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The Longest Act celebrates its 200th birthday at People’s History Museum

At 348 metres long and being made from 757 pieces of parchment (animal skin), in a world that is increasingly digital the Longest Act holds even more fascination. This piece of legislation, the 1821 Land Tax Commissioners’ Act, is physically the longest law UK Parliament has passed and to mark its 200th birthday it will be on display at People’s History Museum (PHM) in Manchester (until 5 December 2021) thanks to a UK Parliamentary Archives loan.

Put into context this unique object spans more than the length of two football fields or almost a quarter of a mile, which puts it into a class of its own. Its length was necessary to capture the names of the 65,000 Commissioners who would collect the money taxed on land, property and personal property, a practice that was in operation until 1963. These men (no women) included local gentry, doctors, lawyers, merchants and shopkeepers who took on this role for Parliament and yet the majority did not have the right to vote themselves.

Jenny Mabbott, Head of Collections & Engagement for People’s History Museum, says, “It feels very special for a treasure like the Longest Act to be displayed at the national museum of democracy the first time it has been exhibited outside of Parliament, and for this to be on its 200th birthday. It reminds us what a detailed process the work and undertakings of Parliament are and that how differently this work is recorded in the modern world. It’s a wonderful artefact and we are thrilled that visitors to People’s History Museum will be able to see it.”

Adrian Brown, Director of the Parliamentary Archives, says, “We are delighted to be loaning the Longest Act to People’s History Museum. The Parliamentary Archives is committed to making our collections as accessible as possible to a wide range of audiences. This spotlight loan, the first we have undertaken, is very important to us in advancing this goal, and we are very grateful to People’s History Museum for facilitating it.”

Also celebrating its 200th birthday this year and on display at the museum is the Tin Plate Workers Society banner, and its claim to fame is that it is the oldest surviving trade union banner in the world. It was created for the Society by flag maker William Dixon, by painting oil on linen, and was paraded in Liverpool to commemorate the coronation of George IV in 1821. It carries a message that was intended to assert the union’s patriotism at a time when the Society, whose members handmade many household items, encountered government and employer repression. There is lots of symbolism to pick out, some of which also features as part of the Family Friendly I Spy activity trail.

The Tin Plate Workers Society banner is on permanent display at People’s History Museum, where it joins a display of banners that changes at the beginning of each year to enable visitors to see as much as possible of a collection that includes the largest number of political and trade union banners in the world.

People’s History Museum’s opening hours are Wednesday to Sunday, from 10.00am to 4.00pm; the Longest Act (until 5 December 2021) and Tin Plate Workers Society banner are both on display in Main Gallery One. The museum and its exhibitions are free to visit with a suggested donation of £5.