Collection Spotlight: The People's History Museum, Manchester

The Tolpuddle Martyrs, c.1960 (oil on board), English School, (20th century) / The People's History Museum, Manchester

 

Bridgeman Images is proud to represent the People's History Museum in Manchester. The PHM is the National Museum of Democracy and its history in Britain - its evolving and constantly changing effect on the populace, individuals and the wider culture of the UK. Artworks, photographs and documents can all be found here.

 

Woman Sat at Machine Controls (oil on paper on board), Cliff Rowe (1904-89) / The People's History Museum, Manchester

 

Held within the museum's walls is the largest collection of political material in Britain. The museum collects items, primarily artworks, banners, and other historic artefacts of national importance from around the last 200 years of British labour and political history. Its primary concern is the documentation of the history of working people, their conditions, and their drives during their fight for equality and change.

 

Liberty Fraternity & Peace, c.1960 (oil on board), English School, (20th century) / The People's History Museum, Manchester

 

While these items are all connected with a singular theme, as their period of creation spans several hundred years there is no common aesthetic style, medium or method consistent among them. After all, these items are linked politically and socially - not through any one historical artistic context or movement. The banners of the museum depict 'history from below', from the eyes of the common people themselves - not from any singular artist on a platform raised from his or her comrades. Many of the banners and flags contain powerful but broad statements, such as 'Industry is the source of prosperity' and 'Lack of fellowship is death' which evoke more than a slight recollection of Russian propaganda from the revolutionary days.

 

Removal Men (oil on board), Cliff Rowe (1904-89) / The People's History Museum, Manchester

 

It is the inescapable link of this artwork to its people that gives character and tone to all the artworks in the collection. All facets of society are shown, with little pleasantry: garbage men emptying a street, a woman sitting at a control panel, a sorrowful grubby handcuffed gang, a man operating a camera, ladies sitting on a fence in an urban environment - all these things are snapshots of people's daily lives each given a spotlight. There are over 165 oil and acrylic paintings held at the museum, and the major part of the works of artist Cliff Rowe, who picks out specific individuals, home comforts and machinery to recreate in angular, cubist style in paint and oil.

 

National Builders' Labourers And Constructional Workers Society Banner, c.1921 (oil on textile), English School, (20th century) / The People's History Museum, Manchester

 

Objects relating to the fights for voting rights make up the core of the collection, but the museum's collection of trade union and political banners is 'the largest and most important of its type in the world'. These are perhaps some of the most unique items in the collection, with their tying of motivational messaging and renaissance-style composition making for a truly unique spectacle. The people in these images are one unit, linked not by creed, wealth or culture, but by a similar desire, want or target with little regard to individuality in group images – though individuals from all walks of life are shown.

 

Three Women Talking (acrylic on board), Cliff Rowe (1904-89) / The People's History Museum, Manchester

 

95,000 photographs accompany original artwork, painted banners and more, with another key area being Labour party history, the history of British labour itself and more generalised political history. Paintings represent approximately a third of the Museum’s holdings.

The PHM website notes that the complete holdings of the Labour Party and Communist Party are also held in the archive, making anyone concerned with the history of these parties - artistic or otherwise – strongly encouraged to visit to the museum. It is our pleasure to provide the People's History Museum with another platform from which to display and distribute their images, making them accessible on a wider scale than was previously possible.

 

 

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