WCML and the People's History Museum/Labour History Archive were successful as a partnership in getting a ‘Collecting Cultures’ grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). This has given us five years of funding, from October 2014, for new acquisitions (and accompanying audience engagement work). Voting for Change - 150 years of radical movements, 1819 to 1969 builds upon the complementary strengths of both collections to acquire material related to movements and campaigns for the franchise, from the build-up to the Peterloo protest in 1819 to the lowering of the voting age in 1969.
Voting for Change aims to fill specific gaps within the collections of both organisations and to strengthen elements of collections development through targeted acquisitions. The acquisitions, alongside activities and events that highlight and contextualise them, sit inside existing collection development plans for both partners. The two organisations are focusing on campaigns to broaden the right to vote from the time of Peterloo to the Reform Acts of 1832, 1867, 1872, 1884, 1918 and 1928 and on up to the Representation of the People Act 1969, which lowered the voting age to 18.
Both organisations are also working jointly to make the most of the complementarity of our collections exploring the development of democracy and political ideas. We will develop thematic links between the two collections, involving visitors in finding new ways to highlight those links.
WCML collection areas to develop:
The Library has particularly strong holdings in respect of early radical history, leading up to the first Reform Act and Chartism, and in the development of the modern labour movement from the late nineteenth century. Proud as the Library is of these strengths, HLF-funded cataloguing work has highlighted gaps in the collections relating to the suffrage movement, parliamentary reforms etc which the project is allowing it to tackle.
Autumn 2017 update
The Library blog has highlighted various items purchased with project money:
- 1830s reports from the Birmingham Political Union, which was one of the principal organisations involved in the agitation for the reform of Parliament which culminated in the Representation of the People Act 1832, known as the first Reform Act or Great Reform Act;
- a caricature of George Odger, a significant labour leader and campaigner on suffrage issues;
- a broadside, clearly of a liberal reforming bent, chronicling the 1835 General Election in Manchester;
- an 1866 pamphlet in which the author is very exercised by the number of working class men who will potentially get the vote if a proposed Reform Bill goes through...;
- Reverend Charles Kingsley, Women and politics, a pamphlet from 1869 that is not as progressive as it first seems;
- Charles Anthony, The social and political dependence of women, one of the earliest British tracts supporting the concept of women’s right to vote;
- a pamphlet, The gulf of ruin, from 1795 - a little before the official start of our project, but it was too good an item to miss out on...;
- a small but seminal booklet by Barbara Leigh Smith, influential in the passing of an 1870 Act of Parliament which gave women the right to earn their own money and made them eligible to inherit rather than it going to their husbands;
- items relating to the Men's League for Opposing Woman Suffrage, which was founded in January 1909;
- an artistic autograph album with a Suffragette twist;
- a commemorative serviette from 1910 produced as a souvenir of a huge Votes for Women demonstration held in London in June that year.
Our Object of the Month for December 2016 was a fascinating item bought with project money - a single sheet showing the swearing in of a special constable in the run-up to the big Chartist gathering on Kennington Common in London in 1848, as the authorities got jittery about the potential for major civil unrest.
And August 2017's Object of the Month was a very pretty stamp from the International Woman Suffrage Congress, Budapest 1913, also bought with project money.
We also put on display in 2015 another purchase, a rare and most unusual archive of election material - from 1835. There is a pamphlet available describing this archive - let us know if you'd like one.
Associated 'Voting for Change' project events have included a Democracy Drop In reading day and a day researching and editing Wikipedia entries. Sign up to our newsletter (see panel on right) to keep abreast of more.