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Main Gallery One

Main Gallery One

There have always been ideas worth fighting for. Join a march through time following Britain’s struggle for democracy over two centuries

9 January 2016 — 8 January 2017

Main Gallery One

The main story of the museum is told in two purpose built galleries located on the first and second floor.  The galleries have been divided into seven themes and roughly follow a chronological order over the last 200 years.  The story starts with the Peterloo Massacre of 1819 and ends in the present day.

Every year the majority of the banners on display in the galleries are changed.  For one week each gallery is closed to allow for the changeover to take place.  Come and visit to see a new selection of banners – some on public display for the first time.


Revolution section, Main Gallery One @ People's History MuseumThe first theme of Main Gallery One is Revolution.

Two hundred years ago Manchester was at the centre of Britain’s Industrial Revolution.  Based on the cotton textile industry, the town became the world’s first industrial city.

Despite high wages in good times, workers endured appalling living and environmental conditions.  Little could be done to improve these; there was no political structure and Manchester, for example, had no MP.

On 16 August 1819 a reform meeting held on St Peter’s Field in Manchester attracted over 60,000 mill workers and their families.

Magistrates sent in soldiers to arrest the leaders.  There were 18 dead and over 400 seriously injured.

The event became known as the Peterloo Massacre and led to the first reform of Parliament in 1832.

ReformersReformers section, Main Gallery One @ People's History Museum

This section is all about the birth of democratic ideas.  This includes the Levellers, the Chartists and individuals such as John Wilkes, Tom Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft, William Cobbett, Francis Burdett and the Cato Street Conspirators.

The Great Reform Act was passed in 1832 giving the vote to some.

Two of the oldest banners in our collection are on display in this section – the Liverpool Tinplate Workers’ banner from 1821 (the oldest trade union banner in the world) and the White Lion Lodge banner from about 1830 (the world’s oldest surviving miners’ banner).

Manchester Manufacturers developed the Anti Corn Law League whose ideology was free trade and liberalism.  They created the Manchester Guardian, and the Free Trade Hall in Manchester marks the celebration of the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846.  Their campaign led directly to the creation of the Liberal Party.


Workers section, Main Gallery One @ People's History MuseumThis section covers secret societies (which existed before trade unions were legal and were often large, national organisations).

Displays include information on the Tolpuddle Martyrs; six workers arrested and convicted for attempting to form a union in 1834.  They were all pardoned in 1836 following a public outcry.

We then follow the growth of the trade union movement and the differences between unions for skilled and unskilled workers.  Look at some workers who found it hard to join a union, for example home workers.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) held their first meeting in Manchester in 1868.  The building where this first meeting took place is 103 Princess Street, where the museum’s public galleries were based in the early 1990s (before moving to the present location), with spaces there now used as our collections stores.

Strikes covered in the section include the 1888 strike at the Bryant & May match factory in London and the Dock Strike of 1889.

VotersVoters section, Main Gallery One @ People's History Museum

It is probably no surprise that this section covers all the main political parties and political movements – from socialism to fascism.

Both Engels and Marx founded their joint theories on examples from Manchester – the world’s first industrial city.

Subjects covered include early socialism (plus the Clarion movement), the Conservative and Liberal Parties, the birth of the Labour Party, Communist Party of Great Britain, including the Spanish Civil War, fascism and post war politics including the General Strike.

Another aspect of this section is about how women had to fight for the right to vote on the same terms as men.  The section includes the formation of the Manchester Suffrage Society in 1867 and the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) founded in Manchester by Emmeline Pankhurst and her sisters in 1903.

Voters is the final section in Main Gallery One.  The story ends in 1945 at the end of World War II.  The story continues in Main Gallery Two.

Visitor Experience

  • The colours: Many of the historic items in the museum used colour to represent ideas and the gallery colours are inspired by this; red for courage and revolution, green for reform, blue for loyalty, purple for dignity, pink for peace, white for purity and gold for ambition.  Each theme in the galleries has a different, and appropriate, background colour.
  • The light: The light levels in both galleries are set low to protect the delicate textiles and papers on display.
  • Interactives: Throughout the museum galleries there are a range of interactives to help bring the story to life.  These include ‘life in a box’; boxes containing items related to a person’s life that you can look at, read and interact with.  They are based on real historical people.  There are timelines located at various points throughout the galleries; click onto these to find out what other big events were happening in the country at the time.  Follow our families throughout the last 200 years and see how their lives have changed.  Find out what kind of house they lived in, where they worked, how much leisure time they had and how they spent this time.  The galleries have curved corners; we’ve made the most of these by using them as speakers’ corners.  Listen to some of the most impressive speeches made in recent times.
  • Objects: Almost 1,500 historic objects are on display in the main galleries; ranging from large iconic objects such as banners and posters to smaller items such as minutes from meetings, ceramics and badges.
  • Interpretation: The interpretation panels in the museum are written in a different style to some other museums and galleries.  This way of writing information is called Ekarv and it is designed to make providing information to visitors as easy and accessible as possible.  For visitors without much time there are introduction panels that give an initial idea of what the section they relate to is about.

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