Hundred Years of the Labour Party exhibition is opened by Home Secretary Jack Straw MP.

The museum becomes part of a Pan-European collaboration funded by the European Union (EU) – Migration, Work and Identity – with seven sister institutions.  The project lasts for four years with exhibitions, publications and joint learnings exploring migrant communities throughout the continent.

ITV’s Spitting Image co-creator Roger Law donates the puppets of Harold Wilson and Michael Foot.  The number of puppets in the collection has since grown and remains a fascination for visitors.

3 November 2001
Reforming Manchester: The Liberals and the City exhibition is opened by Leader of the Liberal Democrats Charles Kennedy MP.

1 February 2002
The museum announces a new name: People’s History Museum (PHM) ahead of the XVII Commonwealth Games in Manchester (summer 2002).  The museum’s changing exhibition programme becomes more diverse with a focus on cultural diversity and social inclusion became part of the Commonwealth Games’ legacy.

17 July 2003
A key item of 1980s political history, Michael Foot’s ‘donkey jacket’ is donated to the museum.  The former Leader of the Labour Party was widely criticised for wearing it at the Cenotaph for the 1981 Remembrance Day service.  The jacket was bought by Michael Foot’s wife from Harrods.

A Peterloo pike, which is said to have been used on St Peter’s Field by one of the protestors for self-protection, is donated to the museum by the owner’s great, great, great grandchild.  This is one of several significant Peterloo Massacre items in PHM’s collection.

9 August 2005
Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown MP announces PHM is to become one of the national museums that is free to enter.

25 January 2006
Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) agrees to support the museum’s proposed ‘one site’ project – to bring all of the museum’s activities, services, operations and staff onto one site.

27 April 2007
Songwriter and political activist Billy Bragg opens the last changing exhibition, Battle for the Ballot – the struggle for the vote in Britain, before the museum closes for redevelopment.

7 October 2007
PHM closes to the public and work begins to move both staff and the collections to their short term homes.  For the museum this means a temporary home at the Science and Industry Museum (MOSI).

16 January 2008
An investment of £12.5 million is successfully secured from local, regional and national partners.  Work begins on a modern four storey extension attached to the Pump House.

28 January 2008
PHM @ MOSI is opened by Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families Ed Balls MP, with some of PHM’s most popular displays on show in the 1830 Warehouse.

People's History Museum

January 2009
The museum’s new extension is clad in Cor-Ten® steel, the first public building in Manchester to use this unusual material perhaps most well known for being used for the Angel of the North.

27 October 2009
The Pump House celebrates its centenary.  The building was built between 1907 and 1909, and was designed by City Architect Henry Price, who also designed Victoria Baths.

13 February 2010
The new museum opens its doors to the public for the first time and features two permanent galleries, a state of the art conservation studio, a changing exhibition gallery, archive and study centre and extensive learning and community spaces where visitors are invited to explore ideas worth fighting for.

The first annual banner exhibition takes place.  This has taken place every year since and results in the revamp of a quarter of the museum’s main galleries and its visitor experience.

The new museum is officially opened by Secretary of State for Health Andy Burnham MP.

Katy Ashton, Director @ People's History Museum9 August 2010
Katy Ashton joins as Director and leads the museum on the next chapter of its trail blazing journey.

30 May 2011
PHM’s first wedding ceremony takes place with the reception held in the Engine Hall.

1 November 2012
PHM’s first same sex civil partnership ceremony is held at the museum.

PHM welcomes a record breaking 100,000 visitors.  Donations, Venue Hire bookings and shop sales soar.

17 November 2014
Join the Radicals scheme is launched, enabling people to sponsor their chosen Radical and in doing so support vital work of the museum.

14 February 2015
Election! Britain Votes opens ahead of the 2015 general election, a major exhibition charting the history of general elections in Britain over the last 100 years.  The interactive experience includes the opportunity to register to vote, live feeds, broadcasts and evolving statistics.

28 Jan 2016
Baroness Jan Royall takes over from Lord John Monks as Chair of PHM’s Board of Trustees.

18 May 2016
PHM unveils an interactive installation The Euro Tunnel ahead of the EU Referendum in June, explaining what the EU does, who our MEPs are, how they are elected and encouraging people to use their vote.

PHM embarks on an ambitious contemporary collecting programme, linking to programme themes; LGBT+ stories, contemporary campaigns for women’s rights, modern protest, migration and disabled people’s rights and activism.

Ian McKellen © People's History Museum2 March 2017
Actor and activist Ian McKellen opens the exhibition Never Going Underground: The Fight for LGBT+ Rights.

This marks 50 years since the partial decriminalisation of homosexual acts in England and Wales (1967 Sexual Offences Act) and is the first time that the museum takes a theme-led approach to its programming.  Throughout 2017 events, talks, community projects and learning sessions explore the LGBT+ movement and the museum continues to grow its collection to better represent LGBT+ stories.

August 2017
With the support of a crowdfunding campaign, the museum acquires the Manchester suffragette banner (1908), which becomes one of the most iconic pieces in its collection.

2 October 2017
PHM is named as the Family Friendly Museum of the Year.  Presented by national organisation Kids in Museums, this is the only museum award in Britain where families pick the winner.

6 February 2018
As the centenary of the Representation of the People Act (1918) is marked, PHM begins a year long programme to consider what representation means to people one hundred years on.

#BlackFriday1910, opening of Represent! Voices 100 Years On exhibition © People¹s History Museum2 June 2018
Represent! Voices 100 Years On exhibition opens by recreating a suffragette protest that took place in 1910 ahead of a march which would become known as Black Friday due to the atrocities that were inflicted upon those seeking to gain the right to vote.

Leading the voices of today is women’s rights activist and writer Helen Pankhurst, great granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst.

The museum acquires Women’s March placards and a pink ‘Pussyhat’ to reflect contemporary campaigns for women’s rights.

October 2018
A mural on the exterior of the building by international street artist Axel Void is revealed called Peterloo.  The work remembers the Peterloo Massacre by viewing it through the lens of the Windrush scandal.

November 2018
The museum discovers and displays the first written account of suffragette force-feeding in prison in a 1909 letter written from one suffragette to another.

16 August 2019
PHM plays a leading role in marking the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre.  In this month alone 11,000 people visit the exhibition Disrupt? Peterloo and Protest, which is part of a year long focus for the whole museum exploring the past, present and future of protest.  It includes a very rare Peterloo artefact donated by a descendant of its owner who was present at Peterloo, known as the Peterloo cane.

20 September 2019
PHM joins the Global Climate Strike by carrying out an #ArtStrike.

Exhibits in Disrupt? Peterloo and Protest go on strike for the day in support of those demanding action to prevent further global warming and climate change.  The #ArtStrike initiative is led by the UK Student Climate Network.

Student climate strike placards are added to the museum’s collection.

8 November 2019
The Board elect interim Co-Chairs, Martin Carr, Founding Partner of For The Boardroom and Lord Bassam of Brighton, a British Labour and Co-operative politician and a member of the House of Lords.

1 January 2020
PHM begins its most ambitious programme to date, with a year dedicated to the exploration of migration, working with a specially recruited Community Programme Team made up of people whose lives have been shaped by migration.  The focus for contemporary collecting is on migration and the effect of the hostile environment.

Consultation begins for a programme exploring disabled people’s rights and activism.

People's History Museum 10 years on, illustration by Danielle Rhoda13 February 2020
PHM marks the 10th anniversary of its current building with a party, a live music event and open house celebration.  Salena Godden’s poem Pessimism is for Lightweights is unveiled as a new permanent feature.   The museum’s Impact Report is published on the story and results of PHM’s work over the last ten years.

19 March 2020
A national lockdown is announced as a result of the global Covid-19 pandemic.  All workplaces, schools, universities, shops, bars, restaurants and cultural organisations close their doors, with only key workers continuing to go in to work.  PHM closes its doors and the team, all working remotely, start to develop a programme of online activity that will lead to the launch of Ideas Worth Exploring.

April 2020
PHM increases the level of activity being delivered by its ongoing programme of Contemporary Collecting to reflect the unprecedented events of 2020, including within this an emphasis on Covid-19.

May 2020
Black Lives Matter protests take place globally following the death of George Floyd in the USA on 5 May 2020, including in Manchester. Images of the Manchester protests taken by photographer Jake Hardy are acquisitioned into PHM’s collection as part of its Contemporary Collecting.

1 September 2020
After being closed for over five months the national museum of democracy reopens its doors and warmly welcomes people back to PHM, with a continuation of the headline theme, exploring migration.

5 November 2020
Manchester is again placed into Tier 3 of Covid-19 restrictions, but this time cultural organisations are not able to open.  PHM closes its doors again.

15 December 2020
The ongoing closure of PHM and the pressures it has suffered in 2020 make the future of the museum uncertain.  All its revenue streams have been frozen with the closure and PHM was not eligible to apply to the government’s Culture Recovery Fund.  Facing a critical situation, #SecureOurFuture Crowdfunder is launched.

30 March 2021
PHM announces a partnership with Manchester’s leading conscious food company, Open Kitchen with a new cafe & bar opening on Wednesday 19 May when the museum is due to reopen.

Our Yorkshire Rose banner, 2016. Courtesy of Jo Cox's family. More in Common in memory of Jo Cox exhibition at People's History Museum19 May 2021
PHM reopens its doors following the end of Covid-19 restrictions with the launch of new exhibition exploring the life, values and legacy of Jo Cox MP, who was murdered in June 2016; More in Common: in memory of Jo Cox.

25 August 2021
The launch of Migration: a human story reveals the results of the Community
Programme Team’s project to evaluate how stories of migration are told within
the museum. Family friendly trails exploring experiences of migration are one
element of a series of interventions throughout the building.

14 September 2021
PHM joins 350 organisations to oppose the Police, Crime, Courts and
Sentencing Bill, fearing that it will silence marginalised voices fighting for

18 October 2021
PHM begins a Week of Action standing Together With Refugees and against
the Nationality and Borders Bill and the approach it will take on the right to
seek asylum.

MOTY 2022 shortlisted10 May 2022
PHM is announced as one of five museums across the country shortlisted for Art Fund Museum of the year 2022; the largest museum prize in the world.

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