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.


First World War: Shellshock and Disability Exhibition December 2014

A guest post from Manchester City Council Disabled Staff Group about their current display First World War: Shellshock and Disability

IMG_9680We’re members of Manchester City Council Disabled Staff Group and this year we all felt that we would like to make a contribution to UK Disability History Month (UKDHM).

UK Disability History Month was established in 2011 to highlight and celebrate disabled people’s history annually in December. This year UKDHM examines the links and social consequences between war and disability.

We chose the First World War as our subject partly because an unprecedented number of people became disabled through it and partly because it’s the 100th anniversary of the conflict.

We decided to pull together a series of exhibitions and a learning event, in collaboration with People’s History Museum, Central Library and University of Manchester. Our aim was to show the impact of the war on the two million men disabled in combat and what happened on their return.

IMG_9674The display at PHM illustrates the dramatic effect the First World War had on those who became disabled through taking part in it.

Manchester City Council fully endorsed our aims and supported us via the Councils Equality Team and Communication Team.

What we did – Organising and choosing our subjects

We established a small project group of all disabled employees and decided on an approach: To research 2 subjects, shellshock and physical/sensory disability on soldiers during and after First World War.

What we did – Research

We researched our subject via sourcing images, documents and facts  mainly from National Archive, Imperial War Museum, BBC,  local archives in Rusholme, Tameside, Manchester Guardian Newspaper,  Manchester Library, People’s History Museum and Oxford Press.

IMG_9675Once we’d gathered a lot of images we organised them by subject and gradually the stories we wanted to tell emerged. e.g. that of Lieutenant Eric Poole, one of  the 1st British Officers to be shot for desertion, despite medical evidence, provided at his trial that he suffered with shellshock. We decided between us which images we wanted to use and then had to track down and obtain copyright permissions for all of them. This proved quite tricky in some cases but we persevered and were able to use the majority of our choices and at no charge.

We then decided how best to display the images and wrote the text to accompany the pictures and help the audience understand the context and background to them. We focused on telling our story of the social justice elements e.g. political, employment legislation, civil rights in keeping with the ethos of the People’s History Museum.

What we did – Mounting our Display

IMG_9677PHM gave us an area by the PHM café which comprised of 3 glass panels, a display cabinet and a wall area. We used the glass panels to divide our display up into three sections; 1) Introduction, 2) About Shellshock and 3) About physical disability

We then put a powerpoint slideshow together using a different set of related images and projected this onto the adjacent wall. Finally, using documents and papers from PHM own archive we created a display in a cabinet in front of the glass panels decorated with poppies donated by British Legion.

PHM printed off all our images and mounted them onto foam boards. We then put these up ourselves with a few tweaks on the day as needed!

We enjoyed using our creative sides to plan how to mount the images we found and write text to describe them and tell a story. We would like to acknowledge the great help and advice provided by PHM staff to us.

What’s next

IMG_9679This is the first time any of us had curated or researched an exhibition. We plan to move on to similar but more ambitious projects in future years so this was a valuable exercise for our group. We’ve learnt quite a bit about planning, research, copyright and editing text for publication.

Don’t miss our other display on the image virtual Wall at Manchester Central Library – ground floor, near the café. First World War, Soldiers, Shellshock and Disability. A Manchester Story running throughout December.

On 17th December 5-7pm at Central Library, we’ve organised a lecture with Dr Ana Carden-Coyne, a Senior Lecturer in War and Conflict  at Manchester University.  Dr Ana is a leading disability historian and will deliver a talk as part of this year’s Manchester UKDHM programme.

A Land Fit For Heroes: Two WEA courses

A guest post by WEA tutor Mark Krantz 

Three mass movements dominated politics before the war.

The suffragettes had led a militant campaign demanding votes for women.

Trade union membership had soared as increasingly workers took strike action demanding wage rises in a period between 1910 and 1914 known as the ‘Great Unrest’.

Home Rule for Ireland had increasingly attracted support in parliament and amongst the people of Ireland. The outbreak of war in August 1914 halted these movements.

The People’s History Museum’s latest changing exhibition A Land Fit For Heroes: War and the Working Class 1914-1918 states that, ‘By Christmas 1914 the trade union movement had contributed 250,000 men to the effort’. The militant trades union leaders Ben Tillett and Will Thorne joined the recruitment drive.

Leading suffragettes Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst vociferously supported the war.

The campaign for Irish Home Rule was shelved as the British Empire was threatened by the war.

But as the war dragged on – opposition to the war grew.

Sylvia_PankhurstSuffragette Sylvia Pankhurst was an active opponent of the war. Glasgow Rent Strike WW1In 1915 rent strikes led by women spread across Glasgow, and workers demands for wage rises returned. At Easter in 1916 there was an uprising in Ireland led by James Connolly that shook the Empire. The three pre-war political questions returned.

While it was pro-war Arthur Henderson who had served as a Labour Party minister in the war cabinet, after the war it was the anti-war Ramsay MacDonald who became Labour’s first Prime Minister. Post war the Labour Party had replaced the Liberal Party as the main opposition to the Tories.Labour ELection Poster

CPGB logoRevolutionary movements in Russia and across Europe led to the establishment of Communist parties, including the Communist Party of Great Britain.

The Home Secretary Sir George Cave conceded, ‘Is it possible for us having called upon women for so large a contribution to the work of carrying on the war to refuse to women a voice in moulding the future of the country?’ Women’s lives and politics had been changed fundamentally by the war.

Two short courses will look at how the experience of total war, and the growing opposition to the war, fundamentally changed politics in Britain forever.


PrintA learning experience from the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) in association with the People’s History Museum


Fighting for a ‘Land Fit for Heroes’ – C3836480

Three meetings Thursday, 20 November, 27 November, 4 December 2014

1.00pm – 3.00pm. Cost: £18.60 or Free* (Please enquire)

The making of a ‘Land Fit for Heroes’ – C3837173

Three meetings Tuesday, 13 January, 20 January, 27 January 2015

1.00pm – 3.00pm. Cost: £18.60 or Free* (Please enquire)

HLF_National_Lottery_landscape_2747A Land Fit For Heroes exhibition is supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund and will be on show from Saturday 24 May 2014 to Sunday 1 February 2015.

St Paul’s Peel Primary School visit

A guest post by our Learning Assistant Liz Thorpe.

Build A Banner - ALFFH - St. Pauls PS 25.06 (3)On Wednesday 25 June St Paul’s Peel Primary School took up the opportunity to visit us for a free, World War I (WWI) themed, Build a Banner session as we commemorate the centenary of the start of WWI. The group explored our changing exhibition A Land Fit For Heroes: War and the Working Class 1914-1918  as part of the workshop. The group clearly enjoyed their workshop, where they learnt about symbols and their meanings, and also how and why banners are used. They then got to work creating their very own banner to take back to school.

St Paul Peels CofE PS @ People's History MuseumWe asked that they write a blog about their experience here but what we did not expect was a delivery of beautifully illustrated letters from each of the children, telling us about how much they enjoyed themselves!

Here are some of the things they shared with us …


 ‘I learned today that the eye meant ‘The eye of the God and the dove meant peace, the holding hands meant friendship and the bees meant workers.’


 ‘To make the all seeing eye of god I had to make a template of an eye on pink card and when I had done that I stuck the card of white sticky card. Then we had to put black sticky paper for the eye lashes. I also used the same black paper for the pupil. Then we covered the eye in blue card and the eye was finished.’


 ‘I had so much fun I wish I could go again I am going to ask my mum if I can go again.’


 ‘I never knew what the symbols meant before they were explained. The bee hive means working hard, the dove means peace, and the eye symbols god is watching over you.’


St Paul Peels CofE PS @ People's History Museum  (1) ‘Most of all we really enjoyed the banner workshop, we made a banner and decorated it with pictures of the eye of god, poppies and white doves.’


 ‘I am amazed that you have managed to keep the banners clean for all of those years.’


 ‘My favourite part was making our own banner with bees and poppies. I think I’d give it a ten star rating. The phrase “work together for peace” was a brilliant idea …’


 ‘Pauline was very kind and kind because she showed us all of the museum and explained what everything was about.’


If you would like to bring your class in for a free workshop in the next academic year we are offering pARTicipate: Build a Banner sessions for primary schools and Living History: Baddies – Conscience & Conflict during World War I for secondary schools.

One free session per Greater Manchester district.

Offered on a first come, first served basis. To find out more please email learning@phm.org.uk or call 0161 838 9190

The exhibition is supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.


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.

The Daily Herald and World War I

A post from Darren Treadwell, our Archives Assistant, on the display of the Daily Herald in time for the centenary of the start of World War I

OnThe Daily Herald Monday 4 August, 2014 I accidently found myself listening to the Today programme on BBC Radio Four. John Humphrys was conducting a review of the morning papers. Not surprisingly the events of a century ago dominated the press. At one point Mr Humphrys was referring to the News International publication called The Sun. Drawing on over forty years of journalistic knowledge and research he said “ and of course The Sun never existed one hundred years ago”. Oh well.
Of course it did, it was called The Daily Herald. Over the coming month there will be a bound copy on display in the museum’s archive reading room, we will be displaying each front page so that it matches the exact date every day. We will be doing it for a month or so, the whole four years would just be stupid. We all know the end result!

Was the “real” Anzac biscuit … a gingernut?

One of my best friends from uni has been living in New Zealand for the past few years and now has a very exciting job at the New Zealand Sound Archive.  She posted the story of Mrs Banard and her biscuits (with the recipe!) on Facebook a few weeks ago.  In her interview Mrs Banard said ‘please pass on the recipe’ and so we’re thrilled to be able to share it on this side of the world. I made the biscuits this weekend and have shared them with PHM staff. This guest blog is by Camilla Wheeler and Sarah Johnston of Sound Archives Ngā Taonga Kōrero and is very kindly republished courtesy of Sound Archives Ngā Taonga Kōrero and The New Zealand Film Archive.

A 1965 radio interview held in the collection of Sound Archives Ngā Taonga Kōrero has shed light on the home-baking sent by New Zealand women to our soldiers during World War I, and the incredible baking and fund-raising efforts of one woman in particular.

On Gallipoli, food parcels from home must have been one of the few bright points in the Anzac soldier’s generally abysmal diet, which largely consisted of fatty, salty, tinned “bully beef” and rock-hard ship’s biscuits.

New Zealand families and the Red Cross organised parcels containing tinned luxuries such as condensed milk, coffee and cocoa, as well as home-made biscuits and sweets. Most famous of course, is the Anzac biscuit, and with the centenary of the 1915 Gallipoli landings fast approaching, the debate over its origins seems set to rival the Great Pavlova Debate .

Food historians on both sides of the Tasman have been delving into vintage recipe books in a bid to see whether Australia or New Zealand can claim to be the originator of the rolled oat and golden syrup concoction: http://www.stuff.co.nz/life-style/food-wine/9668401/Battle-of-the-Anzac-biscuit

(For the record, New Zealand is ahead in the race, with a cookbook published in 1919 featuring a recipe for “Anzac Crispies,”  two years before Australia’s earliest entry in a 1921 cookbook.)

But whether it was baked first in a kitchen in Kerikeri or Coolangatta, the Anzac biscuit as we know it was most likely too fragile and perishable to last the long sea voyage to the distant Dardanelles. Instead, it is believed its name came from marketing-savvy home-bakers, who attached the name “Anzac” to their oaty biscuits to promote sales at Red Cross fundraising stalls, sometime after the 1915 landings.

One home-baked treat which was actually enjoyed by soldiers in the trenches from Gallipoli to the Western Front, was the gingernut biscuit – and most likely it was baked to a recipe made famous by a Taranaki woman, Helena Marion Barnard, who received the British Empire Medal for her efforts.

Mrs Barnard, originally from Nelson, was living in Eltham with her husband, daughter and eight sons when World War I broke out in August 1914. Six of her boys were to serve in that war, three of them on Gallipoli. Two of them were to die in the conflict, with the other four suffering illness, shell shock or serious wounds.

In this recorded interview made at the time of her 100th birthday in 1965, Mrs Barnard talks about how she first started making gingernut biscuits prior to the war, for her sons to take tramping, or “pioneering,” as she puts it.

[Listen to the audio on the Sound Archives blog here – http://filmarchive.org.nz.customer.modicagroup.com/blog/nz-history/was-the-real-anzac-biscuit-a-gingernut/]

 Interview with Helena Marion Barnard, 1965.
[Archival audio from Sound Archives Ngā Taonga Kōrero. Any re-use of this audio is a breach of Copyright. To request a copy of the recording, contact SANTK.]



Helen Marion Barnard in April 1965, on her 100th birthday, with her surviving sons, Frank, Jim and Joe. [photo courtesy of Winsome Griffin]

Helen Marion Barnard in April 1965, on her 100th birthday, with her surviving sons, Frank, Jim and Joe. [photo courtesy of Winsome Griffin]

With the advent of World War I, she again baked the long-lasting biscuits and packed them into tins to send to her sons and other soldiers overseas. Her biscuits were unusually small – about the size of a shilling, so the men could fit a handful in their pockets. She says she packed them into cocoa or golden syrup tins lined with newspapers, so the boys would have some reading material as well, while they ate.


Throughout World War I, Mrs Barnard baked hundreds of pounds of the treats which were distributed to New Zealand and other Empire soldiers through the Red Cross. As well as baking, she knitted socks and balaclavas for the troops and raised money to buy a motor-ambulance for the Army.

An article from the local newspaper in 1916, gives some insight into how the women of the Eltham district were raising money for the ambulance, and the sort of foods and other “comforts” they were sending to their boys, including “Mrs H.J. Barnard 15 lbs home-made gingernuts, 4 pairs mittens.”

["Hawera and Normanby Star," 17 August 1916. Reproduced courtesy of Papers Past, National Library of New Zealand.]

[“Hawera and Normanby Star,” 17 August 1916. Reproduced courtesy of Papers Past, National Library of New Zealand.]

After the war, Mrs Barnard purchased a bell for Wellington’s National War Memorial Carillon, which was erected in Buckle Street in 1932.  She had the bell named “Suvla Bay” and dedicated it to her two lost boys: http://www.mch.govt.nz/files/National%20War%20Memorial%20Bells%201932%20%28D-0501286%29.PDF


In recognition of their war-time fundraising and baking efforts Mr and Mrs Barnard were presented with this beautifully illuminated scroll by the citizens of Eltham, when the family moved away from the district.

[Reproduced courtesy of Winsome Griffin]

[Reproduced courtesy of Winsome Griffin]

It features photographs of Mr and Mrs Barnard in the centre, the motor ambulance at the bottom and her six sons who served in WWI around the frame, including the two who were lost: Henry, at top right and Charles, bottom left.


When World War II started in 1939, 80 year old Mrs Barnard was a widow, living in Island Bay in Wellington. With two sons as well as grandchildren now serving overseas, she once again tied on her apron. Food rationing meant it was hard for her to obtain the enormous quantities of butter and sugar needed. However, she managed to get a special permit from the Food Controller for extra rations and went on to make nearly a million gingernuts during the five years of this war, which she once again sent to New Zealand and other Allied troops overseas.

Mrs Barnard ended her baking career having made an astounding four and a half tons of gingernut biscuits in total. She was awarded the British Empire Medal and received thank-you letters from grateful service-men and their mothers, all over the world.  The letters found their way to her often simply addressed to: “Mrs Barnard, The Gingernut Maker, Wellington, New Zealand.”

One which was published in the local newspaper, contained the thanks of a WWII midshipman, Peter S. Burns of the Merchant Navy:  ”… allow me to assure you when I am freezing to death standing on the bridge… in the middle of the Atlantic and whenever my hand goes frantically into my coat pocket to get a gingernut, my thoughts go to the kind person from whom I received them.”

As you hear in the interview, Mrs Barnard was fond of sharing her recipe. Throughout both wars, she built up a correspondence with other soldiers’ mothers, sharing the recipe and samples of her biscuits. In the spirit of this, Sound Archives Ngā Taonga Kōrero cataloguer Camilla Wheeler and client supply archivist Sarah Johnston have been baking Mrs Barnard’s recipe. Camilla converted the large quantities into proportions more manageable for modern bakers (the original recipe calls for 2 ¼ pounds of flour and 2 pounds of golden syrup!) and they have experimented with different methods and baking times.

Sound Archives staff have been taste-testing the results over the past few weeks and are happy to report the 100-year old recipe withstood conversion very well, producing a very tasty, dense, chewy biscuit which keeps well and is perfect for dunking in a cup of tea.

You can read Mrs Barnard’s original recipe and our modern conversions here.


Thank you to Barnard family researchers Winsome Griffin, Christine Clement and Louise Mercuri for permission to reproduce material from their websites:




Some of SANTK’s batches of gingernuts – both Mrs Barnard-sized and regular-sized.