Highlights of the People's History Museum. The National Museum of Democracy Manchester

Curator with purple Suffragette Banner
Curator at PHM with Emmeline Pankhurst banner (Courtesy PHM). 

The People’s History Museum is the National Museum of Democracy for the United Kingdom. 

The collection includes objects as diverse as the desk where Thomas Paine wrote “The Rights of Man” up to a current day climate protest placard. 

We walk less than a kilometre from St Peter’s Square Metrolink stop. This was the site of the Peterloo Massacre and is also where you will find the statue of suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst. We walk through the backstreets of Manchester and Spinningfields to the People’s History Museum on the banks of the River Irwell. 

Map from St Peter's Square to People's History Museum
Route from St Peter's Square Metrolink to Peoples History Museum (Google maps)

By the side of  St Peter’s Square Metrolink stop (A) you can see the statue "Our Emmeline" opposite Manchester Central Library.

From there, walk on the pavement following the Metrolink tracks past the side of the Midland Hotel. This is a Baroque style building clad in Terra Cotta (see picture of rear below). 

Once you’ve walked past the Midland Hotel the Peterloo monument will be in front of you (B). 

Circular monument on rain soaked pavement
Peterloo Monument behind Midland Hotel Manchester

Now walk between the back of the Midland Hotel and Manchester Central, down Mount Street. Follow it round a bend then turn left (C) on Bootle Street opposite the back of the library. There's a sign indicating that the wall on Bootle Street was at the northern edge of St Peter’s field. 

Walk all the way down Bootle Street until you reach Deansgate. Cross over at the lights and turn right down Deansgate. Take the left down Hardman Street (E) (by a signpost for the Opera House), then through Hardman Square (G) until you reach the River Irwell and an overhead sign for Left Bank. 

Walk under that sign. Without crossing the river turn right before the metal bridge and follow the path alongside the the river to reach The People’s History Museum (H). It will be on your right before you climb the steps a stone bridge. Go up the steps and round to the front of the building.

Sign on front of People's History Museum
People's History Museum

The museum collection started as the National Museum of Labour History which opened in 1975 in London.

Following funding problems the collection was acquired by Manchester City Council and moved here in 1988. 

The best place to start is by going up to main gallery 1 on the first floor. This covers democracy up to 1945. This floor has exhibitions covering the Peterloo Massacre, the Great Reform Act , the Chartists and Votes for Women. 

The second floor covers 1945 onwards in Main Gallery 2 and includes the formation of the Welfare State, the Co-operative society and a collection of banners. 

There is also a viewing area where you can see the conservation work in action.

Workshop with banners on tables and conservator
Conservation in action at the museum

The ground floor has a cafe and changing exhibition.

The Rights of Man

Thomas Paine was one of the most influential writers of his time and wrote The Rights of Man 1791. It was written at the desk on display in the museum. He believed that all men over the age of 21 should be given the vote and he had a large following. The book was banned and Thomas Paine fled to France however over a million copies of his book were sold and sowed the seeds of revolution.

Museum floor with desk and text
Thomas Paine's writing desk

Peterloo Massacre

The population of Manchester and Salford grew rapidly during the industrial revolution to approximately 150,000. The area did not have a dedicated Member of Parliament and only property owners could vote.

The Peterloo massacre took place near St Peter’s Square on 16 August 1819. Over 60,000 people took part demanding representation. 

A private militia paid for by the wealthy landowners stormed the crowd and eighteen people are believed to have died. The landowners claimed that the crowd were armed with canes.

The museum has a number of objects from that time including the Peterloo cane.

The repercussions of that protest led to the Great Reform Act of 1832 and the start of changes to the democratic system.

Taxi driver with hand in air and boot open
Manchester International Festival 2019 "gig economy" street performance on Bootle Street.


The most well known object from the museum collection is the Suffragette banner acquired in 2017 (see header photo). 

This banner appeared alongside Emmeline Pankhust when she spoke to a crowd of 50,000 people at Heaton Park, the biggest park in the North West of England.  

It is not on permanent display but if you’re planning your visit you can arrange a viewing by making contact with the museum at collections@phm.org.uk

Emmeline Pankhurst statue with arm outstretched
Our Emmeline in St Peter's Square

Climate change protests

Climate protests are happening globally and are a result of current unrest with governments. 

The museum collects objects from current protests. A placard of which thee were may similar ones with text "There is No Planet B" was collected from the first Manchester Youth Climate Strike in Manchester in February 2019. Protests in Manchester are usually around St Peter’s Square. 

Protester with banner There is no planet B
There is no Planet B style climate change placard

The placard in the photograph isn't the same one that is held by the museum but it's held by ten year old protester Lillia who was a regular attender and wrote a blogpost for the museum 
There is no Planet B blog

 For the latest information on the PHM follow the link PHM website


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