Iconic Suffragette banner to be displayed at the People’s History Museum

A treasured piece of Manchester’s history is set to make a comeback at the People’s History Museum (PHM) this June.

The Manchester Women’s Social and Political Union banner, which was unfurled in Stevenson Square over a century ago, will go on public display at the museum as part of its celebration of Women’s History Month.

The banner symbolises Manchester’s prominent role, specifically that of Emmeline Pankhurst, in the fight for Votes for Women.

On June 1908, the banner was first unfurled in Manchester’s Stevenson Square alongside the suffragette leader, and 115 years later, on 21 June 2023, it will go on display again in its home city.

The banner, affectionately known as the Manchester suffragette banner, features colours that are almost as vibrant as when it first appeared.

Its stitching is as intricate and beautiful as when it was made in the workshop of Thomas Brown and Sons, emblazoned with the inspiring words ‘First in the Fight’.

The banner was created to remind people that the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) had started in Manchester in 1903, at what is now known as the Pankhurst Centre, before moving its headquarters to London.

Jenny Mabbott, Head of Collections & Engagement at People’s History Museum, says, “Because the Manchester suffragette banner’s 115th birthday falls in June, and 2023 is also the mid-point between 2018, when it helped us to mark the centenary of the first women getting the vote, and 2028 when it will help us to mark the centenary of all women getting the vote, it seemed like the perfect time to put it on display. It will be accompanied by a public programme of events, talks and Family Friendly activities that will explore its story and significance.

“With all our objects there are always conservation considerations to be weighed up, which is one of the factors behind why we carry out an annual rotation of the banners on public display.

“One of the reasons we asked people to support us in a crowdfunder campaign to bring the banner to PHM is because we strongly believe that it couldn’t get better care anywhere in the world than from our dedicated Conservation Team.”

Helen Pankhurst, great-granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst in front of the banner

On 20 June 1908, the banner was revealed to a packed Stevenson Square where crowds had assembled to see Emmeline Pankhurst speak.

The next day it appeared at the Women’s Sunday rally in Hyde Park, London, which was attended by around 500,000 people from across the country. Speakers at the event included Emmeline Pankhurst, Annie Kenney, Christabel Pankhurst, and Adela Pankhurst.

In the posters advertising the event, it was declared that there would be seven processions with 700 banners on display, of which the Manchester suffragette banner is one of the few known to have survived.

In 19 July 1908, it made another appearance at a rally in Manchester’s Heaton Park, where Emmeline Pankhurst was famously photographed stopping a tram.

The banner’s story has taken some detective work by the team at the People’s History Museum, who acquired the banner in 2017 with the support of a crowdfunding campaign when it unexpectedly came up for auction.

Suffragette, embroiderer, and factory worker Elizabeth Ellen Chatterton, who was born in Salford in 1857, looked after the banner for many years.

From memories passed down through her family, it is believed that Elizabeth Ellen worked on the embroidery of the banner and that she may have been employed at Thomas Brown and Sons. In 2003/4, it was thought that the banner vanished following a house clearance.

However, it was in the safekeeping of a small charity called HOPE (Halton Moor and Osmandthorpe Project for the Elders), where it lay in a filing cabinet before its next stop: the auction room.

Since arriving at the People’s History Museum, the Women’s Social and Political Union banner has become a firm favourite with both visitors and the museum team. In 2018, it was part of PHM’s headline exhibition Represent! Voices 100 Years On, and there is much excitement building ahead of its next appearance.


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