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.



George Quayle’s Tricorn Hat

A post by conservator Zoë Lanceley.

As well as caring for the objects in the People’s History collection, the Textile Conservation Studio also carry out work for TCSOC168_BC_ (1)private clients. This helps to support the wider work of the PHM.

We recently took on the job of conserving two hats owned by the Manx Museum. The hats date from the late 18th Century and were both owned by a man called George Quayle (1751-1835) who was a prominent politician and banker on the Isle of Man. The Manx Museum is currently preparing an exhibition about George Quayle, which will include both of his hats. (Nautical Museum, Castletown)

I am currently working on one of his hats, a stylish tricorn cocked hat with metallic braid, tassles and a black silk corsage. Just below the corsage is a gold coloured button with the triskellion symbol and motto of the Isle of Mann: ‘QUOCUNQUE JECERIS STABIT’ (Whichever wayTCSOC168_BC_ (10) you throw, it will stand). The term ‘cocked’ refers to the three sides of the brim which are turned up. George Quayle’s initials are inside the hat, as well as the maker’s paper label. The makers label reads: ‘Wagner, Hat maker to their Majefties (sic), Pall Mall, London’. As well as making hats for the Royal Family, Wagner’s also made hats for the military. You can tell George Quayle wore his hat many times as perspiration is present around the lining of the crown.

The hat is made from a single piece of beaver fur felt and dates from about 1790. At this time lots of different furs were used to make felt, but the finest hats were made from beaver fur felt. During the manufacturing process it was necessary to use a form of mercury (mercuric nitrate) to felt the fibres together. Unfortunately mercury is very poisonous, and hatters (who made hats) often became very ill, displaying symptoms such as shaking and hallucinations. This is where the term ‘Mad as a hatter’ TCSOC168_BC_detail_ (3)comes from.

When I looked at the hat under the microscope I made an interesting discovery. The metallic gilt braid has tarnished to a dull grey colour, but in some places gold paint has been applied over the tarnish. It is a mystery to me why or when this was done; did George Quayle do it to spruce up his hat? Or has someone else applied the paint more recently? As a conservator it is really interesting to make discoveries like this, it all adds to the mystery of the past.

Over its life time the hat has been in the wars and is quite damaged. Most of this damage has been caused by moths, as unfortunately beaver fur is delicious food for moths. They have nibbled their way around most of the crown of the hat and the TCSOC168_BC_detail_ (15)middle of the silk corsage. The first thing I did to improve the appearance of the hat was to very gently clean the surface with a tiny low powered vacuum cleaner and a soft paint brush. This helped remove dirt and dust which had accumulated on the hat. I also picked off fragments of moth casings (which moths leave behind after pupating from larvae to grown up moths) and loose bits of fabric which had been nibbled free.

Initially I had planned to reshape the hat by humidifying it (which would cause the felt to relax), and apply support patches across splits in the felt. Despite my best efforts this wasn’t possible, as the felt remained very rigid even after lots of humidification. Even though the hat looks very fragile, the felt is surprisingly robust. It feels very much like stiff cardboard. Despite the tough exterior, the lining is still fragile and handling the hat should be kept to the absolute minimum. My priorities TCSOC168_BC_detail_ (22)now are to make a safe stable support board for the hat to be stored and displayed on. The board will be covered in grey fabric so that it fits in with the exhibition at Manx Museum, and will have a dome on it to support the hat. I am also in the process of making a box for the hat which it can be stored in permanently when the exhibition is over.

It is really interesting to work with objects which have been well used by their owner, particularly when you can identify who that person was. I’m sure this hat will make a fascinating contribution to the George Quayle exhibition.

Share your voting memories

COL131COL130A post by volunteer Amber Greenall-Heffernan

In the build up to the General Election on the 7th May, we have been asking visitors to share their voting memories in the Election! exhibition here at the People’s History Museum. We have had a variety of responses, and visitors have shared memories such as voting in the EEC referendum in 1975, students in university celebrating the election result in 1997 and even bumping into exes at the polling station!

A handful of people seem disillusioned, saying they have never voted and believe it doesn’t change anything, but overall the responses havCOL132e been positive. Many visitors consider voting to be a democratic right and have written about the importance of having a vote in a democracy. One visitor believed that voting is a right we take for granted when others are risking their lives across the world to have a vote and another said that everyone has the right to be able to say how we live together in a society.


IMG_0715A common theme running through the responses is the sacrifices that groups such as the Chartists and Suffragettes made for the right to vote. Michael Carter, pictured, explains why he will be voting this year:

“Due to the suffragette movement and in particular Emily Davison, who stepped in front of King George V’s horse at the Epsom Derby in 1913 in favour of women receiving the vote, I consider it a privilege and a necessity to vote. One lady lost her life for the chance to have her say therefore in memory of her I must vote.”

In our exhibition, we have also been asking if people will be voting in the General Election this year and why. Again, a lot of people have responded with exercising theCOL133 right to vote because of the historic struggle for voting rights. But what is also interesting is the overwhelming response from young people who are not old enough to vote but wish that they could, as well as the excitement from first-time voters.

What are your voting memories? Will you be voting in this year’s General Election and why?




Share Your Voting Memories: The First Results

A guest post by placement student Victoria Clarke.

Last month marked the start of a new exhibition here at PHM, in anticipation of the upcoming general election. Election! Britain Votes contains several spaces for our visitors to share their experiences, ideas, and creative flair. The responses we collected for the ‘Share Your Voting Memories’ ballot box range far and wide from the young to the old, the joyous to the apathetic.

While voting in local and general elections is only allowed by those aged 18 and up, several visitors recounted childhood memories of elections and voting.1

From watching the results on television, to accompanying a voter, to participating in school council elections, early experiences of elections clearly have staying power.

The most resounding result from the ballots is the significance with which people treat it – rejecting the idea of apathy regarding the upcoming elections.  Memories shared with us of being a first time voter are joyous and solemn in the understanding that they are able to 2exercise a degree of choice in the governing of the country, and the changes it can make to their lives.

One visitor recalls voting in the 1970 election at the age of 20, and having “felt so pleased to be able to cast my vote.”

While reading the results, I was struck by one ballot paper which particularly resonated with me –having been a few months too young to vote in the 2010 election, this year will also be my first chance to vote in a general election.  According to a study published by the House of Commons on general election statistics since 1964, in the 2010 election only 51% of eligible young people aged 18-24 cast their vote, in comparison with 75% of those aged over 65 (Aliyah Dar, 32013). It is refreshing to see a member of the young electorate dispel the myth that young people do not care to vote.

The Election! Britain Votes exhibition marks the present day in the centuries-long struggle for human suffrage in Britain. Please continue to share your memories of voting – whether you have voted or not.

Election! Britain Votes: Results round one

Work experience student Sylvie Copley has analysed the first wave of responses to questions asked in our current changing exhibition Election! Britain Votes. 

Election_Lock-UpElection! Britain Votes opened on Saturday. As well finding out more about how elections work, visitors can share their opinion on our electoral system. We’ve already had 116 responses to our ballot paper questions.

  1. Would having an elected House of Lords make our democracy more representative, and therefore fairer?
  2. – 84% Yes and 16% No.
  3. In order to increase the number of female MPs should parties have to meet quotas for female candidates?
  4. – 52% Yes and 48% No.
  5. Should we lower the voting age to 16 years old?
  6. – 48% Yes and 52% No.
  7. Should we allow prisoners to vote?
  8. – 32% Yes, 30% Yes, but only some, dependent on their crime and 38% No.
  9. Should the UK adopt a different voting system?
  10. – 50% Yes, proportional representation, 23% Yes, alternative voting and 27% No, keep first past the post.
  11. Should the queen still play a part in the political process?
  12. – 39% Yes and 61% No.

ImageSome visitors gave a dissenting opinion on the ballot papers such as ‘This is a protest vote, it’s all a load of rubbish’. One conspiracy theorist even went as far as saying the government are ‘trying to reduce population by poisoning us e.g. cancer.’

Others gave responses for their votes. ‘It’s patronising’ one respondent said, ‘to suggest women can only win if male competition is removed.’ Although as shown above, the rest of the voters did not see this as clear cut. The most surprising response was the majority vote opting for proportional representation instead of our current system – even though in 2010 when a referendum was held, the nation declined the change.

Come and have your say. Election! Britain Votes is on display until the 28 June 2015.

New year, new job, new gallery display

A guest post from our newest member of staff, Conservator Zoë Lanceley

Every year during the first two weeks of January the PHM change over the banners on display in the main galleries. This was particularly exciting for me as Monday was the first day of my new job as a conservator here in the Textile Conservation Studio.  This week we have been hard at work putting a new selection of banners on display and taking the old banners away for a rest from light, dust and the physical strain of hanging vertically.

Taking down the banner 2Taking down the banner

Here at the PHM the main galleries have been designed with a nifty system to make it easy to change over banner displays. Each banner hangs from a long pole inserted through a sleeve at the top of the banner. The pole is then gradually raised or lowered into position using a pulley system which is hidden behind the walls.

Vacuuming the bannerTo remove banners from display we carefully lower them down, rolling them as we go. We then take them to a large open space and lay them flat out on the floor (they are too big for tables) and gently vacuum both sides to remove any dust which may have accumulated in the past year. We vacuum them through a mesh screen to protect the delicate surface of the fabric and also put a piece of muslin inside the vacuum nozzle to allow us to collect the dust. Dust samplesThis is really helpful as it allows us to monitor exactly what sort of dust and fibres are being removed, i.e. general dust from the carpet or fibres from the banner itself. The banners are ‘put to bed’ until the next time they are displayed by rolling them onto large cardboard tubes, and wrapped up in acid free tissue paper, calico and Tyvek® (a non-woven polyethylene fabric) .  We take a lot of care when rolling the banners to make sure that no creases are formed as these could turn into permanent distortions or splits in the future.

New banner ready to go upRolling up the new bannerFinishing touchesWhen we put banners up on display we follow the same procedure in reverse, carefully unrolling the banner as it is raised up. To put the finishing touches on the new display we make sure the that banners are lit in the right way; bright enough so that visitors can see them clearly but not too bright as this would cause the fabric to fade.  The final step is to put barriers in front of the banners to deter people from touching them, as even clean hands can leave traces of oils and salts on the fabric which would cause the fabrics to deteriorate.

Being a textile conservator is an exciting and wide-ranging job. Working with large flat textiles like banners means that our job varies day to day from carrying out painstaking precise treatments at a workbench to kneeling on the floor or carrying heavy objects. I have really enjoyed my first week at the PHM and hope all our visitors enjoy the new display.

If you want to find out more about the work that is carried out in the Textile Conservation Studio, pop up to Main Gallery Two where you can peek through the window into the studio, or join us for one of our quarterly tours.