Textile Tourists in Manchester – Part 1

I love going to stay with my older brothers family in Yorkshire, and know Leeds and Halifax pretty well by now (well the city centres anyway).  I hadn’t been to over the Lancashire border to Manchester for a good five or six years, so this summer decided to have a day out there with my daughter and eldest niece.  Always on the trail for some textile eye candy I planned a day at The People’s History Museum, followed by Museum of Science and Industry. As lots of photos were taken, I have split the day over two posts… We started the day at the People’s History Museum, and didn’t know what to expect.  “Where are we going” the kids asked, “well, to a museum about democracy” I replied.  Not really the answer the two bright and inquisitive, but My Little Pony and iPod obsessed girls would probably want. The museum was originally the National Museum of Labour History, but re-opened in 2010 as The People’s History Museum.  Although the museum has its roots going back to the 1960s when a small collection of Trade Union, Labour and Co-operative society artefacts were collected by a society, its website notes it has no political affiliation.  The collection is based around the history of democracy, the struggle for equality, and looks at how ordinary people lived their lives.  My previous sentence makes it sound very serious, and while the subject matter is (the first exhibit is about the Peterloo Massacre), the displays are really interesting and thought provoking.  It is also really family friendly.  The trail my girls did (aged 8 and 9) captivated them, so while they looked for objects and information, I could look round with leisure.  This is often a rare thing when taking the kids out.  As well as the trail, there are lots of things they can touch, wear, and do.  For example, they could time how long it takes them to make up match boxes, then compare their time to whether they would be able to make enough to eat and house their family (unfortunately the results were not good!). The main reason I wanted to visit was the museums collection of banners.  It holds the largest collection of trade union and political banners in the world, and as well as displaying them, restores them. The banners are dotted about the exhibits, then on the upper floor there is a room where they are hanging. Here are some photos I took, excuse the quality as I did not use a flash… On the top floor there is a gallery with the banners hanging at full height – and they are huge!  A lot of the ones hanging when we visited are from the 19th century, painted using oils, and made by commercial banner makers/sign writers. Behind these is a long room, with windows so you can see inside at what work is being done.  This is where the museums banners, as well as textile items for other museums and individuals are worked on by conservationists.

The Peoples History Museum - Banners
The Peoples History Museum – Banners

A close up of one of the painted banners.   This one is from the 1920s, oil paints on a jacquard silk fabric. P1010745

I, of course, was particularly interested in the stitched banners.  This is a Suffrage Atelier banner, from about 1910.  Silk and gold embroidery are among the techniques/materials used.


This banner is from The Primrose League, a conservative grass routes organisation.  This banner is undated, but the organisation started in 1883.


I think this was my favourite banner.  The Central Labour College was founded by a group of students and the dismissed dean of Ruskin College, Oxford in 1909.  Its aim was to promote education for the working classes and was funded by trade unions.  Aneurin Bevan was one graduate of the college.  The banner is made from sateens and silks on hessian, and one of the embroiderers was the author Rebecca West

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Here is a close up… I really like the effect of the stitching on hessian.


This book made me chuckle – what a dilemma to have…


A photo of this banner was taken for my husband.  It is about the Professional Footballers Association, and was painted by John Midgely in 1991. The PFA was established in 1907, and the information about it notes that the footballers wage cap was abolished in 1961.  Something which sparks a lively debate amongst football fans. P1010775

I also just had to take a photo of these.  Football boots, once worn by Sir Stanley Matthews.  I would love to see a premier league match played where the players had to wear these!


Downstairs there was a WWl exhibition, which in the ethos of the museum looked at the war from the perspective of the working classes.  There is also a space dedicated to community exhibitions; the museum is very much active in the field it documents. The banners change yearly, so I will definitely go back next time I am in Manchester.  It is free to get in, however I read this opinion piece in The Guardian earlier this week, which says that their funding is under risk.  This would be such a shame as there is really nowhere quite like it.

So, the important bits for the girls; the shop and cafe were very good.  They walked out wearing badges, and my Votes For Women postcard is up at work.  Our next venue, the MOSI tied in really well with The Peoples History Museum, as the kids started to see what democracy has led to – education, holidays and not being tied to ruddy great big mill machines at the age of 7…