People’s History Museum in five objects

People’s History Museum explores the radical history of democracy, equality and justice. It has a collection of almost 1,500 objects and displays the largest number of trade union and other banners in the world.

With the pandemic forcing museums to close, PHM is asking its visitors to support them through this difficult time. We have highlighted five objects in their collection which represent why it is so important that the museum continues to hold a prominent place in Manchester.

Hayley Cropper’s red anorak, c.1998

Hayley Cropper's red anorak from Coronation Street

What is it?

Hayley Cropper was a character in Coronation Street from 1998 until 2014, played by the Lancashire-born actor Julie Hesmondhalgh. Cropper was the first transgender character in a British soap opera and the first permanent transgender character in serialised drama worldwide. The character helped shift attitudes towards transgender people at the time, but ITV was also criticised for failing to cast a trans person to play the role.

Initially, Hesmondhalgh’s portrayal was viewed by trans advocacy groups as clichéd and ill-informed. Annie Wallace, from the advocacy group Press For Change, was later brought on board as a consultant. She is now a soap actor in her own right and is the first transgender person to play a transgender character in British soap history.

Since then, Hesmondhalgh has been a vocal advocate for the transgender community. She donated the coat to PHM for their 2017 exhibition ‘Never Going Underground: The Fight for LGBT+ Rights’.

Grunwick strike poster, 1976-1978

Grunwick Strike banner displayed in People's History Museum

What is it?

This poster forms part of PHM’s collection remembering the two-year-long strike which took place at the Grunwick Film Processing Laboratories in the London suburb of Willesden.

The majority of the striking workers, led by Jayaben Desai, were immigrant women of South Asian origin and were protesting the degrading working conditions they were subject to by managers. They demanded the right to join a trade union so that they could voice their opposition to discrimination in an organised way.

The strike was significant because it received huge support from the trade unions, at a time when unions were all led by white men and were viewed by some as racist and sexist. By 1977, there were huge marches in support of the Grunwick strikers, and mass arrests were made at the picket line.

Ultimately, the unions withdrew their support and the strike was called off. Yet, it has since been reassessed as a turning point in race-relations within the trade union movement.

Peterloo Sabres, 1819

Peterloo sabres displayed in People's History museum

What are they?

PHM’s collection contains two sabres belonging to a Droylsden man who rode with the Manchester Yeomanry at Peterloo in 1819. Around 60,000 people had gathered in St Peter’s FIeld in Manchester to demand fair parliamentary representation.

The Yeomanry charged into the crowd killing around 15 people and injuring between 400 and 700 others. This violence was later dubbed the Peterloo Massacre. Originally thanked by the government for squashing a perceived insurrection, they were disbanded in 1824 as public horror grew at their violent actions.

The sabres are on permanent display at the museum alongside other artefacts from the Massacre including a special constable’s truncheon and a pike head. The sabres were donated to the museum in 2009 by a descendent of the Droylsden man.

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North Western Homosexual Law Reform Committee pamphlet, 1966

Poster displayed in People's History Museum

What is it?

The pamphlet was created by the North Western branch of the Homosexual Law Reform Society, which was formed in 1964 to fight for the decriminalisation of homosexuality. After the law was changed in 1969, the society became the Campaign for Homosexual Equality which continues to campaign for LGBT+ rights today.

The influential gay rights campaigner Allan Horsfall was the Secretary of the NWHLRC and founded the Campaign for Homosexual Equality. He donated the pamphlet to PHM in 2004.

The pamphlet publicises a meeting as part of a long campaign for the implementation of the Wolfenden Report (1957) which recommended the decriminalisation of homosexual activity between men over the age of 21.

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Timber cladding from the lockout in Leeds, 1899

Timber Cladding displayed in People's History Museum

What is it?

This piece of timber cladding was found in an office in Leeds in 1997 where it had sat since June 1899. It had been put there during the lockout of the National Association of Operative Plasterers by the Master Builders’ Association (MBA).

The MBA were trying to weaken the strength of the union and other unions feared similar measures so were supporting the plasterers.

This was just under ten years after the Great Dock Strike so it was fresh in the worker’s memories how coming together could further their aims.

You can do a 360 tour of People’s History Museum on their website.

The images in this article are used with permission from People’s History Museum and must not be reproduced without their permission.