PHM’s New Playwright in Residence

1983 Bermondsey by-election campaign leaflet © Peter Tatchell

Stephen M Hornby, award winning Manchester playwright and Playwright in Residence at People’s History Museum (PHM), blogs about writing his new play for us.  It’s about seasoned human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell’s time as a Labour Party candidate in the hugely controversial 1983 Bermondsey by-election.

Stephen will give an insight into writing his new play and his process of using PHM’s archives in a series of three blogs.

Blog 1 of 3: Meeting Peter Tatchell for the first time, again

‘I’m suddenly really nervous.  It’s one thing meeting someone at a public do, shaking hands, having a selfie moment and moving on.  But this is an interview.  A three hour interview, which is itself one of three interviews.  In his flat.  His home.  What if he doesn’t like me?  What if I don’t like him?  What if my questions are really bad, predictable and shallow?  I can see the block where his flat is.  I’m early.  Too early to knock.  That might come across as passive aggressive, as if I’m trying to catch him out in some way.  It’s raining.  Time for a coffee and some deep breaths.

I have met Peter Tatchell before, several times, going back to the 1980s.  I was a drama student at the University of Kent from 1987.  A wonderful out gay drama lecturer, Alan Beck, was orchestrating Tatchell, Ian McKellen and Derek Jarman to protest against the introduction of what was to become Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 (this prohibited local authorities from intentionally promoting homosexuality and from publishing material in any maintained school on the acceptability of homosexuality as a “pretended” family relationship).  I’d only just come out.  Bad timing.  Alan gathered gay men under his wing and gently but decisively politicised us.  And then I’m stood in his garden handing out burgers to men in black leather jackets, one of them was Peter Tatchell.  It was our first fleeting connection.

Peter Tatchell in 1983 campaigning in Bermondsey © Peter Tatchell

Peter Tatchell at a press conference in 1983 © Peter Tatchell

Manchester, February 1988 and I’m on a train from London packed with a huge number of gays and lesbians, all impossibly, joyously out, and angry.  The mood is one of defiance.  We’re ready to be welcomed by a wonderful city, but bristling with defiance to the anticipated rough treatment by the notoriously homophobic Greater Manchester Police.  Peter is at the head of the march.  I catch his eye at one point and smile.  I wonder if I should go over and say hello, presume that he remembers me from the BBQ months earlier, the nervous drama student who handed him a slightly charred bap.  Perhaps.  Perhaps not.  My diffidence means the moment evaporates and Peter is swept on.

During the 1990s, I followed his activism on telly.  I have a job now.  A proper job as a Probation Officer.  My activism is more individualised.  I don’t do protests much anymore.  Peter does.  He founds gay rights group OutRage! and disrupts the Easter sermon by the then Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey.  He gets arrested.  He tries to arrest Robert Mugabe.  He gets badly beaten.  He becomes a remote televisual figure and my life drifts back into theatre.  I become a playwright, a proper one, and that leads me somehow to becoming the first LGBT History Month Playwright in Residence.  My own little part of the past to play with.

It’s 2015.  LGBT History Month is holding its first ever history festival.  I now live in Manchester, where the festival is being held.  We’re staging a three part theatre piece, A Very Victorian Scandal, about the largest ever police raid on a LGBT venue in Hulme, Manchester in 1880.  We’re doing it in Via, a vibrant pub on Manchester’s Canal Street, in the city’s Gay Village.  There’s actors in period costumes, musicians, can-can boys, an international audience.  We sort of have permission to re-stage the raid in police uniforms….sort of.

From left to right John Smeathers as the emcee and Alan Beck as The Sister of Mercy in production of A Very Victorian Scandal © N Chinardet

Left to right: John Smeather as the Emcee and Alan Beck as Sister Mercy in the production of A Very Victorian Scandal © N Chinardet

And suddenly I’m asked to meet a Mr Tatchell at the door and escort him into a reserved area.  There he is.  I recognise him, of course.  He doesn’t recognise me.  Why would he?  And I whisk him through the crowd to meet Sister Mercy, a man dragged up as a nun who is part of the performance.  That man is Alan Beck, and for a brief second we are all in the same moment again, as we were in 1988, all the same, all completely different.

It’s time now.  I get out of the cafe and back into the rain.  It’s time to meet Peter.  For the fourth time, but also for the first.  I walk up some stairs on the side of the building and knock on the door.’

Stephen’s work began with a detailed study of the Labour Party archives, the complete holdings of which are held at PHM, where the museum also holds some of the personal papers of Tatchell.  The project is supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the University of Salford.

Stephen’s play, First Rumours, will premiere as a rehearsed reading at People’s History Museum on Sunday 10 February 2019 at 3.00pm as part of OUTing the Past, the national festival for LGBT history and the museum’s 2019 programme, which is dedicated to exploring the past, present and future of protest.  The reading will be followed by a Q&A with Peter Tatchell, facilitated by LGBT activist and historian Paul Fairweather.

You can find out more about Stephen’s work here:

Twitter:  @stephenmhornby

Instagram:  stephenmhornby

Facebook:  Inkbrew Productions

LGBT History Month website:  www.outingthepast.org.uk/festival-theatre/

 

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Call out for designers for 2019 exhibition Disrupt? Peterloo & Protest

The People’s History Museum (PHM) is pleased to announce an exciting opportunity to work with us on our 2019 headline exhibition Disrupt? Peterloo & Protest.  The exhibition will run from Saturday 23 March 2019 to Sunday 23 February 2020.

2019 marks 200 years since the Peterloo Massacre, a major event in Manchester’s history, and a defining moment for Britain’s democracy.  To commemorate this monumental anniversary, PHM will explore the changing face of protest: past, present and future.  We are looking for designers to develop all aspects of the exhibition’s design and visual identity.  Find the full details in the design brief.

If you would like to submit an expression of interest please return a PDF with the following information to PHM’s Exhibitions Officer mark.wilson@phm.org.uk by 5.00pm on Monday 3 December 2018:

  • Full contact details
  • Relevant examples from your portfolio
  • A statement outlining your understanding of the brief, your values and why you want to work on this project

Rochdale school explore their idea of representation

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Falinge Park High School artwork for Represent! Voices 100 Years On exhibition at PHM

Liz Thorpe, Learning Officer at People’s History Museum (PHM), discusses a recent project with Falinge Park High School in Rochdale.

As part of our year long programme exploring the past, present and future of representation, marking 100 years since the passing of the Representation of the People Act (1918) and since all men and some women won the right to vote in Britain, we have been encouraging people to discuss, discover and reflect upon one of the great milestones for equality, and what representation means to them 100 years on.

I would like to share with you PHM’s recent project with Falinge Park High School (Falinge Park) in Rochdale, who have been working with the museum to explore their own ideas of representation.

Rochdale is an area with a long social history and is the birthplace of the co-operative movement.  It is home to many different communities and this is reflected in Falinge Park High School where over 50 languages are spoken.  Their head teacher, Janice Allen, was keen to promote a sense of shared history amongst different communities at a time of divisions in society and against the backdrop of a recent rise in far right groups in Britain.

Over the course of the last year, 15 students have discussed some of the issues facing Rochdale, learnt about its history and thought about how they could promote a more positive and harmonious place to live.

The project included a visit to PHM to watch one of the museum’s popular Living History performances, Moving Stories – Migration & Identity, which looks at the life of a young girl who was born in Manchester and whose parents came from India.  Moving Stories explores the themes of both migration and identity.  Also at the museum, the students debated issues that mattered to them in a Have Your Say workshop, where current issues, linked to the museum’s collection are explored.  In addition to all this the students set up and ran a stall at Bury Market to find out from the general public what local attitudes were to their neighbouring multicultural town.

The project finished with a two day art session, facilitated by artist Alex Godwin aka Billy.

Billy and the students worked together to make a series of simple, bold and visually striking flags showing themes of equality, civil rights and the representation of people today.  The students raised questions about gender norms, diversity and representation using colourful and positive techniques demonstrated by Billy and her creative practice.  Following a series of collaborative workshops, the final artwork shows a visual language highlighting the notion that 100 years on from the Representation of the People Act (1918) we can be happy about achieving a certain equality amongst people in today’s society, but there is still a long way to go before everyone can feel equally and completely represented. See a film of the artwork being created on PHM Facebook.

The group’s large scale artwork proudly introduces visitors at the museum to the Represent! Voices 100 Years On exhibition, on display until Sunday 3 February 2019.

This Family Friendly, Heritage Lottery Fund supported exhibition features objects which help to paint a picture of what representation meant in 1918 alongside crowdsourced items telling the very personal stories of today’s movements and campaigns, giving a platform to those who are still fighting to make their voices heard today.

One Falinge Park student described their work, as showing “how we want to live in equality and diversity and peace” and labelled their artwork, Opposites Attract.

At PHM we offer an engaging Learning Programme for all ages, inspiring early years, schools, colleges, universities and community groups to find out why there are ideas worth fighting for.

Visit the Learn section of the museum’s website for all the information you need to arrange a visit, or  please contact the Learning Team on learning@phm.org,uk or call 0161 838 9190.

 

Solemn reflections for Armistice Day

Jenny van Enckevort, Conservation Manager at People’s History Museum, discussing a banner she is currently working on. 

To mark Armistice Day I would like to reflect on the tragic family story behind a banner I am currently working on in The Conservation Studio at the People’s History Museum (PHM).

This is a National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) Achinleck Branch banner now belonging to the granddaughter of Alexander Sloan who is featured in the portrait on the banner. Alexander or ‘Sanny’ and he was known, was born in 1879, one of 12 children. They were part of a mining community in South Ayrshire, Scotland. The children started work at 12 years old, the boys in the mine and the girl as a farm servant. While still a child Sanny was involved in a pit accident and lost the sight in one eye.

Five of the sons fought in World War 1 and four were killed; Robert the baby of the family died first aged just 19 on the 22 April 1915 at the Second Battle of Ypres. He had emigrated to Canada in 1913 so was fighting for the Canadian Expedition Force.
William had also moved to Canada, he described himself as a miner when he joined the Canadian Expedition Force. He served as a sapper for the 2nd Canadian Tunnelling Company, he died on the 28 June 1916 aged 23. Sanny was a Miner and not conscripted; he was also a pacifist.

Thomas and Charles were also in Canada but moved back to Scotland to join up in 1914. Thomas worked briefly at Woodmuir Colliery near Bathgate before joining the Scots Guards. He was killed aged 28 on the 15 September 1916, leaving behind a wife Mary Anne and young son. Mary Anne later re-married but still had Thomas’s letters in her handbag when she passed away as an old lady.

The telegrams telling their mother the heart breaking news that both William and Thomas were dead arrived on the same day. Sanny wrote to the war office requesting that his brother Donald, who was fighting on the front line, be moved to a slightly safer posting, the response came back saying that it was an honour to die for your country. Donald died on the 1 January 1917 aged 33 he fought with the Royal Highlanders Black Watch. He was married with four children and was a professional footballer with Everton and Liverpool football clubs.

Likely as a result of these experiences Sanny was a pacifist throughout his adult life and became dedicated serving his community, he got involved in campaigns for safer working conditions in the mines and was known for assisting workers with claims for compensation. As a councillor, serving for 25 years, he fought for improvements to housing and education and as a Labour MP, for six years, he made his voice heard with 640 interjections in parliament during that time.

 

NUM Achinleck face side

NUM Achinleck Branch banner, face side before conservation

NUM Achinleck banner reverse side before conservation

NUM Achinleck Branch banner, reverse side before conservation

The NUM Achinleck Branch banner circa 1940 is reportedly designed and painted by Richard Strain a Pithead Worker at Barony Coal Mine who was noted as having a flair for sign writing. It is made from a canvas cloth and is painted on both sides with oil medium. The face side features a portrait of Alexander Sloan surrounded by a wreath of coal, it also depicts a pair of thistles and arms with pick axes (the tools of the trade). Above the images is the title, ‘National Union of Mineworkers Achinleck Branch’ and below a ribbon scroll bearing the motto ‘We swear fidelity’. The reverse side features a ribbon scroll repeating the branch name and ‘National Union of Mineworkers’ beneath. After active use the banner was kept in Achinleck Town Hall where it lay undisturbed until the 1980s before the building was demolished, it was then moved to a garden shed before returning to Sanny Sloan’s family.
The banner came to The Conservation Studio at PHM in January 2018 with conservation beginning in summer 2018. The condition is very poor as a result of its previous storage conditions; the canvas has been weakened leading to structural tears and losses. The surface is covered in soiling, mould deposits and waterborne staining. The paint is poorly adhered to the surface in many areas making it difficult to handle and even clean safely without enduring further losses. The treatment proposal includes cleaning to remove soiling and stains, where possible, working methodically in 10cm by 10cm squares. This will be followed by consolidation of the loose paint fragments using a conservation grade adhesive. The banner will then be fully supported with a transparent layer on the reverse side and the areas of loss will be filled with a sympathetic fabric, coloured to match the original.

The Conservation Studio on Instagram
The conservation is ongoing at time of writing (November 2018).  If you visit the museum you may be able to see the banner from the viewing window in Main Gallery Two.

Sanny Sloan, the Miners’ MP and his Family of the First World War. By Esther Davies, 1 May 2015. With revisions to January 2018

Remembering Peterloo

Print, 'Manchester Heroes', by George Cruikshank, 1819 @ People's History Museum NMLH 2000 10 817

Manchester Heroes print, by George Cruikshank, 1819 @ People’s History Museum

Shirin Hirsch, Researcher at People’s History Museum, discusses Mike Leigh’s new film and introduces how you can discover the legacy of the Peterloo Massacre at PHM.

“Peterloo, lad! I know. I were theer as a young mon. We were howdin’ a meetin’ i’ Manchester – on Peter’s Field, – a meetin’ for eawr reets – for reets o’ mon, for liberty to vote, an’ speak, an’ write, an’ be eawrselves – honest, hard-workin’ folk. We wanted to live eawr own lives, an’ th’ upper classes wouldn’t let us…. Burns says as ‘Liberty’s a glorious feast.’ But th’ upper classes wouldn’t let us poor folk get a tast on it. When we cried… freedom o’ action they gav’ us t’ point of a sword. Never forget, lad! Let it sink i’ thi blood. Ston up an’ feight for t’ reets o’ mon – t’ reets o’ poor folk!”

So explained Joss Wrigley when asked what Peterloo was all about.  Wrigley was only 19 years of age when he escaped the Manchester massacre of 1819, but the memory of Peterloo would never leave him.  Wrigley remained throughout his life a poor handloom weaver.  As an old man Wrigley was the leader of a ‘poverty stricken group’ of weavers who worked together in a cellar, and when the looms were quiet they talked by candlelight discussing politics and sharing working class history.  We know all this because James Haslam, the son of one of these weavers, would sit and listen.  What rang in the ears of this young boy, as he listened to the collective murmurings of the weavers, was Peterloo.  He noted how, for Joss Wrigley, a survivor of the massacre, Peterloo had got into his blood “and he could not live it out.”  Continuous years of poverty, together with years of political injustice and vagaries “had helped to nurse his hatred, which he resolutely passed on to others”.  On the centenary of the Peterloo Massacre, the boy who had sat and listened to these conversations wrote down his memories of this group and they were published in The Manchester Guardian.  Haslam asked: “And who can say how much the working classes owe to men like Joss Wrigley – a poor handloom weaver who from his obscurity passed on their spirit and opinions to coming generations?”

Mike Leigh’s film Peterloo continues to pass on this spirit.  The film is a powerful cinematic intervention in bringing to life the mass organising, protest and repression of working class people in 1819.  The scene of the Peterloo Massacre feels only too real as we watch the yeomanry (government forces) cut down protestors in St Peter’s Field.  This is a history from below that Leigh’s film now brings vividly to our screens.  In the questions and answers following the premier of the film, Mike Leigh and Maxine Peake both noted that the history of the massacre was rarely taught in schools and, even for people growing up in Manchester and Salford, the memory of Peterloo was far from widespread.

The film is immersed in historical sources and literature, including research undertaken here at People’s History Museum.  We hope that this film will initiate a wider discussion and interest in the history of democracy and struggle – a springboard to PHM’s 2019 programme of exhibitions, events and learning sessions, marking the bicentenary of Peterloo, exploring the past present and future of protest.

Handkerchief, Peterloo 1819 @ People's History Museum

Handkerchief, Peterloo 1819 @ People’s History Museum

PHM’s collections tell the story of the Peterloo Massacre through visual materials and objects.  On the handkerchief above, on display in Main Gallery One, you can see a snapshot of the Peterloo Massacre.  The top of the handkerchief reads: ‘The Manchester Reform Meeting Dispersed by the Civil and Military Power’ and bordering the handkerchief are three demands ‘Universal Suffrage’, ‘Annual Parliament’ and ’Election by Ballot’.  In the background you can see many of the buildings that surrounded St Peter’s Field, including a large cotton mill, a monument to the economic power of the rapidly growing industrial town of Manchester.  Yet there was no Member of Parliament for the whole of Manchester at the turn of the 19th century.

There are estimates of 60,000 people congregating in St Peter’s Field at the moment the yeomanry attack on horseback.  You can see on the handkerchief many different banners held, often with the cap of liberty on the top of the stick, a symbol of the French revolution.  ‘Unite and be Free’ and ‘Taxation without representation is unjust and tyrannical’ are just some of the slogans shown.  The ‘hustings’, where the speakers stood on a platform are also depicted, with Henry Hunt as the main orator, alongside speakers including Mary Fildes, the President of the Manchester Female Reform Society.  On the handkerchief you can see one of the banners is inscribed with the words ‘Royton Female Union Society’, showing the large and organised section of women protestors emerging within the reform movement.

Despite the chaos shown in the picture, this was not an accidental massacre.  In the film we watch the discussions as the local magistrates give the order to disperse the crowds, and in the build up to the protest the yeomanry are seen sharpening their sabres (swords with a curved blade).  Two of these sabres are on display in Main Gallery One, passed down through generations and kept under a bed in Droylsden before being donated to the museum.

Two swords, Manchester & Salford Yeomanry, Peterloo 1819 @ People's Hist...

Two swords, Manchester & Salford Yeomanry, Peterloo 1819 @ People’s History Museum

There are wide ranging estimates of how many were killed at Peterloo.  It is hard to be exact with these statistics as there are huge debates as to who should be counted.  Do we only count people who died on the day?  Or people who died days, months or even years after, from lasting injuries?  It is also highly likely that some of those killed are not on the surviving casualty lists, which were compiled not long after the massacre.  Historian Michael Bush has carried out analysis of the casualty lists and estimates that 18 were killed at Peterloo, and other historians estimate around 700 were injured.

The handkerchief we have on display was just one way of keeping alive the memory of Peterloo.  The British government was keen to cover up the massacre, imprisoning the reform leaders and clamping down on those who spoke out against the government.  Many of the commemorative Peterloo objects on display in Main Gallery One were created to break through this repression as material ways of refusing to forget.  To mark the bicentenary of Peterloo, PHM will continue this memory, not simply as a history lesson, but reflecting on protest and dissent from 1819 until the present day, and looking to protest of the future.  Why not visit People’s History Museum and our Archive & Study Centre to continue the debate on the Peterloo Massacre and its impact today.

In our archive we hold newspapers from across the world reporting on the Peterloo Massacre.

Newspapers Peterloo 1819 Labour History Archive Study Centre @ People's...

Newspapers Peterloo 1819 Labour History Archive & Study Centre @ People’s History Museum

In the museum shop we have a wide range of books on the Peterloo Massacre including:

Mark Krantz, Rise Like Lions: The History of the Peterloo Massacre, £3
This pamphlet has recently been republished by Bookmarks publishers – an accessible and exciting way into this history.

Joyce Marlow, The Peterloo Massacre, £9.99
A real classic on the massacre, recently republished by Ebury Press.

Graham Phythian, Peterloo: Voices, Sabres and Silence, £16.99
A new book based almost entirely on eyewitness reports and contemporary documents.

Jacqueline Riding, The Story of the Manchester Massacre: Peterloo, £25
Riding was the historical advisor for the Peterloo film and this is a new book analysing the massacre.

Shop @ People's History Museum

Shop @ People’s History Museum

Shirin Hirsch is a historian based jointly at People’s History Museum and Manchester Metropolitan University.