The People's History Museum
The People's History Museum Manchester Reviews
The People's History Museum Aug 14, 2010
The People’s History Museum is a wonderful museum about the rise of the working class as a political force. I know that doesn’t necessarily sound like a light hearted day of fun, but actually, it’s fantastic.
The museum is best toured from the first floor up to the second floor, as that is roughly chronological. The first floor covers the struggle for working class votes; even men didn’t have the vote until surprisingly late in history. Appropriately, I visited near the anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre. In 1819, the authorities in Manchester ordered a cavalry charge against an unarmed crowd of protestors who wanted some rights and representation. Of course, if you charge a crowd of 60,000-80,000 civilians, people get hurt; the first to die was a two year old boy knocked from his mother’s arms by a soldier. Initially, the crowd were blamed, but the middle classes in London were shocked enough to start to support some limited rights for working class people. The museum then details the rise of the “radicals” who fought for rights, including Tom Paine who was involved in both the French and the American Revolutions and Mary Wollstonecraft, who started the fight for women’s votes. The next section starts to detail the rise of the Trade Union Movement and socialism, with a brief history of British Communism (which never really took off, because there was a less radical Labour Party introducing reforms that didn’t rely on bloody revolution or giving up on individual ownership of things completely!
Upstairs, the museum moves into the post-war era, and includes some of the Spitting Image puppets used to Lampoon both the Labour party and the Conservatives. For those of you less familiar with British Politics, Labour, historically, was left of centre and fought for benefits, a welfare state, and social equality. Historically, the Conservatives (or Tories) are the party of the rich, and want to maintain the social status quo and private schools. These days, their policies are almost indistinguishable except that the Tories want to destroy the welfare state now, and the Labour Party want to wait a year or two. So one of the most interesting things about the museum was remembering what Labour used to stand for. There were old Tory posters from the early 1980s, for example, criticising Labour for supporting Gay rights and immigration. On the lighter side, there is a wonderful display of marching banners from the trade unions, which are pretty impressive works of art in their own right.
I’m afraid this is not the most balanced museum in the world, looking at politics and history from a distinctly left wing perspective. I wouldn’t necessarily bring, oh, I don’t know, a Republican American friend here (yes, I can imagine having one!). They might burst something. But as a look at the rise of rights we now take for granted, like the vote, and a chance to get all angry about the Peterloo Massacre and the Miner’s Strike, it’s fantastic.
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