My favourite object: Amna Khan

In this guest blog, Placement Student Amna Khan discusses her favourite part of the People’s History Museum

It was certainly difficult to pinpoint one area or object of interest as there are many elements of the museum that catch the eye, for example the colours, yet if I was to choose it would be the starting point of Main Gallery One; the Peterloo Massacre of 1819. It is a highly symbolic event. For example historian Robert Poole referred to it as “one of the defining moments of its age” perhaps because it caused a great stir in the industrial town of Manchester killing 18 people as well as leading to the Six Acts. But little was done in the name of reform.

Main Gallery One, Revolution @ People's History Museum copyThe snapshot on the left to some degree shows how there was a need for reform. As it states power was greatly abused, some were very wealthy whilst many were on the brink of starvation.

Skelmanthorpe Flag, Kirklees Metropolitan Council, National Banner SurveyThere are many objects in the museum that represent the Peterloo Massacre of 1819. This banner from Kirklees Metropolitan Council (and included in the National Banner Survey) states “SKELMANTHORP WILL NOT REST SATISFIED WITH THE SUFFRAGE BEING ANYTHING BUT UNIVERSAL.TRUTH & JUSTICE POURING BALM INTO THE WOUNDS OF THE MCR SUFFERERS.MAY NEVER A COCK IN ENG. CROW,NOR NEVER A PIPE IN SCO. BLOW, NOR NEVER A HARP IN IRE PLAY.”

The above quote shows how strongly the common people felt about the right to vote yet today many people are apathetic towards the electoral system as they feel their vote does not matter. Therefore, it is imperative to encourage people to vote so they can truly bring about change like for example the Chartists did (their story is on display in Main Gallery One).

Main Gallery One, Chartists @ People's History MuseumAs the 2015 election approaches, people must be made fully aware of the agendas of each party and they must make sure they vote for the one that will truly bring about change for the country and because we live in a democracy, it is our responsibility as well as right to make our voices heard.

Sabres from the Peterloo Massacre @ People's History MuseumAnother object from the massacre is the two swords also displayed in Main Gallery One, attached with the description, “Two swords belonging to a Droylsden man who rode with the Manchester Yeomanry…” The Museum obtained these only a few years ago in 2009.

My time at the museum has been of great interest refreshing my knowledge upon Britain’s revolutionary history and I encourage others especially young people to visit and learn.


The Manchester Lightbox Project

A guest post by Gary Munday PR and Marketing Assistant at Utilita Energy Limited about why they’ve chosen the People’s History Museum for a very exciting event

Lightbox square logoSince the New Year, Utilita Headquarters has been a flurry of work and excitement in the build up to the next instalment of the free, drop-in, two-day event – The Lightbox Project (Tuesday 17 – Wednesday 18 February 2015).

We at Utilita, the UK’s leading provider in prepayment energy, have already held a number of Lightbox events across the country, receiving lots of positive feedback. Now we’re hoping the forthcoming Manchester event is going to be the biggest and best yet!

We’re extremely happy to hold the event at the PHM – in fact, we think it’s ideal given the building’s history and appearance, coupled with the theme of our event. The Lightbox Project is about bringing the Manchester community together, unite all in the participation of electricity-based workshops. What better place than Engine Hall? Beautiful, industrial and known as the historical base that used to generate power for the city. In short, we are thrilled to be offering our workshops within this idyllic and memorable setting over the half-term holiday.

What can visitors expect when they drop in?

The Lightbox Project has an array of different workshops, visuals and competitions, all suitable for children of all ages (3+). Here are just a few them:

  • Occulus Rift Virtual Reality Headsets – come and explore other imaginary worlds! One of our favourites at the Lightbox Project, these headsets are the newest Occulus Rift technology available.
  • Fly a Drone – navigating these marvellous machines will surely be a test to anyone’s piloting skills!
  • 3D Printer – an army of robots will be built, thanks to the marvellous 3D printer we will have on location. This has proven to be a popular workshop, it is mind-boggling to watch in action!
  • Colouring Competition – get involved with the chance to win some great prizes. colour a house, wire up the electricity and add it to our very own ‘Electric City’.

But that’s not all! – we’ve got a whole load more planned for the two days and don’t want to give everything away! We really hope that as many people as possible will check out the workshops – especially since the event is free and all activities over the two days are run on a drop-in basis.

It’s almost half term! So let us spark your imagination and excitement with The Manchester Lightbox Project, powered by Utilita…

Find out more here.

If you are looking for a space to hold an event, then we have excellent venue hire facilities at the PHM.  Just visit our Venue Hire page for more information.


Spanish Refugee Drawings

A guest post by Gallery Assistant and resident Spanish Civil War expert Andy Hoyle

Every year the People’s History Museum utilises the quiet weeks in early January to replace their impressive banner collection on display. Banners that have been proudly exhibited for the past 12 months are returned to storage, to be substituted on the galleries by replacements. Often, those going on display are new acquisitions (such as the current Fakenham Labour Party banner on Main Gallery One) or are being exhibited to the public for the first ever time.

The museum does this for two reasons. The first reason is that many of the banners sustain wear and tear. The second is that the museum has such an extensive collection (the largest collection of trade union and political banners in the world – over 400!) and cannot possibly exhibit all of them at one time.

Basque 1It is not just banners that are annually changed however. This year, a number of Spanish refugee drawings from the late 1930s are displayed on Main Gallery One. Although they may not be as immediately eye-catching as the neighbouring banners they are just as fascinating.

The Spanish Civil War was fought between 1936 and 1939 and is often seen as a precursor to World War II. The conflict was a fight between democracy and autocracy. Although Nazi Germany and fascist Italy supported the rebel leader Franco (and provided troops, aircraft, tanks and artillery) Britain remained neutral throughout the conflict. ‘Appeasement’ was the watchword of British politics in the 1930s.

By 1937 Spanish republican heartlands were coming under attack. The Basque country in particular was subject to heavy bombardment, Guernica being just one example of a city effectively razed to the ground by aerial attacks. Despite such conditions, a number of Spanish children from republican areas managed to board ships bound for England.

Arriving on the south coast, many of the young refugees were placed in camps and were soon adopted by sympathetic British families. The drawings currently on display at the museum are sketched by these children, some as young as 3 or 4. The vivid detail is telling. Not only do they depict the true nature of mechanised warfare in the 1930s, they reveal just how close ‘total war’ was to the civilian population.

The grizzly and macabre depictions in some of them (notably the bodies floating along the river Ebro) are too disturbing to have been made up by children this young. Others, such as the shaded republican soldier or the ‘Mosca’ aeroplane are beautiful pieces of art in themselves.

These drawings are important for historic, political, artistic and also human reasons. I really do think that they are well worth seeing!

New family trails launch to celebrate 5 years of the People’s History Museum

These guys are ready to start the new family trail, will you be joining them soon?

New family trails to celebrate the 5th birthday of the People’s History Museum have launched today. There are two trails on offer, one suitable for ages 3-8 and one for over 8’s.  Both trails guide families around the three floors of the museum, and on completion they win a prize.  The trail gives visitors an opportunity to get hands on with the exhibitions, dress up and draw what they see.

Please tweet us @PHMMcr to let us know what you think of our family trails and send us pictures of your drawings!

We hope you enjoy your visit.

Jenny Whitham, Museum Volunteer

UK & Russian museums & galleries – worlds apart?

A guest post by Janneke Geene, Head of Business Development

Back in October of 2014 I was lucky enough to spend a week in Russia, visiting museums and galleries in Moscow and St Petersburg, for a British Council project. The project spans the BRIC countries: Brazil, Russia, India and China. The BRIC countries are generally seen as countries of growth and expansion. With that comes a possible increased flow of tourists from those countries to the UK. The aim of the project is to find out what tourists from the BRIC countries expect when they visit UK museums and galleries (based on what they are used to ‘back at home’) and how the UK sector can make adaptations to be more welcoming and attractive to BRIC tourists. While colleagues from other venues went to Brazil, India and China, I went on the trip to Russia with a colleague from Manchester Museum and together we visited some 15 museums and galleries in the space of 6 days. To say it was an eye-opener would be an understatement – and in very unexpected ways.

Before our trip we had a meeting with Russian Visit Britain representatives who gave us a little bit of information (Russian tourists generally don’t speak English, but are keen on cultural and educational experiences when they travel) but who also expressed their surprise at our visit as in their view British museums and galleries are generally far ‘better’ than Russian ones.

Our visit to museums and galleries as diverse as the State Darwin Museum (Moscow), the Moscow Lights Museum and the State Museum of Political History of Russia (St Petersburg) had a number of things in common that are significantly different from our experiences of museums and galleries back in Britain. What is always an easy and non-confrontational opening question in Britain: How may visitors do you get a year?, turned out to be mostly met by surprise and a wave of the hand – a lot of the venues don’t know the figures. It would be easy to judge that lack of knowledge when viewed through the prism of British (and possibly Western European) cultural funding streams and practice. However, as we had the privilege of spending quite some time with colleagues in Russia, we realised we were being naive in assuming. Assuming almost anything is naive in Russia.

After all, much as Russia has had deeply significant cultural relationships (music, art, to name but a few) with what we class as Western Europe over a long period of time, this unimaginably large country is actually half European, half Asian. An extended period of relative isolation has undeniably influenced several aspects of the culture. What were we thinking looking at these organisations with our Western European head on?

A Russian museum shop As I am responsible for commercial and income generation activities at People’s History Museum, I had a whole raft of questions (fuelled by as many assumptions?) around shops, cafes and such things, as well as marketing and audience engagement. Again, it would be ever so easy to agree with the Visit Britain representatives that Britain is far ahead of Russia in these things. After all we pride ourselves on our quirky and welcoming cafes (no visit to the museum needed), our independent gift shops (having a museum souvenir shop is so yesterday) and the multitude of engaging activities on offer for our visitors. But who is to say? It turns out Russian people have a love for their museums and galleries, visit often, want to learn lots and on ‘free Sundays’ (the mayor of Moscow has decreed all state run museums and galleries in Moscow, which is 99% of them, need to be open free of charge on a number of Sundays each year) Moscow’s inhabitants fill museums and galleries to bursting point. Russian visitors read the labels attentively and investigate exhibits with enthusiasm. So who are we to compare, judge or assume?

Income generation is fairly irrelevant at the moment as most museums and galleries receive state funding. Would the sector in Britain be quite so ‘sophisticated’ in their ‘secondary spend’ offer were there no financial imperative?

Audience engagement happens because by and large the audiences we observed were very keen to engage.

Of course this is not the whole picture – Moscow, as one Scottish person on the metro pointed out to us, is not at all representative of Russia, most of Russia is rural with vast swathes of people not having access to the world class collections displayed in Moscow and St Petersburg. Yet most state museums seemed to have a busy programme of touring changing exhibitions. Much to think about.

St Petersburg, as we learnt, has always been the rebel, the town that can get away with a few things. So it is no coincidence that it is the home of the State Museum of Political History of Russia, a museum where deep reflective thinking about the significance of its collections in relation to the country’s political history (and present) is in evidence in every display. A museum that has managed to find a way to survive for decades, despite the fact it tells a deeply complex (and probably controversial) story. It uses choices as a theme and provides a walk through Russian political history as a series of choices made and choices not made and their consequences.

The most memorable thing about the visit will be the colleagues though – on the whole the colleagues we met were very deep thinkers, having had to make sense of Russia’s complex history and recent history, passionate about their work, keen to collaborate where possible (not so easy at the moment) and extremely knowledgeable about their subject matter.

And Russian tourists visiting museums and galleries in the UK? Well, they do indeed mostly not speak English, so doing something about the language barrier is a must; those Russians who can travel abroad want an educational/cultural experience as part of their trip; they mostly travel as part of an organised group (much easier if you don’t speak English); they are interested in pointers that pull out the relevance of objects to their history and they are used to paying and admission fee, so will love getting free admission. Not rocket science really.

Oh, and the shop and cafe – those Russians who can travel abroad by and large make it into a very special occasion and spend quite a lot of money.

And don’t forget – just as it is prohibitively expensive for us to use the internet while travelling abroad, so it is for them, so promoting the fact you’ve got Wifi is a win.

Moscow Light Museum controllers deskAnd if you are ever lucky enough to visit Moscow, do make a beeline for the Moscow Lights Museum – a tiny, quirky, private museum featuring an amazing collection of old Moscow streetlights and their history. It turns out that Moscow streetlights through the ages is Russian history in a nutshell, complete with the large oak controllers’ desk, where, at one time, the head controller, literally with one flick of a switch, could turn out all the streetlights in Moscow if deemed necessary. If only I spoke Russian I’d translate their website and leaflet to make it more accessible to British tourists venturing East.

New year, new job, new gallery display

A guest post from our newest member of staff, Conservator Zoë Lanceley

Every year during the first two weeks of January the PHM change over the banners on display in the main galleries. This was particularly exciting for me as Monday was the first day of my new job as a conservator here in the Textile Conservation Studio.  This week we have been hard at work putting a new selection of banners on display and taking the old banners away for a rest from light, dust and the physical strain of hanging vertically.

Taking down the banner 2Taking down the banner

Here at the PHM the main galleries have been designed with a nifty system to make it easy to change over banner displays. Each banner hangs from a long pole inserted through a sleeve at the top of the banner. The pole is then gradually raised or lowered into position using a pulley system which is hidden behind the walls.

Vacuuming the bannerTo remove banners from display we carefully lower them down, rolling them as we go. We then take them to a large open space and lay them flat out on the floor (they are too big for tables) and gently vacuum both sides to remove any dust which may have accumulated in the past year. We vacuum them through a mesh screen to protect the delicate surface of the fabric and also put a piece of muslin inside the vacuum nozzle to allow us to collect the dust. Dust samplesThis is really helpful as it allows us to monitor exactly what sort of dust and fibres are being removed, i.e. general dust from the carpet or fibres from the banner itself. The banners are ‘put to bed’ until the next time they are displayed by rolling them onto large cardboard tubes, and wrapped up in acid free tissue paper, calico and Tyvek® (a non-woven polyethylene fabric) .  We take a lot of care when rolling the banners to make sure that no creases are formed as these could turn into permanent distortions or splits in the future.

New banner ready to go upRolling up the new bannerFinishing touchesWhen we put banners up on display we follow the same procedure in reverse, carefully unrolling the banner as it is raised up. To put the finishing touches on the new display we make sure the that banners are lit in the right way; bright enough so that visitors can see them clearly but not too bright as this would cause the fabric to fade.  The final step is to put barriers in front of the banners to deter people from touching them, as even clean hands can leave traces of oils and salts on the fabric which would cause the fabrics to deteriorate.

Being a textile conservator is an exciting and wide-ranging job. Working with large flat textiles like banners means that our job varies day to day from carrying out painstaking precise treatments at a workbench to kneeling on the floor or carrying heavy objects. I have really enjoyed my first week at the PHM and hope all our visitors enjoy the new display.

If you want to find out more about the work that is carried out in the Textile Conservation Studio, pop up to Main Gallery Two where you can peek through the window into the studio, or join us for one of our quarterly tours.