Badges of Honour

Today one of our volunteers, Charlotte Knowles, tells us about her experience documenting our trade union badge collection.

Transport and General Workers Union – this badge shows the clasped hands of unity.

Transport and General Workers Union – this badge shows the clasped hands of unity.

As a volunteer at the People’s History Museum I feel extremely privileged to have been given the opportunity to contribute to a project cataloguing the trade union badge collection. Every week I descend into the bowels of the museum to examine badges from all over the world and to help document the history of trade unionism. The experience has taught me much about trade unions, a subject of which I was completely ignorant before.

The 18th and 19th centuries saw rapid industrialisation throughout Britain and consequently the foundation of many trade unions. The foundation of trade unions gave unprecedented security and protection for many workers and built a rostrum for the working-classes. It also created a sense of solidarity for union members, a community of allied workers who shared their concerns and would support one another.

One of the most poignant relics of trade union history is the trade union badge. At the People’s History Museum we are currently cataloguing our impressive collection of trade union badges. We have recently counted them and discovered we possess 6,185 badges from all over the world!

These badges are so important because each badge carries a wealth of information and symbolism. A badge not only identifies trade union members, but illustrates the pride workers take in their profession and in their union membership. They are adorned with images and mottos that communicate what the unions fight to protect. There are badges commemorating decades of membership, as well as important events such as conferences, strikes, elections and to honour the Tolpuddle martyrs. But perhaps most importantly, they proclaim the existence of the union and the power they can have to affect change.

Scottish Painters Society bagde

Scottish Painters Society bagde

Whilst counting the thousands of badges in our collection many have stood out and fascinated me.

Some simply because they are unusual or interesting shapes, like the Scottish Painters Society badge – a beautiful enamel badge shaped like a painter’s palette. The Scottish Painters Society was founded in 1898 for 1,227 Scottish house and ship painters.

Amalgamated Society of Shuttlemakers badge

Amalgamated Society of Shuttlemakers badge

Others because of the eye-catching symbolism, such as the Amalgamated Society of Shuttlemakers badge. The union was founded in 1891 in Lancashire and Yorkshire. After World War II, 90% of shuttlemakers in the UK belonged to the union, but it was disbanded in 1993 with only 7 members remaining. Their badge brings together the clasped hands of unity, the ancient Roman symbol of power called the ‘fasces’ and the shuttle, the product of their industry. This powerfully symbolises what the union stood for – strength through unity and work.

But the most interesting thing about our trade union badges is thinking about the people who wore them. It reminds us of the message of the People’s History Museum – that there are ideas worth fighting for. The people who wore those badges were members of a union because they banded together to fight for their own working rights, and those of others in their industry.

Staff Top Picks: Badges and stickers in the Citizens section

In the second of our ‘Staff Top Picks’ series, PHM Marketing and Development Officer, Daisy Nicholson, explains why the badges and stickers in the Citizens section of Gallery Two are her most-loved objects in our collection. What’s your favourite item in the museum? Tell us on Twitter using #phmtop10.

Daisy Nicholson (5)

My favourite object(s) / bit of the museum are the badges/stickers in Citizens (pink) section – having grown up in the 80s and spent lots of time as a child on marches & demos etc.(very politically active dad!), I loved collecting related badges and stickers, though at the time didn’t appreciate the various campaigns’ significance. Seeing such collections on the galleries is a nice trip down memory lane, but more importantly reflects the importance of preserving this aspect of history.

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.

Pride in Progress?

What do you do when you’ve advertised a 45 minute long tour and then realise you’ve only got enough material on display to talk for 10 minutes? 

a)    Panic

b)    Cancel the tour

c)    Lie and pretend that some other stuff is relevant

d)    Recruit a team of enthusiastic volunteers, collect their objects and stories and create a new display

Way back in March, when planning our summer events programme, I thought it would be a great idea to programme a LGBT history tour, to coincide with Manchester Pride at the August bank holiday weekend.  We have a great section on equality in Main Gallery Two, with some prominent gay rights material.  Fast forward a few months and I thought I’d better do some research.  Then came the realisation that we didn’t actually have enough on display to create a 45 minute tour – eek!  We have lots of really interesting material in the Labour History Archive & Study Centre, including Peter Tatchell’s papers and the archive of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners so I started having a delve to see if I could use any of it in my tour.  A lot of the information I found genuinely shocked me.  I knew that there had been a struggle, however I didn’t realise the lengths that campaigners had gone through to gain rights for something as simple and natural as kissing in public, let alone the repeal of Section 28 and equal marriage.  I quickly came to realise that as a 27 year old straight woman who was lucky enough to be brought up in a relatively liberal time and place, I was not the best person to be telling this story.

One of the aims of Play Your Part is to ‘engage our audiences in co-curation, responding to our collections, creating their own content and sharing and debating ideas with each other’. With this in mind, I decided to enlist the help of Manchester’s LGBT community to create a display in our foyer that would reflect their lives.  I contacted Kate Hardy at The Lesbian and Gay Foundation (LGF) at the beginning of July, who wasn’t phased by the ridiculously tight deadline of recruiting volunteers, running workshops and curating an exhibition in about 6 weeks!  Kate put her feelers out and invited us along to one of their Carousel Group meetings to make badges and chat to the group about the project and how they could get involved.  We also set up two workshop dates that were open to all to come along, bring their objects, look at our stuff and curate an exhibition (all that in two afternoons – yes, I think I was probably slightly bonkers, but I blame the heatwave!).

At the Carousel Group meeting on Tuesday 6 August we took along a selection of badges from our collection.  There’s a lot to be said for badges – they’re a bit like sweets, they’re small, colourful and draw people in (to be honest I haven’t licked any of the badges in our collection so the comparison ends there!).  When Harriet laid out the badges we were taking on her desk, everyone in the office gravitated towards them and they sparked off discussion – this only ever happens when cake is on offer!  The same thing happened at the Carousel meeting, we found that the group were eager to look at the badges and they proved a great starting point for discussion about other badges they had worn and other objects and memorabilia they had saved.  One woman told a fantastic story about taking a flag from a pub on her first Pride, not realising that it was attached to all the other flags and they came away like a string of magician’s handkerchiefs.  We were also honoured to film a very emotional coming out story.

IMG_2278We were delighted to welcome 13 participants to the first workshop at the PHM the following afternoon.  A large group came from LGF and others came from Out in the City and BiPhoria.  Nicky Crewe from Manchester Archives brought over some of their LGBT material to add to the mix. After a whistle stop tour of the museum we settled down in the archive to delve into the material.   What followed was an informal and fascinating series of discussions, sparked off by the material.  As one participant commented, their favourite part of the workshop was ‘People sharing their stories in a group of about 10 of us opened up seemingly more memories & ideas than the boxed items!’  At the end of the workshop the group were inspired to bring along their own objects next week, and we brainstormed possible themes to include.

LGBT Display workshop 2 @ People's History Museum, 14 August 2013 (5)At the second workshop the following Wednesday we got down to work.  We welcomed back 10 participants, who had brought along their objects, photographs, t-shirts, flags and a giant paper mache rainbow!  The group selected the objects that they felt must be included in the display and we drew out themes from the selection.  Choosing the title for the display proved to be the trickiest part of the process, but we eventually agreed on Pride in Progress? as we wanted to highlight the historical struggle for equality, yet question how far there still is to go. The participants then wrote labels on post it notes for their objects, we wrote an introductory panel and collaborated on a timeline.  The group then arranged the objects in the display cases.  Not bad for three hours work!LGBT Display workshop 2 @ People's History Museum, 14 August 2013 (14) LGBT Display workshop 2 @ People's History Museum, 14 August 2013 (16)

Harriet and I spent the rest of the week typing up the labels and finishing off the display.  The display will be up for at least the rest of August, and you can come along to our free tour on Friday 23 August at 1.15pm.

Pride in Progress @ People's History Museum - August 2013 (2)As an experiment as part of Play Your Part, the project was definitely a success and will inform how we work with community groups in the future.  We were blessed with a group who were lively, enthusiastic and not afraid to get stuck in!  The participants offered to donate a wide range of material to the museum that will kick off our contemporary collecting activities.  The majority of the group felt that via the project they had had greater access to our collections and that they had had their voices represented in the museum.

Massive thank you to all the participants for making the project informative, interesting, and most of all fun!Pride in Progress @ People's History Museum - August 2013 (14)


The topic of the month at Culture Themes is museum badges, something that we are very lucky to have in abundance! We hold badges, brooches, pins and tokens from the French Revolution right up our own very fabulous PHM badges.IMG_1181

On a recent trip to our stores, I took a few images of a selection of badges I thought were topical/ interesting/ amusing! Some badges still have a certain resonance with issues and problems very relevant to contemporary society.

With the NHS very much in the headlines this week, this badge illustrates that it has been under fire before, and some groups have been keen to defend it. NHS

Our recent blog post looked at the NUT March in Manchester at the end of June this year, this badge shows that similar problems still face schools today as they did in the 1980s. Save our schools

The popular campaign for the release of Nelson Mandela from prison gathered pace in 1988 – the year of his 70th birthday – under the slogan ‘Free Nelson Mandela’.

Free Nelson Mandela

The late 1970s saw Rock Against Racism and the Anti-Nazi League fight racism and all kinds of oppression. The ANL looked to appeal to as many different people as possible such as football fans, students, skateboarders and vegetarians- as this badge illustrates! Patrons of a pub in Rusholme, Manchester, even set up their own group, ‘The Albert Against the Nazis’, with a badge and banner.


The 1980s resurgent anti-nuclear movement took this sentiment and used humour to appeal to an even greater number of people. Cat Lovers against the Bomb represents a number of such CND badges, including ‘Morris Dancers against the Bomb’, and ‘Gardeners for a Nuclear Free Fuchsia!’

Cat Lovers

These badges certainly point out the fact that there have ‘always been ideas worth fighting for’. What badge would you wear with pride? Have you got any images or memories of badges you have worn in the past? If you are sadly badge-less you can come and make one on our badge maker in Main Gallery Two!