Scottish Referendum- the votes are in!


On Wednesday 18 September, to mark one year to go until the Scottish Referendum, we put up a display looking at this contemporary debate, and how it could be one which would have lasting effects on all living in the UK today.


As part of this, we conducted our own poll, and asked visitors the question Scottish residents will be asked in 2014; Should Scotland be an independent country? The display proved to get our visitors talking, with a total of 119 people casting their vote in just over a week.


We provided visitors with voting slips asking them the above question, and gave them the option to tell us their nationality, which was entirely optional. We hoped this would give us an idea of the spread of voters, and whether one country was more likely to vote a certain way than another- we were especially interested in how our Scottish visitors would vote!


Results- finalSo, without further ado, here are the results. The majority (53%) of our visitors believe that Scotland should not be an independent country, that we are ‘Better Together’ and voted that they stay within the United Kingdom. This is opposed to 31% of visitors who believe that Scotland should be an independent country and voted with the YES Scotland campaign. 13% of our visitors posted voting slips with no vote on at all, whether this was because they were left undecided, whether they wanted to make a stand against the referendum, or perhaps they merely wanted to post something into our lovely ballot boxes without taking part in the vote, we can never tell, so we can’t gain a great amount of information from these votes.


The remaining 5% of our visitors left no vote on their slip, but did write a comment to express their views. One visitor interestingly wrote ‘It’s up to them’ when faced with the question, asserting that it should be up to Scotland alone to decide whether they should be independent of the UK.


A further few visitors made their vote, but then left comments after it to attest to their feelings on the matter. One voter put a cross in the ‘No’ box, but further remarked “But I’d still get rid of Westminster”, while another voted ‘Yes’ then commented “Then Shetland and Grampian will go-it alone with their oil!”.


Nationality- NOAs previously mentioned, visitors were given the option to tell us their nationality upon voting. The uptake on this Nationality- YESwas not as great, but this is to be expected when this is not a traditional part of a voting slip. An interesting observation can be made from these results, that the majority of ‘No’ voters have defined themselves as British, whereas the majority of YES voters have defined themselves as either English or Scottish. This is of course to be expected, but it does suggest that many people already see themselves as living in separate nations, regardless of whether that is legally confirmed or not.



What do you believe? Do you agree with the majority of our visitors and think that Scotland are better staying within the UK, or do you think they should go-it alone? Cast your vote now on our online poll at the bottom of the page! Whatever your view, this debate has proved to spark diverse reactions from our visitors, and will prove to make an interesting referendum in 2014!


There have always been ideas worth singing for

On Monday 23 September, the museum held a tour looking at 200 years of politicised music, from Peterloo to the present day. Former placement student Gilly Reynolds lead visitors around our galleries and introduced them to the many links between our story and protest music to show us how there have ‘always been ideas worth singing for’. In honour of this, we’ve bought out a few objects from our collection and archive to share with you.

‘Music is a global language that speaks to everyone’ Tony Benn recognised the potency and significance of protest music whilst reminiscing about the movement of the late 1970s Rock Against Racism which utilised guitars and lyrics for clear political purposes; it hoped to smash racism and promote racial equality. Yet music and politics have a long history, in fact you could argue that song has always been seen as a weapon in the armoury of individuals who want to change the world.
From the workers’ songs of the early 1800s which sang for better working conditions to the punk bands of the 1980s who demanded an end to homophobia, music and politics have always been inextricably linked.

The Peterloo Massacre of 1819 was meant to be a peaceful meeting of local radicals campaigning for political reform of parliament. Henry Hunt was the principal speaker at this gathering of thousands of men, women and IMG_2849children wearing their Sunday best, yet within minutes of his speech, his arrest was ordered and the Manchester Yeomanry, followed by the army, were sent in to disperse the crowds. 18 people died as a result of the violence at St. Peters’ Field, and hundreds more were injured. This song book, dating from immediately after Peterloo in 1819, holds songs and poems commemorating the “heroes, whose firm and active zeal has stamped their lasting fame till time shall be no more”. The book is therefore used in order to remember the events and push for political reform.

IMG_2875Protest music and folk songs describing the inequality and poor conditions many faced during the nineteenth century were frequently used by the working classes, and have proved to be a foundation to much of the music used in the English folk revival in the 1960s. For example the song, ‘The Four Loom Weaver’, a classic Lancashire ballad was revived by Ewan MacColl in 1957.IMG_2855

MacColl was an influential singer/ songwriter producing politically inspired folk music for a large portion of the twentieth century. He is said to have been one of the main artists producing protest songs during the folk revival. The PHM hold a number of objects relating to MacColl including this signed portrait and this songbook, taken from his album The Shuttle and the Cage inspired by the everyday life and troubles of miners in Britain.

Miners across Britain have quite often been the inspiration behind many of the folk songs and protest music released in the twentieth century, none more so than during the Miners’ Strike of 1984-5. We hold a fascinating collection of broadsides produced by miners during this period at the People’s History Museum. Illustrated IMG_2879sheets present songs calling for support and recognition of the extremely hard times they were facing. This particular example is a copy by the Nottingham miners union taken from the song ‘It’s miner this, it’s miner that’ written by retired Durham Pit deputy, Jack Purdon.
Songs produced during the Miners’ Strike gained attention and notoriety when popular artists, such as Billy Bragg covered them. ‘Which Side Are You On?’ was originally written in 1931 by Florence Reece, the wife of a mine workers union organizer and was img012originally meant as a reaction to the bitter and violent struggle between the mine owners and the workers; however Bragg adapted the ethos of the original song during the Miners’ Strike in 1984 and released it to coincide with the very contemporary strike. Bragg was at his most famous during the 1980s and 1990s as a singer/songwriter and left-wing activist. Our Archive and Study Centre hold a number of items relating to him, such as this photograph. It is said that the Miners’ Strike further politicised Bragg and led him to play many benefit shows across the UK to raise money to support the families of the miners.
Bragg’s broadly left-wing activism meant that he lent his name and support to a number of causes throughout his career and in the period leading up to the 1987 general election, fronted Red Wedge, a collective of musicians who attempted to engage young people with politics in general, and especially the Labour Party, in an attempt to oust Margret Thatcher’s Conservative government. Red Wedge produced a number of major tours. The first, in January and February 1986, featured Bragg, Paul Weller’s band The Style Council, The Communards and picked up guest appearances from Madness, Heaven 17, Bananarama, Elvis Costello, Gary Kemp, Tom Robinson, Sade and The Smiths.img005

After a third consecutive Conservative victory in the 1987 election, Red Wedge lost its main drive leading funding to eventually run out in 1990 and what was left of the group formally disbanded.
Although Red Wedge didn’t fully achieve their aim, there have been numerous examples before and since of musicians banding together to lend their support to protests and political causes. One such example in the UK is img001Rock Against Racism (RAR), a campaign set up involving pop, rock, punk and reggae musicians staging concerts with an anti-racist theme, in order to discourage young people from embracing racism and the increasing prominence of white nationalist groups such as the National Front. The People’s History Museum holds numerous collections relating to RAR including the pictured newspaper extract and badge. We are also currently displaying ‘Hidden’ a photographic exhibition by one of the RAR founders, Red Saunders, looking at great moments in the long struggle for rights and representation in Britain- it ends this week so hurry down if you would like to see it at the PHM!
In spring 1978, 100,000 people marched six miles from Trafalgar Square to the East End of London (a National Front hotspot) forIMG_2817 an open-air music festival at Victoria Park in Hackney organised by RAR and the Anti-Nazi League. The concert featured The Clash, Buzzcocks and the Tom Robinson Band amongst many others. Numerous concerts and marches followed this, leading RAR to largely be known as a great success. Both RAR and Red Wedge used music to communicate ideas, and mobilise the masses. However, where RAR used music as a mechanism for bringing people together against a common idea, Red Wedge used music and musicians more as a marketing tool to influence the formal political process and this can be used as a suggestion to explain why RAR had a greater amount of success and longevity than Red Wedge.
As can be seen in this selection of objects from our stores and archive, protest songs can provide a voice for the voiceless, or can be an expression of opposition. Politicised music appeals to the listener to take action on the ideas they believe are worth singing for.
For more images from our collection on protest music, or images from the tour, visit our Flickr site.

Better together or going it alone? Scottish Referendum display at the PHM.

IMG_2922Yesterday marked one year to go until Scotland will vote to decide the future of their country…are they better staying within the UK or will they decide to become independent and go it alone? In honour of this momentous question, which will inevitably affect all living in the UK today and most people have an opinion on, we decided to search through our collections and review the history of this debate, while presenting material from both contemporary campaigns; Better Together and YES Scotland.

The first stop was our very own Archive and Study Centre to look at material surrounding the history of this story. Since the Act of Union in 1707, groups within Scotland have advocated for a separate Scottish Parliament, known as devolution, or complete independence from the United Kingdom. The first vote on devolution was held in 1979. Despite a majority of people voting ‘yes’ the act required 40% of all people in Scotland to do so, as this did not occur nothing changed. The second vote for devolution took place in 1997and this time Scotland did vote yes. Devolution brought a Scottish parliament with powers to legislate over health, education and housing, but not economic policy, defence or foreign affairs.

We were able to piece together pamphlets, leaflets and photographs from the archive and theIMG_2933 Working Class Movement Library and create a case which charted the long history which will result in the referendum next year.  My personal favourite is this photograph of a lady campaigning for a Scottish Assembly in 1987- she looks to be there for the long haul, despite the bad weather!

To bring the display right up to the present day, the very helpful people at both YES Scotland and Better Together sent us some campaign material including badges, posters, balloons, pens, leaflets and even a bottle opener/ key IMG_2927ring- always something to keep handy! These items were displayed in a separate case and the posters were stuck up on the wall bringing contemporary debate inside our museum setting.

The ‘Yes’ Scotland campaign argues that a future under a social union will result in a much more equal society, because Scotland will be able to prioritise on matters most important to them. While the ‘Better Together’ campaign argue that were Scotland to become independent the country would be worse off economically, politically and socially.

Unless you live in Scotland, you won’t get to vote in the 2014 referendum, although a ‘yes’ voteIMG_2923 would radically alter what it means to be British. We thought therefore that it would be a great idea to use one of our new perspex ballot boxes, and offer our visitors the chance to ‘play their part’ and cast their vote. Visitors are asked the question which will be used next year; ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’ and are asked to tick a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ box. So far we have had loads of votes, and the display has only been up one day! We’ll tweet what the majority of our visitors have decided to vote for in the coming weeks, so stay tuned for our very own PHM poll.

Know Your Place at the PHM

Back in June, The Larks combined the spectacle of theatre with the agency of play at the People’s History Museum to create an interactive performance piece, Know Your Place. Now, they’ve written us a blog post detailing the session.

Know Your Place, copyright People's History Museum 29.06.13 (11)

It was so exciting for The Larks to ascend on the Museum for a day!  Know Your Place is a pervasive theatrical game interrogating notions of social class and entitlement.  Players are born onto an island and receive an identity and an inheritance.  They then play out their life through three rounds which sees them go to school, embark on a career and retire.  The game is clearly rigged, as those who inherit more at the beginning have more to invest in their life, for which they receive a greater return.  An elite education tends to lead to more career opportunities which sees a fruitful retirement.  Meanwhile the facilitator reminds us that ‘we are all in this together’ and that ‘the system will not reward those who do not contribute’, rhetoric we are well accustomed to hearing, but in front of this openly rigged system doesn’t seem to match up… The person with the most at the end is declared the winner, but this is undermined having exposed the system to be at best arbitrary, at worst, downright unfair.

We had not previously delivered the game indoors but were so excited at the prospect of using the Museum as a backdrop as the themes of social justice and people power which resonate powerfully within the game.  We collected players from the light, airy foyer and lead them into the performance space within the permanent exhibition, which we used as a base.  Here players had to complete their first task – find their hat.  Hats were dotted around the space and contain identities and Know Your Place, copyright People's History Museum 29.06.13 (41)inheritance – so the distribution of identities is pot luck (or the person who moves fastest!).  We chose to identify class ranking by hats as inspired by The Two Ronnies Class Sketch, but funnily enough the Museum has a small section on hats and class, so they blended in expertly well to the surroundings making it more challenging for people to find than previous versions of the game.

We tried out a new version of the schools applications section, which had limited success – we felt that previous versions weren’t challenging enough so we adapted it.  However when we ran it in the museum we realised that the controlled nature of the environment (as opposed to the outdoors) led this part to be quite static and not the dizzying start we’d expected, so there’s further work to be done there.

The next section, the career opportunity section saw the game really come to life.  Due to its active nature we had to do this section in the Engine Room as it had Know Your Place, copyright People's History Museum 29.06.13 (21)plenty of space for shuttlecocks to fly around without damaging anything.  Players donned their hats and tried to catch as may opportunities as possible, some to great success.

We then escorted the group back to base for the retirement section.  Here players attempt to spend their well earned beans on trips for themselves in retirement.  However, Death is hot on the heels and constantly pursues them threatening to abruptly end their life. This brought a flurry of activity to the building as players searched high and low for destinations whilst hiding from Death.  Players hid in disabled toilets and tentatively ascended stairways on the hunt for sunny Dubai and romantic Paris – or the budget option – Skegness.

Players left exhilarated and we had some fantastic feedback:

“It gave me pause to think about multiple issues.”

“It makes you think about what effect education has on your path in life.”

“It’s a really great metaphor for life.”

Hopefully we’ll be back at the Museum again in the future!


Supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.
Originally commissioned by Festival of the North East for PLACE, a development programme to stimulate new work in the North East, managed by ARC, Stockton Arts Centre.

Chile Solidarity Campaign

Our Archive Assistant, Darren Treadwell, has written this short piece about material we hold from the Chile Solidarity Campaign.

Amongst the papers held in the Labour History Archive & Study Centre are those of the Chile Solidarity Campaign, a collection consisting of some fifty or so boxes, which was set up in the immediate aftermath of the military coup which took place forty years ago this week.

CHILE 1The left of centre Popular Unity government of Salvador Allende was overthrown by a mixed force of army generals, navy chiefs, and police authorities. In the coup itself some sixty or so people died, including the President Allende who took his own life rather than be captured while fighting in La Moneda, the presidential palace. Over the coming months thousands were rounded up, tortured, killed, imprisoned, and driven into exile across the world, several thousand of whom settled in the United Kingdom.

CHILE 2The collection of papers runs from 1973 until 1991 and consists of Executive Committee minutes, annual reports, fundraising correspondence, leaflets, and general correspondence. Arguably the most important part of the collection is the material relating to the Labour Party and British trade unions. The importance of the trade union related material can better be appreciated when you keep in mind that at the time of the coup the leader of Britain’s largest trade union, the Transport and General Workers Union, was Jack Jones, himself a veteran of the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). For Jack’s generation of Trade Unionist the events in Spain were something of a year zero, for a later generation of trade unionists and socialist activists the events in Chile 40 years ago had much the same galvanising effect.

Our Labour History Archive & Study Centre is open to all researchers and interested parties, find out more about visiting on this page of our website.

From Ancient Worlds to New Technology: Catherine and Harriet’s trip around Manchester

The ‘chandelier’

The ‘chandelier’

This week we’ve had a meander around Manchester and visited a couple of our favourite museums. First on the list, was the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) where we met with our lovely former colleague Kate Chatfield, who is now Exhibitions Interpretation Manager at MOSI. We wanted to investigate how the hi-tech interpretation methods worked in the Revolution Manchester gallery and what we could learn from these approaches.

The Revolution Manchester gallery opened in January 2011 so we were interested in how the technology used in the gallery has dated over time and wanted to find out more about how visitors interacted with it. As you first walk in you are faced with a large installation – basically a massive ‘chandelier’ made up of video screens, merged with photographs of famous Manchester innovators (it’s difficult to describe, so look at the picture!!). Visitors can add their faces to the chandelier by scanning a barcode at one of the20130902_142338 introductory digital stations, entering some information, and having their photo taken. You are asked your name, email address and asked to select your areas of interest from a list presented to you. We assumed this would then signpost us to a selection of displays which came within our interest bracket, but unfortunately this was not the case. Excitingly however, your face then became part of the giant digital sculpture. Visitors really seemed to love this, and spent a considerable amount of time getting the perfect picture! This had the effect of making you feel you were really part of MOSI, and secured your investment in the museum from the start.

20130902_142347The barcode could then be used at a number of the interactives throughout the Revolution Manchester gallery. However, we did have a few problems getting these to work. A number either refused to scan the card, or were out of order which made the barcode quite redundant. 20130902_152225We were able to use it on one interactive game however, and it was really exciting to see your name come up on the screen before you started to play. Later, at home, you could then input the barcode number along with your name into MOSI’s website. This enabled you to find out more information related to the interests you had stated at the outset. We liked the way MOSI have promoted other museums in this way; however it would be interesting to know how many people actually took the time to look at the website after their visit. Also, it would have been nice to see further links to MOSI’s collection using this method.

It was great to speak to Kate about the gallery as she was able to give us a real insight into how the gallery is used, and how visitors respond to it. We discussed the merits and drawbacks of using state of the art technology in a museum setting with relation to our Play Your Part project. We do not want anything that won’t last in the future and will appear out of date (or out of order!) in a few years time. This got us thinking about the use of mobile technology in the gallery space, and how this would provide an immersive interactive experience – without the massive price tag!

With this information in mind, we went off to Manchester Museum to explore how they utilise technology and especially mobiles in their new Ancient Worlds gallery. As you walk into the gallery you are treated to fusion of traditional museum cases enclosing objects and labels and new technology in the form of videos and directions to the gallery’s own mobile site. This design is very inclusive and therefore people who do not own mobiles or have access to the internet are still able to find out a wealth of information about the objects on show.

Screenshot_2013-09-05-17-16-16Screenshot_2013-09-05-17-16-41The mobile site is very well designed. Visitors can input a combination of symbols in order to find out information about the object the symbols relate to. For some objects this is just basic information and a photograph, whereas for others you are able to listen to audio and browse through a selection of photographs. You are also able to share the page on Facebook, Twitter and Google+, something which we feel is very important when using technology today. In theory, you can access this information at home, however you would need the code of symbols to access specific objects, so realistically you would have to randomly select items to look at, therefore the site is very much designed to complement the museum experience, and not so much as a standalone site.

Whilst we enjoyed using the mobile site, we didn’t observe many other visitors using it. We also visited the Living Worlds gallery in which you are required to download an app to access interactive content. We felt the use of a mobile site instead of a downloadable app was quicker to access and therefore presented fewer barriers to use.

These visits were really useful and inspiring. The next stage for us is to investigate how we can use mobile technology at the PHM. Watch this space!

Staff Top Picks: A Suffragette’s Home

In the first of our ‘Staff Top Picks’ series, PHM Director Katy Archer tells us why the poster A Suffragette’s Home is her most-loved object in our collection. What’s your favourite item in the museum? Tell us on Twitter using #phmtop10.

Katy Archer (4)

One of my favourite objects is the poster – A Suffragette’s Home, produced by the National League for Opposing Woman Suffrage around 1910. The poster appealed to the working man who has returned home from work to find his hungry children in an untidy house.

The poster stands out to me for a number of reasons. Its style, aesthetic quality and colour palette are striking and part of the iconic design of many posters of this era. The artist responsible for this poster was John Hassell who also designed the famous holiday poster, Skegness is So Bracing.

I also think it’s interesting to see a poster arguing AGAINST something that can now sometimes be taken for granted. Votes for Women is such an important part of the People’s History Museum and we have a fantastic collection of objects representing this story, as well as other organisations in Manchester such as the Pankhurst Centre who are key to telling the story of Women’s Suffrage.

PHM is a champion for the Wonder Women campaign commemorating how much will have been achieved in the 100 years from 1918 (when women first won the (partial) right to vote) to 2018. 1918 was the culmination of a long, hard struggle, and although we’ve come a long way, there is still much work to be done. With events, debate, music, art and more, Wonder Women is a five-year project that asks how far we’ve come – and how far we have yet to go.

So for me this poster sums up that struggle – it shows how women had to make sacrifices for a cause that they believed in – and it shows that there have always been (and continue to be) ideas worth fighting for!

It also reminds me that working towards a bigger goal and fighting for something you believe in is more important than keeping a tidy home – which is good to see as the poster also reminds me a little bit of my house when I get home from a day working at PHM!