The People’s History Museum has recently re-opened in its newly refurbished premises in Spinningfields, which seems in some ways to be Manchester’s answer to Docklands. The area has a number of huge, and hugely impressive buildings, but also has a slightly unfinished feel to it and currently seems somewhat underpopulated. This is possibly because the economic downturn put a brake on the sale of all the yuppie apartments that remain empty throughout this area. You’re right on the Salford border here, close to the Granada TV studios at Quay Street and seemingly a long way from the hustle and bustle of Market Street and Albert Square on the other side of the Irwell. I’m sure that Spinningfields will fill up eventually but for now it remains one of Alexei Sayle’s “William Morris Worker’s Paradises, with people discussing Chekhov on the windswept concrete piazzas…”
All of which bring us to the Museum itself, which turns out to be a gem; one of the best I have ever visited.
The original artist’s impression of the new Museum with the Edwardian Pumphouse to the left and the new wing to the right. Now, done, dusted and open – with free admission and a terrific collection of exhibits….
The Museum takes as its starting point the Peterloo Massacre of 1819, which happened at St Peter’s Fields, just a few minutes away, close to where Manchester’s gothic Town Hall now stands. The underlying themes of the Museum are to present British social history from a non-conformist, socialist standpoint with the focus on the way that ordinary people have worked to improve their lot via protest of various kinds and by banding together into various collective organisations – not just Unions, but also ‘friendly’ societies (like the Co-Op). The displays are fascinating and effective, the approach is interactive and engaging.
One of the many colourful banners on display at the PHM
For someone like myself, raised and schooled on a history filled with Kings & Queens and tales of Empire and military conquest, this is a Museum that switches the focus to an equally worthwhile story; that of the ordinary men and women of this country whose toil and ongoing struggles to escape the yoke of the Ruling Elite define the country we have become and are becoming.
The PHM is a really brave attempt to redefine our history for the 21st Century and succeeds on many levels. The more children who are taken there and weaned off the traditional Monarchist/Militarist presentation of our history, the better. I recommend it unhesitatingly and urge anyone who reads this to go. Admission is free, there’s a good coffee shop and it’s open every day from 1000-1700. Further information here : http://www.phm.org.uk/