Who mined the coal? Who ran the locomotives? Who built the Manchester Ship Canal?

5 February - 4 March 2016, WEA Course - British Photogrpahy & Industrial Society. Navvies, Manchester Ship Canal by W E Birtles © Chethams LibraryA guest blog by WEA tutor Mark Krantz

The coal owners, engineers, contractors, and financiers were all crucial. But without ‘grafters’ the coal would remain underground, trains could not run, and the Ship Canal would never have been built.  The photographic exhibition Grafters: Industrial society in image and word brings to life those who were central to the productive processes – the workers who did the hard grafting.

Pit brow girls from Wigan, locomotive cleaners from Lancashire, navvies who dug the ship canal, all are brought to life in enhanced photographs.photographer Ian Beesley

Leading documentary photographer Ian Beesley has curated this exhibition. To accompany these scenes of industrial life, Ian McMillan, the ‘Bard of Barnsley’, has written new poems giving new voice to the unknown people captured in the images.

To discover more about the history, politics, and technology that inform this exhibition the Workers’ Education Association (WEA) is running a five week course at the People’s History Museum, led by tutor Mark Krantz.

The exhibition curator Ian Beesley will give a guided tour of the exhibition and lead a discussion about the photographs.

This five week course started on Friday 5 February and will run until Friday 4 March.website

Find out more about the WEA courses that run at PHM please check the museum’s website.

Grafters will be on show until Sunday 14 August. Please check  the What’s On section of the museum’s website for details of theWhat’s On events programme that will run alongside the exhibition.



Snapshot on the Future City

3 November 2014, Snapshot on the Future City @ People's History Museum

Did you know the museum holds an archive of over 95,000 photographs?  Go behind the scenes and delve into our unique photo collections, the Labour Party photograph collection and the Communist Party of Great Britain photograph collection.

In this lunchtime drop in session, browse through photographs on the theme of the Future City and uncover history through the lens.

This session will look at the Future City, drawing on the unique archive collection of photographs and pamphlets.  Join us on Monday 3 November between 12.30pm – 1.30pm.

Suitable for adults and young people

  • Treat yourself to 15% off in The Left Bank cafe bar when you attend an event at the People’s History Museum
  • Did you know the museum holds the archives of the Labour Party and much more?  Check out the Archive & Study Centre pages for more information or to make an appointment

Booking Requirements: Booking advised via Eventbrite

  • Please note event attendees must arrive at least ten minutes before the start time of the event, otherwise their booked space will be given to someone on the reserve list
  • Please contact the museum as soon as possible if you wish to cancel your reservation so your place can be given to another visitor

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.

World War I ‘Guest Suitcase’ in Germany

Conscientious Objector postcard

Conscientious Objector postcard

A few weeks ago a school group from Ludwigsburg in Germany visited our galleries and Labour History Archive and Study Centre to find out more about our World War I collections and the history of the labour movement around World War I. History teacher Joerg also asked if we wanted to participate in a series of mini-exhibitions the school were curating which involved people giving them material to display in ‘guest suitcases’. Due to the amount of two dimensional items we have relating to World War I, we decided to make some replicas of a selection of items, which the group could display back in Ludwigsburg, and keep after the display was taken down.

Sergeant Dugdale

Sergeant Dugdale

People’s History Museum gave the school, Oscar-Walcker-Schule, two replica photographs of Ben Tillet, a Salford MP visiting the Ypres in 1918, two replica conscientious objector postcards produced by the No-Conscription Fellowship and replica material from our Dugdale collection.

Sergeant Alfred J Dugdale was a soldier in the British army during World War I and his collection of WWI material was donated to the museum after his death. During the war, Dugdale served in Egypt, Turkey, France and Germany. While stationed in Gallipoli in 1915, he won the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) for bringing in wounded soldiers under heavy fire. At twenty-four, he was one of the youngest British soldiers to be given this accolade.  A day before he was due to leave Gallipoli in January 1916, he was shot through the thigh and had time out to recover at home. In 1917, he was captured during the Battle of Cambrai and remained a prisoner of war in Germany until the end of the war. Following the end of the war, he was admitted to hospital in Cologne to recover from the influenza epidemic. We do not know the exact date of his death, but he lived into his 80’s.

Items on display in Germany

Items on display in Germany


Amongst replica items given to the school were a photograph of Dugdale wearing a goat-skin coat in Gallipoli in December 1915 and a field service postcard sent from the front to his wife, Emma. Field Service postcards provided a way for soldiers’ to send short, simple messages that could be expanded upon in a longer letter at a later date. The postcards let family members know if the soldier was well or injured, and whether they had received a letter from them. It was strictly controlled, and soldiers were forbidden from writing anything else onIMG_0357 the postcard other than their name and the date.

Jeorg kindly sent us some images of our ‘guest suitcase’ display at the school and tells us it has been well received. We are thrilled to have some of our World War I items on display in Ludwigsburg!

From the Poor Laws to JobCentrePlus: A Century on the Dole

PhD student Bethan Foulkes is holding a workshop at PHM next week. ‘From the Poor Laws to JobCentrePlus: A Century on the Dole’ will be held in our mini theatre on Friday 6 June from 11am-2pm. In this blog, Bethan tells us more about the workshop.

Job Centre064To introduce myself, I’m Bethan Foulkes- a PhD candidate at the University of Manchester, studying late-Victorian conceptualisations of unemployment within the North West. In January, I was lucky enough to gain a position as a Researcher in Residence at the People’s History Museum; a collaborative project between the university and cultural partners, aiming to place academic researchers within cultural institutions who could benefit from their research skills. My project for the PHM is a day of workshops on the history of unemployment relief, entitled ‘From the Poor Laws to JobCentrePlus: A Century on the Dole’. This blog will just outline my research processes, the experience of working in the museum stores, and the ultimate aims of the project.

At our first planning meeting, Chris Burgess (my contact at the PHM) mentioned that they were in possession of the Department of Employment’s object collection, and that this had sat idle since being donated. The opportunity to be amongst the first people (certainly the first from an academic institution) to engage with these objects was too good to pass up on, and I leapt at the chance. By the end of this meeting it was agreed that my project would research a small selection of these items through the paper records and photographs, in order to discover their histories. The next step was to get down to the museum’s object store, to have a look and what objects were available.Job Centre

A few days later I got down to the store, and was absolutely delighted with what I found. Dozens of signs and notices, and one particularly beautiful cast iron insignia (of origin still unknown). After some unexpected manual labour to get a good look at everything, the recurrent theme was that of labour exchanges, or job centres as they would later become. There were signs dating from as early as 1913 and the 20s and 30s outlining the services available at ‘labour exchanges’. Similar ones existed from the mid-20th century for the ‘employment exchanges’, and finally signs from the 1970s almost to the current day, for ‘job centres’. From this, the project seemed to write itself; a 100 year history of work for the unemployed, from labour exchanges to the job centre. Shortly after this visit, myself and Chris from PHM decided that the event would be held in the museum galleries. Luckily for me this is where I feel most at home; embracing and absorbing the beautiful and inspiring collections. The stage was set, and now it was time to actually do some work.

As the research project and ultimate exhibition is essentially based around a chronology of unemployment relief, my first step was to make notes for myself of everything I already knew. Conveniently, lots of my PhD research feeds directly into this project, so I’m at a significant advantage in terms of already having a rough framework for discussion. From there, it was just a matter of good old fashioned scholarship; reading, note-taking, and assembling my timeline. Throughout this process, I have obviously been continuing with my thesis research, and that has come in massively useful in terms of primary research for the project. An example of this can be found in the very early decades of unemployment relief; my research into Trade Union unemployment solutions forms an excellent context for the latter institutions covered by the workshop.

The final developmental planning stage for the event was heading back into my new favourite place- the People’s History Museum stores. Knowing exactly what form my workshop discussion was going to take, I needed to select the artefacts, ephemera, and photographs to be taken up to the museum ready for the adoring public! This was as fascinating as predicted, and if anything I struggled to narrow down my choices. A few examples of the artefacts we’ll be handling and discussing are as follows; William Henry Jones’ 1930s Benefits Book, early 20th century photographs of Labour Exchange frontages, the cover of the Daily Mirror from the first day Exchanges opened, a 1913 Board of Trade sign, and an illuminating (luminous orange!) 1980s JobCentre sign.

So here we are, just over a week away from the big day: ‘From the Poor Laws to JobCentrePlus, A Century on the Dole’, at the People’s History Museum. The format of the day will be that of a relaxed and informal workshop. I have plenty of artefacts and photographs, and a prepared talk on the history of the institutions administering unemployment relief. You will be able to handle the majority of the pieces, take a good look at the ephemera and photographs, and discuss any facets of the topic. I want the event to take the form of a dialogue and discussion, rather than a lecture. I invite everyone to come and share your stories and personal histories of unemployment relief or JobCentres. I am more than happy to answer any questions or discuss any topics that people would like to chat about, and want to be able to combine your experiences with my research to really develop our understanding of Job Centres. Ultimately this is an opportunity for you to get your hands on some fascinating, sometimes beautiful, and always exciting (to me) objects, and to develop an understanding of a key fragment of OUR welfare system. It is a chance to discuss these ideas with like-minded individuals and an expert researcher, in a laid back setting. I really hope to see some of you there!

Snapshot on the South Africa Anti-Apartheid Movement

Apartheid 1The first working Monday of every month brings a lunchtime Snapshot session down in the archive in the museum’s lower level. It’s an opportunity for anyone to have a look at some of the 80,000 photographs in our huge collection from the Labour Party and Communist Party archives in a friendly and informal setting.

Because of the May Bank Holiday, please note this session is on Monday 12 May. 

In this lunchtime drop in session, browse through photographs on the theme of the South Africa Anti-Apartheid Movement and uncover history through the lens.

All are welcome from 12:30 to 1:30 pm, further info on the main PHM website

Apartheid 2

Student Ideas Matter

Students from the University of Central Lancashire have been working with PHM over the past few months on the Student Ideas Matter project. Here, they tell us a bit about what they’ve been up to…

Blog 1The People’s History Museum (PHM) is now showing a collection of pictures from our student campaign ‘Student Ideas Matter’. The display features a number of students, all from the Lancashire area, sharing their ‘ideas worth fighting for’. Come along to the museum, to see the photos in the foyer and Left Bank Café.

The display is a result of a partnership between PHM and the University of Central Lancashire. PHM kindly offered to collaborate with our group of PR students in September 2013, to offer practical work experience for us all.

Since then, we’ve been immersed in conversation with students throughout the Lancashire area. We’ve been visiting Student Unions over the past month, collecting students’ ‘ideas worth fighting for’. There was a great response! Blog (4)

Students from UCLan, Salford and MMU were excited to share their views. We collected a wealth of ideas, along with photos of the students. Ideas ranged from lower tuition fees, to free access to land and rivers. Overall, we talked to around 500 students throughout our three visits. Many were delighted to hear of the museum and its efforts to reach out to students.

‘Student Ideas Matter’ was essentially an Instagram photo competition, with the best ideas being chosen for display in People’s History Museum. The winners have been chosen and they are up for everyone to see! They will be up on display in PHM’s foyer until 30th April.

The campaign was designed with the museum’s values in mind; democracy, equality, peace and welfare all being at the centre of the ideas. The UCLan PR consultancy planned ‘Student Ideas Matter’ from day one, and all ideas were our own. We are all very proud of what we’ve achieved, and thankful to PHM for giving us the opportunity. But the show goes on! We’re continuing to work on the project until May, and hope to leave PHM with improved student relationships.

So, if you want to continue the conversation, use the hashtag #PHMStudentIdeas on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook. We’ll be looking out for you!

Come and find out what matters to us students. We will fight for our ideas to be heard.


We hope to see you there,

Emma R., Bernie, Fiona, Greta and Emma U.

(UCLan Student Team)