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“Arguably one of the most important pieces of Manchester’s history” – Museum reveals the hidden story of iconic banner

An renowned piece of Manchester's history has taken pride of place at the People's History Museum.
Manchester suffragette banner

The Manchester suffragette banner is going now on display for the first time in five years since it was acquired by People’s History Museum (PHM).

The unveiling last year was planned to coincide with the exact date 115 years ago when it was unfurled for the first time in Manchester’s Stevenson Square by the Women’s Social and Political Union with Emmeline Pankhurst looking on.

Even in its time, it stood out amongst the hundreds of suffragette banners created for its beauty.

Now it also stands out because so few survive today, and none connect to the founding of the suffragette movement as significantly as this banner does.

The Manchester suffragette banner is an international treasure and piece that makes Manchester proud of its radical roots.

Women’s suffrage movement

Jenny Mabbott, Head of Collections & Engagement at People’s History Museum

We sat down with Jenny Mabbott, Head of Collections & Engagement at People’s History Museum to discuss the history of the banner, and why you should come and see it.

Speaking to I Love Manchester, Jenny said: “We felt it was significant to display it this year because it marks the midway point between the centenary of some women getting the right to vote in 2018 and the centenary of all women getting the right to vote in 2028.

“Additionally, this year marks 115 years since the banner was first unveiled in Stevenson Square in Manchester, so it’s very timely.”

We asked Jenny about the history of the suffragette banner, and how it ended up in the Museum’s collection.

Suffragette artefacts

She said: “The banner first came to our attention in 2017 when it was up for auction.

“We were outbid by a private dealer, which was devastating.

“However, we were able to establish a relationship with the dealer who bought it, and we launched a crowdfunding campaign and applied for grants to raise the funds. Eventually, we purchased the banner for £20,000.

“It was made by Thomas Brown and Sons, an ecclesiastical banner maker.

“Our research indicates that the banner was first used in 1908, and we found historical records of its appearances at events such as the Hyde Park rally in the same year.”

Manchester suffragette banner

Jenny continued:  “We also discovered that 115 years ago tomorrow, the banner was taken to a rally in Hyde Park, which had an estimated attendance of 50,000 to 500,000 suffragettes and over 700 banners.

“This particular banner has survived over the years and has a remarkable history.

“We even found a photograph of it from 1939 and a newspaper report from 1952, which mentioned its disappearance.

“Eventually, we learned that it had been in the safekeeping of a suffragette named Elizabeth Ellen Chatterton and her descendants. After their move from Manchester to Leeds, the banner was lost during a house clearance.

“In 2017, when we publicised the banner’s acquisition, the relatives of the Chatterton family came forward, having searched numerous charity shops in Leeds in an attempt to find it. It was an emotional reunion for them when the banner was returned to the museum.”

“In addition to displaying the banner, we have created new trails, dressing up activities, and a series of events and tours”

Suffrage exhibitions in Manchester

The exhibition at People’s History Museum is a special tribute to the banner’s historical significance.

Alongside displaying the banner itself, the museum has curated new trails, dressing-up activities, and a series of events and tours.

The “Little Suffragettes Trail” is designed for children, while the “Radical Women Trail” caters to an older audience.

Visitors can also access additional resources through QR codes available at the exhibition too.

Jenny spoke about the importance of the banner to Manchester’s history.

She said: “Personally, I consider this banner to be of great significance to Manchester. It represents the origin of the suffragette movement in Manchester and symbolises the radical women who fought for equality. It’s arguably one of the most important pieces of Manchester’s history.

“It serves as a proud statement for Manchester’s role in bringing the vote to women, and it’s radical history.

“Looking ahead to 2028, the centenary of women gaining equal voting rights, we can use the banner as a catalyst for further progress and improvement in the lives of women in Greater Manchester.”

With International Women’s Day coming up – why don’t you check out our top ways to celebrate Manchester’s incredible women?

The History of the Manchester Suffragette Banner

  • In 1908 Emmeline Pankhurst relocated from Manchester to London, so that her campaigning could be closer to the heart of government. The banner,
    which was created that same year, was Manchester claiming its rightful place as ‘First in the Fight’.
  • If you think the banner has ecclesial qualities to its design, that’s because its makers, Thomas Brown & Son, were also makers of church furnishings.
  • When the banner appeared at the Women’s Sunday rally in Hyde Park in 1908 it was one of around 700 banners on display, of which the Manchester
    suffragette banner is one of the few known to have survived.
  • There has been mystery associated with the banner, which for many years went missing until it was discovered in the filing cabinet of a small charity in Leeds and was put up for auction. Thanks to the support of hundreds of people a crowdfunder enabled the banner to return to Manchester and make its home at People’s History Museum. You can read more here.
  • Since its arrival at PHM the banner has captured the nation’s heart and as a result has been on a number of television programmes including Channel 4’s Britain’s Most Historic Towns with Professor Alice Roberts, BBC Breakfast and SKY History’s Britain’s Greatest Obsessions.
  • On 13 October 2017 the banner was introduced as a special surprise to 2016 US President-Elect Hillary Clinton on BBC’s The One Show, as someone
    inspired by the suffragettes and who channelled their spirit by wearing white outfits during key moments of her election campaign.

To celebrate one of the museum’s most significant treasures going on display, there will also be a new range of suffragette-inspired products being launched in PHM shop on 21 June 2023, many of which are exclusive to the museum and all the sales of which contribute towards its work.

And on 6 July 2023 Helen Pankhurst will appear at the museum in an evening event, Manchester: First in the Fight, exploring Manchester’s suffragette legacy and supporting the future work of the museum. Tickets are £20 and bookable here.

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