We were always big fans of Heritage Open Weekend in September – in the days before Son, Husband and I often went to London for the weekend and got to explore some incredible places open to the public only at this time. Amongst them we got to mooch around Westminster Hall, the office of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Bank of England and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. A sad sign of the times, it is unlikely nowadays you could just queue up on a Saturday afternoon and spend an hour or so wandering around these places.
Heritage Weekend in Manchester this year had a limited list of places to visit but one that stood out to me was the Pankhurst Centre. Having just watched the movie Suffragette it was good timing.
The centre was open on a Friday specially for Heritage Weekend. Staffed by volunteers normally it is only open a couple of Sundays each month and a few hours on Thursdays. Entrance is free but donations are welcome.
This fairly modest house – 62 Nelson Street in Manchester was the birthplace of the Suffragette Movement. Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters lived here and the very first meeting of the Women’s Social and Political Union was held in the parlour in 1903. The family moved to London afterwards to be at the centre of the campaign for women’s rights.
We kind of struggled to find the house – slap bang in the middle of the Manchester Royal Infirmary buildings and right next to a multi-storey car park.
Thankfully women’s groups and conservationists were up in arms about this, campaigned heavily against the application and managed to save the house. Now it is Grade II listed and doubles up as a little museum and women’s centre.
The staff were lovely, very engaging and knowledgeable, we chatted for a while before entering the museum proper.
There are only three rooms to explore, it is a bit of a work in progress but totally fascinating. Fund raising continues and they hope to extend the exhibition and eventually open more rooms. Not a contemporary museum with interactive bells and whistles but plenty to read and soak up. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
The first room had a film playing on loop about the Suffragettes, their cause and history. There was lots of information too on the various members of the Pankhurst family, their lives in Manchester and what became of them afterwards.
The parlour has Edwardian style furnishings and some of the Pankhurst belongings on display.
We saw Christabel’s piano and Sylvia’s typewriter.
The purple and green sashes draped over the chair and the handstitched cushions help you imagine that first meeting taking place here all those years ago.
The staff told us the museum struggles for funding, they have many treasures in storage including paintings which cannot currently be displayed. The building is also used as a women’s centre and is not secure enough to obtain insurance for these items. There are plans to develop the museum more in time for the centenary celebrations in 2018 – I hope they manage this.
Husband and I both thoroughly enjoyed looking around, browsed in the little gift shop at the end and bought a few souvenirs including a nifty Votes For Women apron. It fits him rather nicely….