Volunteering at People’s History Museum

A guest post by volunteer Jason Neal 

Jason NealThis summer I volunteered at the People’s History Museum in Manchester. I didn’t know what to expect and was full of nerves as, aside from the volunteer-training course I’d taken beforehand, I had never volunteered; I was a fresh, naïve volunteer. But my worries were in vain as I was made to feel incredibly welcome and valued by my colleagues from the start.

I spent part of my time volunteering at the museum on the front desk, welcoming the many visitors to the museum who had journeyed there for varying reasons – whether it was to gain knowledge, for a school trip, or a family day out. Another part of my role involved working behind the scenes, where I realised and appreciated the amount of work and effort that is essential to keep a museum afloat. I particularly enjoyed working in the archives with original, fascinating records. From my very first day, I was struck with how passionate the people who work at the museum are about the stories which are told there; this stayed with me for the duration of my placement and made me feel incredibly lucky that my first experience of volunteering was with the People’s History Museum.


Crafty Credit Cards

Another instalment of artist Pui Lee’s blog series about our summer Family Friendly workshops that link to our Show Me the Money exhibition

Wow! I can’t believe it’s nearly the middle of August already! Well, I was back again at the People’s History Museum last week to deliver another summer drop-in workshop as part of their fantastic pARTicipate programme! 😀

Crafty Credit Cards 12.08.15 @ People's History Museum (25)Today, we explored and discussed the theme of credit and debt – what it means to have money, not have money and/or to owe money. One comment offered was, “Money doesn’t grow on trees!” and indeed, it doesn’t. So, I asked everyone what they would do if they had all the money in the world – say, an unlimited credit card with no worries of ever having to pay back a penny? Well, this got everyone thinking hard! Everyone then wrote down their wish lists onto till receipts, which were later added into my All the Money in the World (2015) installation in the gallery space. There has been some really interesting and varied responses so far! Examples include: “whatever my friends want”, “a hundred horses”, “all the water that’s bottled”, “a mansion”, “a Taekwon-Do kit”, “to develop high speed space travel”, “becoming the supreme emperor of the universe”… and even “purple tape”!? Yes, really…

Crafty Credit Cards 12.08.15 @ People's History Museum (33)The families then got the opportunity to make their very own Crafty Credit Cards to take home with them and I also showed everyone how to make a special card-holder to put it in, by using origami techniques! Paper-folding is no easy feat but the children all did fantastic today and took to it really well! One family said, “That was really fun! We’ve never done paper-folding before!”

Tomorrow’s workshop will be Design a Banknote where you can design and make your own giant currency banknote!”  …See you all then for more creative fun on Wednesday 19 August 2015, 1.00pm – 3.00pm! 🙂

Working on the railways: the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants

A guest blog by Curatorial Assistant (Exhibitions) Josh Butt for you to read on the train…

Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants bannerThe railway boom during the middle of the 19th century marked a revolution in transport. The railways became the new arteries of the nation, partially bypassing the already established waterways and canals which were clogged up by the ever increasing demand for raw materials and manufactured goods.

The building of railway lines peaked in 1846 when 273 separate acts of parliament were passed for the building of new railway lines. The growing railway networks created a massive number of jobs on the newly built railway lines.

Working on the railways in the 19th century was hard. Workers laboured regularly for 12 hours a day and risked injury through unsafe conditions. Many small union groups formed in an attempt to improve conditions on the growing rail network.

Several early strikes failed before the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants (ASRS) formed in 1872. Railway bosses fought the growing union by paying drivers higher wages, if they agreed not join a union.

The ASRS formed just after the 1871 Trade Union Act which gave trade unions immunity from prosecution for conspiracy, register legally and provide protection for their funds.

This ASRS banner is a replica of one made in the late 19th century, which is in too poor a condition to display. The replica is currently on display until the New Year.

Railway union's diagram copyThe ASRS joined with two other railway unions to form the National Union of Railwaymen (NUR) in 1913, a year when passenger numbers peaked. The NUR became one of Britain’s biggest trade unions with over half a million members.

First World War: Shellshock and Disability Exhibition December 2014

A guest post from Manchester City Council Disabled Staff Group about their current display First World War: Shellshock and Disability

IMG_9680We’re members of Manchester City Council Disabled Staff Group and this year we all felt that we would like to make a contribution to UK Disability History Month (UKDHM).

UK Disability History Month was established in 2011 to highlight and celebrate disabled people’s history annually in December. This year UKDHM examines the links and social consequences between war and disability.

We chose the First World War as our subject partly because an unprecedented number of people became disabled through it and partly because it’s the 100th anniversary of the conflict.

We decided to pull together a series of exhibitions and a learning event, in collaboration with People’s History Museum, Central Library and University of Manchester. Our aim was to show the impact of the war on the two million men disabled in combat and what happened on their return.

IMG_9674The display at PHM illustrates the dramatic effect the First World War had on those who became disabled through taking part in it.

Manchester City Council fully endorsed our aims and supported us via the Councils Equality Team and Communication Team.

What we did – Organising and choosing our subjects

We established a small project group of all disabled employees and decided on an approach: To research 2 subjects, shellshock and physical/sensory disability on soldiers during and after First World War.

What we did – Research

We researched our subject via sourcing images, documents and facts  mainly from National Archive, Imperial War Museum, BBC,  local archives in Rusholme, Tameside, Manchester Guardian Newspaper,  Manchester Library, People’s History Museum and Oxford Press.

IMG_9675Once we’d gathered a lot of images we organised them by subject and gradually the stories we wanted to tell emerged. e.g. that of Lieutenant Eric Poole, one of  the 1st British Officers to be shot for desertion, despite medical evidence, provided at his trial that he suffered with shellshock. We decided between us which images we wanted to use and then had to track down and obtain copyright permissions for all of them. This proved quite tricky in some cases but we persevered and were able to use the majority of our choices and at no charge.

We then decided how best to display the images and wrote the text to accompany the pictures and help the audience understand the context and background to them. We focused on telling our story of the social justice elements e.g. political, employment legislation, civil rights in keeping with the ethos of the People’s History Museum.

What we did – Mounting our Display

IMG_9677PHM gave us an area by the PHM café which comprised of 3 glass panels, a display cabinet and a wall area. We used the glass panels to divide our display up into three sections; 1) Introduction, 2) About Shellshock and 3) About physical disability

We then put a powerpoint slideshow together using a different set of related images and projected this onto the adjacent wall. Finally, using documents and papers from PHM own archive we created a display in a cabinet in front of the glass panels decorated with poppies donated by British Legion.

PHM printed off all our images and mounted them onto foam boards. We then put these up ourselves with a few tweaks on the day as needed!

We enjoyed using our creative sides to plan how to mount the images we found and write text to describe them and tell a story. We would like to acknowledge the great help and advice provided by PHM staff to us.

What’s next

IMG_9679This is the first time any of us had curated or researched an exhibition. We plan to move on to similar but more ambitious projects in future years so this was a valuable exercise for our group. We’ve learnt quite a bit about planning, research, copyright and editing text for publication.

Don’t miss our other display on the image virtual Wall at Manchester Central Library – ground floor, near the café. First World War, Soldiers, Shellshock and Disability. A Manchester Story running throughout December.

On 17th December 5-7pm at Central Library, we’ve organised a lecture with Dr Ana Carden-Coyne, a Senior Lecturer in War and Conflict  at Manchester University.  Dr Ana is a leading disability historian and will deliver a talk as part of this year’s Manchester UKDHM programme.

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


Today Scotland votes to decide on whether they will be an independent country.  Last year Harriet Richardson wrote this blog post about our collections related to this issue.  Please note that this was originally published on 19 September 2013.  You can see how our visitors voted here.

Yesterday 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.

People’s History Museum Work Experience

Anna Stephen, a student on work placement, tells us about her time at PHM in this guest post

IMG_7632My favourite object in the museum is the docker’s pineapple in his lunch box. It shows how ordinary the worker’s diet of the time was (a massive pie!), and that a piece of fruit we now consider part of our regular shop was now available for ordinary people- but still thought of as an exotic and exciting treat, not the commonplace object we know of today. Plus it is big and plastic and looks dangerous.
As part of my work experience placement at the People’s History Museum, I’ve done dribs and drabs of all sorts of interesting work to give a full perspective IMG_7631on employment opportunities at the museum. I’ve made dizzying use of the spinny chairs taking care of reception, and even been taught how to wield a gun by the front-of-house staff (a price-tag gun, that is)!
I’ve sat in on incredible schools living history performances- historical figures such as suffragette Hannah Mitchell and chartist William Cuffay are portrayed with great élan by professional actors who reenergise history, imbuing it with a sense of dynamism and urgency as they show children the perspective of someone actually living at the time. There’s also a Q&A session with the historical figures afterwards, so you can ask all the questions you would never be able to without a time machine!

I’ve also designed a superhero postcard for children to design their own inspiring figure and describe what they’d do to change the world.