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PHM launches campaign to bring Manchester’s suffragette banner home

PHM launches campaign to bring Manchester’s suffragette banner home

23 August 2017

Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) Mancheser banner, 1903The People’s History Museum (PHM) is calling on supporters to help it bring home to Manchester a significant and rare suffragette banner that was created over 100 years ago at the height of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) campaign led by Emmeline Pankhurst.  The museum is asking people to donate to a crowd-funding campaign that if successful will result in the banner receiving expert care from our conservation specialists and becoming part of PHM’s world-renowned collection, taking centre stage in the 2018 campaign marking the centenary of women getting the partial vote.

PHM has already secured grants from the Arts Council England/V&A Purchase Grant Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Collecting Cultures programme.  It is now seeking to raise the final £5,000 to bring home Manchester’s suffragette banner.

Synonymous with the mass demonstrations organised by WSPU in the early 20th century, suffragette banners are one of the iconic aspects of these trailblazing campaigners, but today are very rare.  Leading with the words ‘First in the Fight’ under the headline of ‘Manchester’ and with Emmeline Pankhurst’s name picked out, the banner has spent the last ten years in a Leeds charity shop.  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 that this is a special and unique historical piece and support PHM’s campaign to bring it back to Manchester and into the museum.  The banner is currently owned by a private collector, who purchased it when the charity shop auctioned it earlier this year.  Also supportive of PHM’s vision, this collector is backing the transfer of the banner to the museum once the funds are secured to purchase it.

Jenny Mabbott, Head of Collections & Engagement at PHM, says, ‘As the museum of ideas worth fighting for, the story of democracy is at our very core and the story of the suffragettes in whose city we are based is one that forms an important part of our collection.  As we look to 2018, with a programme in place that focuses upon exploring the historical and contemporary aspects of the 1918 Representation of the People Act that gave all men and some women the right to vote, there could be no better time and no better place for this banner to be preserved and seen by visitors.  So we are appealing to people to join and support us in our quest to bring home Manchester’s suffragette banner.’

The museum holds what is considered the world’s largest collection of trade union and political banners.  Its expertise in this area includes its own in-house Textile Conservation Studio, which is dedicated to looking after the museum’s banner collection and working on external commissions.  The Manchester suffragette banner is the work of renowned maker Thomas Brown & Sons, based in Manchester but working across Britain.  Recognised for their outstanding quality, a number of the designs created by Thomas Brown are held in the V&A collection.

Helen Antrobus, Programme & Events Officer at PHM, says, ‘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 WPSU and Brighton WSPU.  All of these pieces will sit alongside a very contemporary interpretation of what representation means to women in our exhibition for 2018.  Our hope is that Manchester’s suffragette banner will go on public display for the first time as part of this exhibition.’

‘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 campaign will ensure that the banner not only becomes a part of the People’s History Museum collection, but that plans are in place for its continued care and conservation by the museum’s specialist team.

Visit our Crowdfunder page below to make your pledge!

  • At all levels there is the opportunity for supporters to get involved with PHM’s plans for 2018 and find out more about the museum: