Take the kids to … People’s History Museum, Manchester

A march through Britain’s political and social history may sound heavy-going but clever curation, family trails and interactive exhibits will delight visitors of any age

In a nutshell

In a beautiful russet-hued, steel-clad pumphouse on the banks of the river Irwell, in the regenerated Spinningfields district of the city centre, this free museum charts the history of working people from the Industrial Revolution to the present day. The main exhibition begins by examining the 1819 Peterloo Massacre (the site of which is just down the road). Visitors are led through colour-coded galleries, which celebrate radical thinkers, reformers and activists on the journey to universal suffrage. There is also a focus on ordinary people’s lives: the chance to play a board game in an early 20th-century kitchen, operate a till in a co-operative shop, as well as play a protest song on a 1950s jukebox. Explorer packs and regular children’s events add to the family-friendliness.

Fun fact

To help democratise access to the news, early 19th-century publications such as The Poor Man’s Guardian would ignore the fourpence stamp duty that was levied on all newspapers and pamphlets. Instead, it was sold illegally for just a penny. To evade the authorities, copies would be smuggled around the country in coffins.

Exterior of the People’s History Museum, Manchester

Best thing about it?

Its multi-generational appeal. The chance to rifle through a “life in a box” – containing personal effects telling the story of a historical figure’s life – was welcomed by curious adults and fidgety little hands. There are dressing-up opportunities, looping around a central (if small) play area. It was the family trail, though, that particularly engrossed my six-year-old, spurred on by the promise of a badge. The whole family enjoyed the challenge of trying to match the work rate of 19th-century child labourers when put to the task of making boxes. Turns out, other than dexterous granny, we all would have starved.

What about lunch?

At the Left Bank cafe and bar you can serve yourself with a bowl of soup or stew (£4.50, £6.15), (children’s portions £2.40, £3.25). Alternatively, there are sandwiches and salads (from £3.50) as well as a children’s five-a-day packed lunch (£3.25). Freshly baked scones and the chance to chalk on the tables will make this a popular spot with kids, and parents might like the idea of a craft beer (from £4.20) on the terrace. Otherwise, bring a packed lunch and head to the indoor picnic area.

Collection of political banners on display at the People’s History Museum, Manchester, UK.
As well as exhibits and interactive displays the museum is also home to the biggest collection of political banners in the world Photograph: People’s History Museum

Exit through the gift shop?

Definitely worth a browse. Alongside political books, Tolpuddle Martyr tea-towels and Manchester mugs, you can celebrate the centenary of some woman getting the vote by purchasing a copy of Pank-a-Squith – an early 20th-century board game where players lead their suffragette from her home to the Houses of Parliament (£12.99). Cross-stitch protest banner sets (from £7.50) and bags of rhubarb and custard sweets (£2.50) are also bound to raise a smile.

Value for money

It’s free – donations are welcomed.

Opening hours

Open 10am-5pm daily. Closed 24, 25, 26 December and 1 January.

Getting there

The closest station is Salford Central. Or take the Metrolink to St Peter’s Square and walk for 10 minutes. There are car parks on New Quay Street or Spinningfields/Bridge Street for motorists.


Lots of ideas, interactive activities and friendly, knowledgeable staff. 9/10


Jenny Elliott

The GuardianTramp

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