Manchester Suffragette History Walk
Although the Suffragette Movement was concluded and nationalised in London, it started in Manchester. Use this article to follow in the footsteps, one hundred years after they won the vote, of the women who changed history. Thanks to true Manc Local—and future global celebrity activist—Emmeline Pankhurst, the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) was started here. It changed the world. “First in the Fight,” as a banner in the People’s History Museum proudly states, Manchester is the jumping-off point for all struggles for women’s equality. Take an afternoon and discover that history for yourself.
The Pankhurst Centre
Our first stop is also the most important – this is the place where everything happened. Emmeline Pankhurst and her three daughters lived in this large Victorian complex between 1898 and 1907. With the first meeting of the WSPU held in the parlour, it’s not a stretch to say that the Suffragette movement was born in these rooms. Today, the free centre is a great museum detailing the Pankhurst family life and their struggle for parliamentary representation. It’s had significant renovations over the centenary year, so that now, the exhibits are even more detailed about the Pankhurst family, and why she and her two daughters were the ones that changed history.
Note that the Pankhurst Centre is outside of the city centre, near the University of Manchester, so you might want to take a tram into the city centre towards St Peter’s Square. Also, hours are quite limited so check before you go!
Free Trade Hall
You might remember, if you followed our Industrial History walk, that the Free Trade Hall is the site of the 1819 Peterloo massacre after the then-largest protests in British history. Almost a hundred years later, in 1905, an equally radical and long-lasting moment happened here: Christabel Pankhurst (Emmeline’s daughter) and Annie Kenney interrupted a political meeting Winston Churchill was attending.
They were imprisoned after refusing to pay the 5 shilling fine for spitting at the police officer arresting them. Churchill offered to pay their bail but the women, in a game-changing move, refused.
This inspired what became the Suffragette motto: deeds not words.
As you’re leaving, make sure to pay your respects to the Pankhurst statue by local artist Hazel Reeves in the middle of St Peter’s Square. Unveiled in 2018 for the centenary, it’s only the second statue of a woman in the whole city—the first? Queen Victoria, naturally.
The People’s History Museum
Important both for the city’s industrial and Suffragette history, this free museum features an extensive collection of Suffragette memorabilia, with sashes, letters, uniforms and telegrams between Suffragettes. Highlights include a large Suffragette banner recently discovered in a Leeds charity shop.
Manchester Art Gallery
In addition to being a great museum in its own right, the gallery was also the scene of a crucial moment in the struggle. In 1913, three young Suffragettes sabotaged 13 major paintings in the collection to protest Emmeline Pankhurt’s prison sentencing the day before. Many of these paintings, after their careful restoration, are still on display today. The three women were eventually given 1-3 month prison terms.
The Northern Quarter
Wander through the district to see the visual ways women continue to fight for rights, documented through great, politically-charged street art. There’s even a mosaic of Pankhurst senior. The biggest and boldest of the lot is SNIK’s ‘Serenity,’ whose red dressed woman is a tribute to all women who stand against injustice. Follow Little Lever Street a bit further to reach Stevenson Square, a popular meeting place for protesters where a number of key Suffragette demonstrations were held.
It’s a testament to how much Manchester is a city that, from decade to decade, is always radical and forward-thinking. So before you head back to Church Street, take a second to pay tribute to the people that changed the world, and then look at the ways the city is continuing to challenge, to change, to inspire.