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.

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Sound from the Stores – Darkest Hour

On 12 May 2016 we welcomed sound artists  Falk Morawitz & Guillaume Dujat to the museum as part of our Manchester After Hours Sound from the Stores commission. We are delighted to share a video of their performance, which was inspired by PHM’s collections.

 Program Note:

”Darkest Hour“ is a sound-centric multimedia piece based on materials located in the People’s History Museum’s Archive concerning the refugee situation during the First and Second World War. The performance mixes the materials of the archive with sound and audio snippets concerning the current refugee debate, illustrating the timelessness of the issue. In the light of repeating history, we hope to demonstrate the relevance of the archival material in present day.

Live: – Audio visual performance, ~13 minutes (premiered 12.05.2016 at the People’s History Museum Manchester). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zIzFJPzyPxw

Installation: – Fixed audio visual installation, 11.30 minutes. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S9_5gogeMVo

Stories to inspire us

A guest post by Matt Hill (Quiet Loner), our Songwriter-in-Residence. The residency’s aim is to interpret the museum’s collection through songs and in doing so increase public engagement with the collection. The project has been supported by a grant from Arts Council England.

4 June 2016, The Battle for the Ballot - the people's fight for the right to vote @ People's History Museum

For the past few months I’ve been immersed in the museum’s collections researching the history of the vote. I’ve been writing songs inspired by this and on June 4th I’ll present them for the first time in a new show as part of Manchester Histories Festival.

The idea of Universal Suffrage has it’s roots far back in history but I’ve started with the democratic awakening of the late 1700s and moved through the various Reform Acts of the 19th century. It’s a story that takes in appalling events like the Peterloo Massacre, popular movements like Chartism and culminates in the law breaking tactics of the Women’s Suffrage movement that finally led to Universal Suffrage in 1928.

In order to write the best songs I can, I’ve tried to read as much as I can about the people and events, especially drawing from first hand accounts of people who were there at the time. I’ve also sought out objects from the collections that might trigger ideas or inspiration. One item in the collection which fascinates me is the desk on which Thomas Paine wrote the Rights of Man. This was the starting point for a song exploring the ideas of Paine and his contemporary Mary Wollstonecraft. But it was the desk itself that provided the first lines of a song called “Nothing less than revolution”. “It’s been seven days now since I sat down at this desk The darkened oak is stained with sweat, my hands they seem possessed

as I write about the Rights of Man, how everyone has worth,

and the wrongs of handing power down through lines of noble birth”

I’ve also taken inspiration from the shiny sabres belonging to the Manchester Yeomanry at Peterloo, from prints of mass Chartist meetings, from satirical cartoons of the Hyde Park disturbances in 1867, from anti-Suffragette propaganda postcards and from the kitchen of suffragist Hannah Mitchell which is recreated in Gallery One. In each case something has triggered a line, phrase or image that has become the building block of a new song.

The fight for the right to vote is such an epic story with so many twists and turns and I’ve just an hour to tell it. But I hope that the stories within the songs will inspire people to come to the People’s History Museum and explore the collection themselves. There is so much worth seeking out.

The Battle for the Ballot premières as part of Manchester Histories festival on Sat 4 June. Reserve your place here.

 

 

Scope marks 20 years since the Disability Discrimination Act

PHM has been working with Scope to collect campaigning material relating to the campaign for the Disability Discrimination Act. Here their Campaign Officer, Tom Hayes, writes about the success of the project so far.

Nelson Mandela is known the world over for his impressive fight against racial segregation in South Africa.  Helped by a recent blockbuster film, Britain’s women’s suffrage movement is better known among people today. Whether projected onto big screens or taught in classrooms, similar civil rights fights from Selma to Stonewall are well-known.

Other equality campaigns have been wholly forgotten, however. Twenty years ago this month, Parliament finally passed a law to ban discrimination against disabled people. This change would never have happened without the fierce campaigning of disabled people.

Rights Now! rally, Trafalgar Square.jpg

Rights Now! rally, Trafalgar Square. Copyright Scope

In their thousands, disabled people gridlocked cities up and down the country, throwing themselves from their wheelchairs and chaining themselves to buses. Their message was clear: activists wanted rights. Not tomorrow or in a year, but, as their campaign’s name demonstrated: Rights Now!

For the first time, disabled people joined together, discovered they were not isolated and alone, and decisively smashed society’s flawed view of disability as something requiring pity not rights.

The law passed twenty years ago – the Disability Discrimination Act – fell short of the civil rights Act that so many disabled people campaigned for. But the campaign itself was life-changing for so many and challenged society’s stereotypes and negative attitudes.

Many of the leading disabled campaigners drew inspiration from the fights against Apartheid and for the vote for women.

The suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst is the only person that one of today’s leading disabled campaigners and a civil rights veteran, Baroness Jane Campbell, says she would be if she could travel back in time.

Many Rights Now! members moved into disability rights campaigning  from the anti-Apartheid movement because they despised the injustice of segregation wherever they saw it.

However, in sharp distinction to the equality campaigners who inspired them, Baroness Campbell and others have a hidden history of campaigning. The campaign which took so much of the media spotlight in 1994 and 1995 has been entirely forgotten today.

Young disabled people – even those who campaign for change in their communities today –have been shocked to find their rights have not always been there and needed a fight to bring about.

That’s why Scope has been celebrating the civil rights activists who fought for equality and brought about the change that happened twenty years ago this month.  We’re proud to be working closely with the People’s History Museum to preserve a past in danger of disappearing. Together we have appealed to campaigners to rummage through their attics and find mementoes.

In the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing some of the treasures that leading campaigners have shared with us as a direct result of our joint public appeal for donations. Until that time we will be sharing some stories of the civil rights campaign, as told by the leading activists themselves.

The campaigns which inspired disabled activists twenty years ago are honoured every day by the People’s History Museum in the galleries that are seen annually by tens of thousands of visitors.

Together we want as many people to see disabled people’s campaigning, right alongside better-known movements, so that their campaigning can inspire today’s activists as much as others do.

Disabled people’s campaigning has been central to our national march towards equality. Scope can have no better partner to honour this campaign than the People’s History Museum – the nation’s own museum of democracy and equality.

MCR International Women’s Day Quilt has a new home

A guest blog by Lisa Watson, who has just donated a very special quilt to the museum

MIWD Quilt at PHM, image copyright Lisa Watson (3)It’s exciting news, as The Manchester International Women’s Day Quilt, (I know, it’s a bit of a mouthful) has a new home at, (drum roll please) the People’s History Museum in Manchester.

MIWD Quilt at PHM, image copyright Lisa Watson (1)Back in 2011, The MIWD Quilt was on show at the PHM for the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. The inspiration to this exhibition actually started back in March 2010 when over 300 amazing people came together at The Monastery in Gorton to celebrate International Women’s Day. The key themes of that day were that small actions can make bigger things happen and everyone has their own story.

MIWD Quilt at PHM, image copyright Lisa Watson (2)The MIWD Quilt does share a bit of history with the PHM, while the inspiration, context and fabric stitched into the Quilt really do bind and bond it well to the PHM and Manchester. A bit more background detail on the MIWD Quilt can be found on my blog of an exhibition in 2012 at The Quilt Museum in York.

MIWD Quilt at PHM, image copyright Lisa Watson (4)Noticed the bra bunting in the pics? It raised a few eyebrows and elicited a few comments during the exhibition, which is all positive, as it got people interested and talking, and not just about the exhibition. The bra bunting was there to importantly highlight some useful bra recycling: find out more and get involved.

MIWD Quilt at PHM, image copyright Lisa Watson (5)Who knows, by the next International Women’s Day in March 2016 I may be posting a quilt pic of the MIWD Quilt on display at The PHM…

Hands on History

A post by volunteer Genevieve Pritchard

Genevieve with the handling tableI came to PHM through a short placement with the IF volunteer programme and what was six weeks has turned into six months. During that time I’ve been working with another volunteer, John, and Catherine, Kirsty, Harriet and Mark from different departments of the museum to develop an object handling table. Although object handling may become a permanent feature, during the WWI centenary it made sense to concentrate on objects from that period.

During the development of the handling tables the rules seemed quite simple but it became obvious when actually doing it that there’s quite a difference between theory and practice.

Firstly, there’s guessing what will attract people to the tables. To make sure the handler can keep items safe there should only be a few on the middle of the table at any time. Trying to make sure there’s a variety of media and subjects to talk about, it’s very easy to end up with half the stock on the table so in future sessions I’ll probably pick just one subject that’s most relevant at the time. It’s difficult too keeping in mind how the objects should be handled and getting visitors comfortable with handling. Objects should be kept no more than 10cm above the table but if a visitor holds it 15 or 20cm asking them to hold the object a little lower tends to makes them feel less confident and less likely to stay at the table.

Objects arranged on handling tableArranging objects on the table was another thing I experimented with. Visitors aren’t too interested in looking at photographs and leaflets but wander towards medals and feathers. I found placing the less visually appealing items in the middle of the shiny things means eyes wander over them more often and visitors are more likely to eventually pick them up. Also, objects like ration books are easily ripped by little hands so the rule is tougher items at the front and more delicate ones at the back near the handler. Putting the solder’s hat and badge on an information sheet meant visitors had to pick up the hat to read the information and if they’ve picked up one object, they tend to pick up a few more. Crafty.

I don’t know why but people seem to be more likely to talk if they already know something about an object, even if it’s reading from an information sheet. It definitely made people talk more when I put the sheets around the table and visitors could look at the object, read a bit about it and then start a conversation rather than just asking ‘what’s this?’ One thing that I wasn’t expecting was that visitors seemed really surprised when I admitted I didn’t know something but having objects that could be referenced in the gallery was useful and gets people looking more closely at permanent exhibitions they may have missed otherwise.

The most interesting thing for me was that people aren’t that interested in facts and history, they are more interested in value judgements and theory. If you talk to a girl about the Suffragettes you can see her eyes glaze over, but ask her how she would feel if only boys were allowed in the museum and there’s more of a conversation. I think politics does tend to be seen as both too close and too distant to real life. On one hand it’s about very ordinary and essential issues; having safe food and drink, adequate healthcare, decent education and work. But the processes and people that are involved with making those decisions are perhaps seen as academic and not about living politics. Hopefully getting people thinking and talking in the museum will have a knock on effect outside in the real world.

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.