Labour’s Voice in Europe, by James Darby, Project Archivist

I have just finished cataloguing four archive collections relating to the Labour Party in Europe. These include the papers of the European Parliamentary Labour Party (EPLP) and the personal papers of David Candler, Ron Leighton and Colin Beever; three politicians linked with the pro and anti Common Market wings of the party during the 1970s and 80s.

Labour Movement for Europe report

Funding for the cataloguing of these collections has been gratefully received from the National Cataloguing Grants Programme for Archives, a grant scheme made available by several funding trusts and administered by The National Archives. The project began in April 2016 and involved the box listing of 109 boxes from the EPLP collection, 18 from the Candler collection, 16 from Colin Beevor and 9 from Ron Leighton.

EPLP boxes

EPLP boxes in strongroom

Once box listed the collection had to be placed into suitable series and following this the rather long and arduous task of reboxing all the material in the correct order.

These collections include correspondence and reports of the British Labour Group in Europe and material relating to pro and anti-EEC organisations such as the Labour Movement for Europe and Common Market Safeguards Campaign. Researchers can view the catalogues on the museum’s website and use the collections by booking an appointment in the archive reading room.


UK & Russian museums & galleries – worlds apart?

A guest post by Janneke Geene, Head of Business Development

Back in October of 2014 I was lucky enough to spend a week in Russia, visiting museums and galleries in Moscow and St Petersburg, for a British Council project. The project spans the BRIC countries: Brazil, Russia, India and China. The BRIC countries are generally seen as countries of growth and expansion. With that comes a possible increased flow of tourists from those countries to the UK. The aim of the project is to find out what tourists from the BRIC countries expect when they visit UK museums and galleries (based on what they are used to ‘back at home’) and how the UK sector can make adaptations to be more welcoming and attractive to BRIC tourists. While colleagues from other venues went to Brazil, India and China, I went on the trip to Russia with a colleague from Manchester Museum and together we visited some 15 museums and galleries in the space of 6 days. To say it was an eye-opener would be an understatement – and in very unexpected ways.

Before our trip we had a meeting with Russian Visit Britain representatives who gave us a little bit of information (Russian tourists generally don’t speak English, but are keen on cultural and educational experiences when they travel) but who also expressed their surprise at our visit as in their view British museums and galleries are generally far ‘better’ than Russian ones.

Our visit to museums and galleries as diverse as the State Darwin Museum (Moscow), the Moscow Lights Museum and the State Museum of Political History of Russia (St Petersburg) had a number of things in common that are significantly different from our experiences of museums and galleries back in Britain. What is always an easy and non-confrontational opening question in Britain: How may visitors do you get a year?, turned out to be mostly met by surprise and a wave of the hand – a lot of the venues don’t know the figures. It would be easy to judge that lack of knowledge when viewed through the prism of British (and possibly Western European) cultural funding streams and practice. However, as we had the privilege of spending quite some time with colleagues in Russia, we realised we were being naive in assuming. Assuming almost anything is naive in Russia.

After all, much as Russia has had deeply significant cultural relationships (music, art, to name but a few) with what we class as Western Europe over a long period of time, this unimaginably large country is actually half European, half Asian. An extended period of relative isolation has undeniably influenced several aspects of the culture. What were we thinking looking at these organisations with our Western European head on?

A Russian museum shop As I am responsible for commercial and income generation activities at People’s History Museum, I had a whole raft of questions (fuelled by as many assumptions?) around shops, cafes and such things, as well as marketing and audience engagement. Again, it would be ever so easy to agree with the Visit Britain representatives that Britain is far ahead of Russia in these things. After all we pride ourselves on our quirky and welcoming cafes (no visit to the museum needed), our independent gift shops (having a museum souvenir shop is so yesterday) and the multitude of engaging activities on offer for our visitors. But who is to say? It turns out Russian people have a love for their museums and galleries, visit often, want to learn lots and on ‘free Sundays’ (the mayor of Moscow has decreed all state run museums and galleries in Moscow, which is 99% of them, need to be open free of charge on a number of Sundays each year) Moscow’s inhabitants fill museums and galleries to bursting point. Russian visitors read the labels attentively and investigate exhibits with enthusiasm. So who are we to compare, judge or assume?

Income generation is fairly irrelevant at the moment as most museums and galleries receive state funding. Would the sector in Britain be quite so ‘sophisticated’ in their ‘secondary spend’ offer were there no financial imperative?

Audience engagement happens because by and large the audiences we observed were very keen to engage.

Of course this is not the whole picture – Moscow, as one Scottish person on the metro pointed out to us, is not at all representative of Russia, most of Russia is rural with vast swathes of people not having access to the world class collections displayed in Moscow and St Petersburg. Yet most state museums seemed to have a busy programme of touring changing exhibitions. Much to think about.

St Petersburg, as we learnt, has always been the rebel, the town that can get away with a few things. So it is no coincidence that it is the home of the State Museum of Political History of Russia, a museum where deep reflective thinking about the significance of its collections in relation to the country’s political history (and present) is in evidence in every display. A museum that has managed to find a way to survive for decades, despite the fact it tells a deeply complex (and probably controversial) story. It uses choices as a theme and provides a walk through Russian political history as a series of choices made and choices not made and their consequences.

The most memorable thing about the visit will be the colleagues though – on the whole the colleagues we met were very deep thinkers, having had to make sense of Russia’s complex history and recent history, passionate about their work, keen to collaborate where possible (not so easy at the moment) and extremely knowledgeable about their subject matter.

And Russian tourists visiting museums and galleries in the UK? Well, they do indeed mostly not speak English, so doing something about the language barrier is a must; those Russians who can travel abroad want an educational/cultural experience as part of their trip; they mostly travel as part of an organised group (much easier if you don’t speak English); they are interested in pointers that pull out the relevance of objects to their history and they are used to paying and admission fee, so will love getting free admission. Not rocket science really.

Oh, and the shop and cafe – those Russians who can travel abroad by and large make it into a very special occasion and spend quite a lot of money.

And don’t forget – just as it is prohibitively expensive for us to use the internet while travelling abroad, so it is for them, so promoting the fact you’ve got Wifi is a win.

Moscow Light Museum controllers deskAnd if you are ever lucky enough to visit Moscow, do make a beeline for the Moscow Lights Museum – a tiny, quirky, private museum featuring an amazing collection of old Moscow streetlights and their history. It turns out that Moscow streetlights through the ages is Russian history in a nutshell, complete with the large oak controllers’ desk, where, at one time, the head controller, literally with one flick of a switch, could turn out all the streetlights in Moscow if deemed necessary. If only I spoke Russian I’d translate their website and leaflet to make it more accessible to British tourists venturing East.

Mary Wollstonecraft by John Williamson

A guest post by researchers in residence Camilla Mørk Røstvik and Lucy Johnson

Mary Wollstonecraft by John Williamson (c) Walker Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Mary Wollstonecraft by John Williamson (c) Walker Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

As part of an interactive research project we are planning a series of events to take place next March that engage with and explore this extraordinary portrait of Mary Wollstonecraft loaned from the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool. Wollstonecraft was an early advocator of women’s equal rights and was more broadly engaged with issues of working class struggle in the 18th century. Her life and work saw her travel to Ireland, revolutionary France and across Europe to Scandinavia. She wrote many books, challenged dominant discourse and collaborated with a diverse range of radical thinkers until 10th September 1797 when she died in tragic circumstances, soon after the birth of her second child, Mary Shelley.

The portrait is one of a few remaining images that remain of Wollstonecraft, although her book Vindication of the Rights of Women survives as a canonical feminist text. Painted in the late 18th century, it depicts Mary as a powerful, asexual woman – unusual for women represented at this time. Rather than soft, ‘beautified’ and passive, Mary stares right back at us in a powdered wig and dressed in the revolutionary style of French intellectuals.

Where our archival research aims to uncover more information about the assumed painter, John Williamson, commissioner of the painting, William Roscoe, and what Mary thought about it, the events will create fresh dialogue, art, creative writing and ideas that engage with Wollstonecraft and her work. To be part of Manchester City Council’s International Women’s Day events in Manchester in 2015, the events will tie her work to themes of contemporary feminist debate; race, class, the role of men and issues of representation as well as explore her work’s legacy (or lack of) in other areas of the PHM collection.

Keep an eye out on the People’s History Museum website and blog for further details and dates of events in the new year.

Things you find when doing a bit of research…

A guest post from volunteer Amber Greenall-Heffernan 

I am a third year History, Museums & Heritage student from the University of Central Lancashire, currently volunteering at the People’s History Museum. For the past couple of months, I have been doing research for the upcoming exhibition, Election! Britain Votes, looking at a wide range of election material such as posters, leaflets and manifestos. I am also currently working with artist Alex Gardner, showing him the most interesting and visually appealing items from the election material in the Labour History Archive to inspire the design of the exhibition.

Whilst doing this research I have come across some very interesting items. These are my favourites so far:

  • Equality of Sacrifice poster (1931)


Equality of Sacrifice poster (1931)This Labour Party poster criticises the 1931 National Government and their ‘Equality of Sacrifice’ policy. This policy was based on the ideas of John Stuart Mill, who believed that tax laws are fair as long as they are applied to everyone equally. The cartoon, by J. F. Horrabin was created in 1929, at a time of economic depression in Britain. Each man on the ladder has a different income, and as each one steps down a rung, the unemployed man at the bottom of the ladder becomes submerged in water, suggesting that the equality of sacrifice would affect the poorest the most.

Mend That Hole poster (1951)Mend That Hole poster (1951)
This Conservative Party poster created in 1951, shows a purse with coins falling out of the hole at the bottom of it. The purse has ‘Cost of Living’ written on it, which implies that the cost of living is increasing and that people are losing money because of it. This poster is particularly interesting as it is not far from issues that affect us today, such as the current debate about implementing a living wage due to rising cost of living standards.

Conservatives and Labour 3D booklet (1950)Conservatives and Labour 3D booklet (1950)Conservatives and Labour 3D booklet (1950)
My favourite item so far, and arguably the most engaging, is this 3D booklet which was created by the Conservative Party in 1950. The booklet folds so that when you put the blue filter over the text, it lists the successes of the Conservative government and what they aim to do in the future, and when you choose the red filter it shows the failures of the Labour government.

Work in Progress – Week 6

Week 6 of Work in Progress was exceptionally busy, with pretty much an event every day.  We kicked things off on Saturday with a very inspiring talk from Alex Jones of the English Disco Lovers.  He talked about how it all started in a field in Somerset, his influences as a Quaker and an artist, spreading the disco love across the country and his top tips for campaigning (including harnessing the power of social media and making sure you give yourself a break every now and again!).

18 Aug - 9 Sept, SELFIE_SHOW-OFF by Karol Kochanowski @ People's History Museum (34)On Sunday we peeled back the boards for the Private View of #SELFIE_SHOW-OFF by Karol Kochanowski.  Karol’s abstract paintings focus on the artist’s personality as an intrinsic part of his artwork.  The exhibition is part of the Manchester Pride Fringe and will be displayed alongside Work in Progress until 9 September.


The museum’s events team gathered on Monday morning to brainstorm ideas for our Winter Events Programme.  Traditionally the winter season is usually our quietest, but we’ve got some exciting events in the pipeline, including the LGBT History Festival in February.  Bob Bonner from Friends of London Road Fire Station popped in in the afternoon to do a talk about the history of the building.  Bob gave us a great insight into the design, use and life of the building, especially how much it means to people and how many memories people have of the place.

Bethan Foulkes Live ResearchResearcher Bethan Foulkes was in residence from Tuesday to Thursday, looking at historical experiences of unemployment in our collections and chatting to visitors about their contemporary experiences.  She rounded off her Live Research with an event on Thursday afternoon, encouraging visitors to get hands on with some archive material.

On Tuesday a group of us met to discuss our plans for Hands on History, our new object handling programme that will be delivered by volunteers. We’re going to be trialling the session next year, and we’re currently planning what objects we should include.  The theme will be World War I to link in with our current exhibition A Land Fit For Heroes, our Living History performance Baddies, and of course the First World War Centenary. We’ll keep you updated with how the project develops.

Two young people from the Trailblazers project visited on Wednesday.  They’re working on developing an interactive map of cultural venues in Manchester for teenagers, and came to pick my brains about the PHM.  After chatting about interesting facts including cheese and Peterloo, I seized the opportunity to talk about our events programming, how we can make it more accessible for young people and what they thought of our Welcome Wall.  Whilst they were here they also met artists Kate and Chloe for a workshop for their People’s Guide project.

I also met with artist Rebecca Davies to discuss her practice, Play Your Part and potential collaborations. Rebecca works within a participatory practice through illustration, performance and event and really connects with communities using quirky methods such as bingo and a travelling ice cream van. We even managed to fit in a bit of a rant about the London-centricity of politics!

LGBT case redisplay consultationThe end of the week focused on all things Pride!  Since the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act was passed in 2013, we’ve been very conscious that our Gay Rights case in our Main Galleries is out of date.  We’ve also recently acquired some new LGBT material, so we’d like to give the case and text panel a refresh.  With this in mind, I’ve set up a display case in Work in Progress with some key objects.  We’re asking visitors to vote on which objects we should include and if there’s anything we’re missing.  Come along and have your say!

We’ve been working with historian Jeff Evans to develop our LGBT history tour, which I delivered for the first time on Friday. The tour focused on contextualising the history of gender and sexuality within the social and political framework of the museum.  It was impossible to cover everything within a 45 minute tour, but the feedback was generally positive, with some really constructive comments on how we can improve the tour and things we’ve missed.  I’ll definitely be tweaking the tour ready for its official launch in February as part of the LGBT History Festival.

LGSM displayWe were very lucky to get a sneak peek of the film Pride on Thursday night.  The film tells the story of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, a support group that was set up to raise funds during the 1984-5 Miners’ Strike. The film is inspiring, emotional and definitely the film of the year! If you want to find out more about LGSM ahead of the film’s release in September, then come along to Work in Progress and see some of the original archive material on display.  23 August 2014, Q&A with the cast of the film Pride @ People's History Museum (1)Pathe films used this display as a backdrop for press interviews on Friday and screenwriter Stephen Beresford, actor Joseph Gilgun and LGSM member Mike Jackson were on hand to promote the film.  Stephen, Joe and Mike returned to the museum on Saturday for a public Q&A about the film and gave the audience insights into the history of the group, the making of the film and their ideas worth fighting for.

We continue the LGBT theme this week, with Oliver Bliss’s Microresidency.  Come along and sew your messages of hope to the MPs who voted ‘no’ to equal marriage.

Employment & Unemployment: Have Your Say

work in progressAs part of our Work in Progress exhibition researcher Bethan Foulkes will be inviting visitors to go ‘behind the scenes’ and find out the processes of academic research as she explores the comparisons between historic and contemporary experiences of unemployment. Whilst she’ll be hitting the books and delving into the museum’s collections, we want you to come along and have your say and share your experiences.

  • Have you struggled to find work during the recession?
  • Do you feel exploited by unpaid internships?
  • Are you campaigning for a Living Wage?
  • Do you have any other experiences, thoughts or opinions you want to share?

Add your comments below, or pop in and tell your story.

Bethan will be doing her Live Research on Tues 19 & Wed 20 August 11.00am – 4.00pm.  She’ll present her findings during a free public event on Thurs 21 August 1.00pm – 3.00pm.

Learning Team let loose on Liverpool

A guest post from our Learning Assistant, Liz Thorpe, who clearly enjoys being let out for the day!

A few weeks ago the Learning Team ventured out of the museum and headed off to explore the Museum of Liverpool. In what proved to be an insightful and fun filled visit we were able to meet some of the team, find out what they offer their visitors and also test out some of their interactives.

With Chris Foot, who works for the education team there, we started the day with some research (okay I mean playing) in the Little Liverpool area. A place for under 6’s to create their own Liverpool – including some questionable creatures for the River Mersey. Here is my attempt …

Little Liverpool

Next we were introduced to Matt Exley who talked us through one of their workshops, giving us the chance to learn more about Liverpool’s history and also the work they do at the museum with school groups. This gave us the opportunity to get in to character (not much persuasion needed) and pose for some pictures. Louise, as you can see, took to the regal attire a little too well!

Dressing up in Liverpool

We finished the day by meeting with Julia Bryan, Senior Education Manager, where we were able to discuss challenges facing the Education Departments in our museums and plans for the future over a well deserved cup of coffee. It was a great opportunity to compare notes and see some similarities between us.

Overall, our visit proved extremely beneficial, allowing us to meet more people as passionate as we are about our work and learn a little something about Liverpool and its newest museum. Some personal highlights of mine were their current exhibition April Ashley: Portrait of a Lady, full of beautiful photographs and an inspirational story and their ‘When I Was Little’ project which encourages children to visit with their grandparents and share memories. It is fair to say we finished the day feeling inspired by the great work the museum is doing and hopefully we will be able to entertain them here at the People’s History Museum one day.