The People’s History Museum has acquired the banner marking the founding of Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst’s Women’s Social and Political Union in Manchester and now they are going to use it to mark the centenary of the Representation of the People Act in 2018
This scarce old banner commemorating the founding of the Women’s Social and Political Union in Manchester in 1903 was made over 100 years ago by The Manchester-based banner maker Thomas Brown & Sons.
Recognised for their outstanding quality, a number of the pieces created by Thomas Brown are held in the V&A collection, but this example has spent the last ten years in a Leeds charity shop.
It has now been acquired by the People’s History Museum with money from the ACE/V&A Purchase Grant Fund, the HLF and a crowdfunding campaign, which provided the final £5,000 to purchase it from the private collector who had spotted it at auction.
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Created at the height of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) campaign led by Emmeline Pankhurst, the banner, which carries the words Manchester First in the Fight, appeared on the platform alongside Emmeline in some of her most significant speeches. It was there when she spoke at the Heaton Park rally in Manchester (19 July 1908) to a crowd of 50,000 people and was first unveiled in Stevenson Square Manchester on Saturday 20 June 1908, by famed suffragettes Mary Gawthorpe and Rona Robinson.
However, for almost a century the banner has been out of the public eye; its journey to Leeds took place in the 1930s when its then owner, Edna White, moved to the city and following her death it was donated to the charity shop.
Leading experts from across the country have recognised the unique historical importance of the rare banner, which displays the green, white and purple colours of the WSPU campaign: green stood for reform, white for purity and purple for dignity. Dr Chris Burgess, Exhibition Programme Manager at Cambridge University Library and former director of the PHM described it, prior to its acquisition, as “one of the most important works of protest art in the UK, not already in a public institution”.
The People’s History Museum already holds what is considered the world’s largest collection of trade union and political banners and its expertise in this area includes an in-house Textile Conservation Studio dedicated to looking after the museum’s banner collection and working on external commissions.
The Museum also has an important collection of material relating to the Manchester-based Pankhurst family whose name will be forever linked with the women’s Suffrage movement in Britain.
The WSPU was formed in Manchester at the Pankhurst family home at 62 Nelson Street, which today is the Pankhurst Centre and Emmeline and her daughter Christabel became the WSPU’s leaders throughout a turbulent history that saw the movement embrace a policy of “deeds not words”. Direct actions included arson, property damage and other civil disobedience tactics, which resulted in many of its members being imprisoned – some of them went on hunger strike and were force fed. Eventually a series Pankhurst family rifts over the direction of the WSPU saw Emmeline’s daughters Estelle Sylvia and Adela leave the movement.
With the advent of war in 1914 the WSPU suspended its activities to support the war effort and in 1918 the Representation of the People Act gave voting rights to women over 30. Women over 21 were eventually granted equal voting rights with men in 1928, just a few weeks after Emmeline’s death on June 14 1928.
“One of the reasons suffragette artefacts excite such interest is for the way these trailblazers campaigned so creatively. Alongside banners and placards they used everything from their campaign colours to their own attire to carry their message” explained Programme & Events Officer, Helen Antrobus.
“We have a very special suffragette collection at the People’s History Museum made up of pieces from campaign leaflets and photographs to sashes, ceramics and even a board game. We are also delighted to have three banners from Suffragette Atelier, Ilford WSPU and Brighton WSPU. All of these pieces will join the newly acquired banner in the museum’s major centenary exhibition marking the Representation of the People Act of 1918.”
“a truly spectacular piece, beautifully crafted and powerfully representative of its time.”
“Our hope is that Manchester’s suffragette banner will go on public display for the first time as part of this exhibition,” added Antrobus. “This is a truly spectacular piece, beautifully crafted and powerfully representative of its time.
“It is also an important part of the nation’s social history and we hope to find out more about Edna White and her suffragette story as part of this project’s research. The banner’s life began in Manchester and we’d like to continue its life by sharing its story with our visitors who travel across the region, nation and world to join us on a march through time that narrates Britain’s struggle for democracy.”
The Museum’s crowdfunding campaign is still open with a new stretched target of £7,500, which will help them better interpret the banner, display the existing women’s suffrage collections, devise events and engage with new community partners and school groups who will help to co-curate the 2018 exhibition. Visit it and donate at http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/bring-manchesters-suffragette-banner-home
People's History Museum
Manchester, Greater Manchester
There have always been ideas worth fighting for. Join a march through time at the People's History Museum following Britain’s struggle for democracy over two centuries. Meet the revolutionaries, reformers, workers, voters and citizens who fought our battle for the ballot. Gather amongst their magnificent banners and discover how time…