People's History Museum appeals to bring rare suffragette banner home


24 August 2017
Banner-low-res-48049.png The incredibly rare Manchester suffragette banner
The People's History Museum has launched a campaign to bring a rare suffragette banner home to Manchester to help mark the centenary in 2018 of women getting the partial right to vote

The People’s History Museum (PHM) is appealing for help in bringing home to Manchester a rare banner that was created more than 100 years ago at the height of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) campaign led by suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst. 


The Manchester-based museum is asking people to donate to a £5,000 crowdfunding campaign to buy the banner, so it can receive expert care from its conservation specialists and become part of its world-renowned collection, taking centre stage in its 2018 campaign marking the centenary of women getting the partial vote.


Having already secured grants from the ACE/V&A Purchase Grant Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Collecting Cultures programme, the PHM is now seeking to fundraise the final £5,000 to bring home Manchester’s unique 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 and the year '1903', the banner spent 10 years in a Leeds charity shop until recently after being donated when its then owner, Edna White, passed away. Edna moved to Leeds in the 1930s, taking the banner with her, and it is hoped her suffragette story will also be explored as part of the project.


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Experts across the country have recognised that the banner is a special and unique historical artefact 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 bought it when the charity shop auctioned it earlier this year and is backing the transfer of the banner to the museum, once funds are secured to purchase it.


Jenny Mabbott, Head of Collections and Engagement at the PHM, said: '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.'

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The PHM holds what is considered the world’s largest collection of trade union and political banners. Its expertise 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 was made by the renowned Thomas Brown & Sons, based in Manchester but working across Britain. Recognised for their outstanding quality, a number of the pieces created by Thomas Brown are held in the V&A collection.


Helen Antrobus, Programme & Events Officer at the PHM, added: '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.'


You can make your pledge to the campaign until 18 September here. 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. The People’s History Museum is open seven days a week; entry is free but there is a suggested donation of £5. More details here.


Do you have suffrage ancestors? The National Archives wants to hear your family history stories and is running a free webinar on tracing suffrage ancestors. Find out how to get involved here.


Image: courtesy of the People's History Museum.

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