Join a march through time with People’s History Museum’s 2022 Banner Exhibition
In 2022 it won’t just be a visit to People’s History Museum’s (PHM) galleries that will take you on a march through the history of rights and equality, but it’s Banner Exhibition for the year, which is also dedicated to this quest. Banners that have appeared as part of groundbreaking moments of protest, banners created to remember those that marched before them and the role of banners in contemporary culture all make up a compelling exhibition that will open to the public on Saturday 22 January 2022 (until Sunday 8 January 2023).
Banners that have witnessed key moments of protest have perhaps the most powerful presence. The Walthamstow and Chingford Solidarity Committee banner was part of a 1930s movement when a series of hunger marches took place, with the National Hunger March of 1932 at its core. People were protesting against measures such as a 10% reduction in employment benefit and drastic changes to the rules governing unemployment insurance. In the 1980s the campaign against nuclear disarmament reached its pinnacle, always a very visual campaign the European Nuclear Disarmament banner is typical of the many that appeared at anti-nuclear demonstrations at this time. A protest closer to home is the Withington Against the Poll Tax banner, which was made in 1990, the year that the Community Charge was introduced by Margaret Thatcher’s government. It was carried to represent the people of Manchester, 70% of whom refused to pay the poll tax, at a demonstration on 31 March 1990 attended by 70,000 people in Trafalgar Square, London.
The history and origins of trade unions is one of the strands that weaves its way through the exhibition, with PHM showing a very small part of what makes up the largest collection in the world. One of the most prevailing stories is that of the Tolpuddle Martyrs; a group of agricultural labourers who were tried and then transported to Australia in 1834 for trying to form a trade union. Appearing in Main Gallery One, where these events are further explored, is a banner that a century later recognised the efforts of these individuals, known as the 1934 Trades Union Congress Dorsetshire Labourers banner. Almost two centuries later and efforts to remember these reformers are ongoing, with annual celebrations having been held for the Tolpuddle Martyrs since the 1930s.
Many of the banners were created to represent the people behind them and the causes they stood for. In the case of the Suffrage Atelier banner of 1910, this represents an artist collective that campaigned for women’s rights and had close links to the Women’s Social and Political Union founded by Emmeline Pankhurst. The Suffrage Atelier made many of the surviving women’s suffrage banners, so to see a piece representing the organisation itself is especially poignant.