A New Exhibition Revealing the ‘Herstory’ of the Pankhurst Centre Launches Tomorrow

Opening at Manchester Central Library, Rooms of Our Own focuses on the period from the 70s when activists campaigned to save the birthplace of the suffragette movement.

By Emma Davidson | 7 October 2022

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A new exhibition is opening at Manchester Central Library in the Manchester Histories Hub tomorrow (Tuesday 11 October), sharing the findings of a project supported by National Lottery Heritage Fund to reveal the ‘herstory’ of the Pankhurst Centre. 

Rooms of Our Own focuses on the period from the 1970s when activists campaigned to save the birthplace of the suffragette movement, which was under threat of demolition.

Rooms of Our Own has been delivered by the Pankhurst Trust in partnership with Manchester Histories. It provides a small peek into the documents, photographs, stories and voices of the very first publicly accessible Pankhurst Trust archive.

The archive has been researched and compiled by volunteers aged 18-25 as part of the project’s legacy. The team of volunteers also selected some of the items from the archive that will be on display in the exhibition.

The items on display include the original architectural drawings of the Pankhurst Centre and letters between the management committee and the architects. There are the campaign materials for the original Pankhurst Appeal and letters from Members of Parliament, influential people from the world of business and media and concerned individuals who were donating money to the cause in the 1980s.  

Bringing the whole era to life there are photographs of groups of women – seen receiving training on the construction site – doing the work that was needed to transform what had become a derelict building into what became the Pankhurst Centre, and photographs of the Centre’s opening in 1987.

Four early career artists, Alexis Maxwell, Laura Jones, Millie Sheppard and Katie McKeever – known as the Young Creatives – have designed the look of the exhibition, illustrated a timeline and produced a film about the project. 

Is the Fight Over? looks at different aspects of the Pankhurst Centre’s story, including the early fundraising campaigns of the Pankhurst Trust in which 400 people and businesses were each asked to donate £100 in exchange for their name being attached to a paper link in a chain that extended around the Pankhurst Centre.

Oral history interviews have been recorded for the first time of some of the incredible women involved in the setting up, fundraising for and management of the Pankhurst Trust. Despite now being a place recognised internationally for its historic significance, they faced many challenges at the start. Their interviews can be listened to in full in the Archives+ collection at Manchester Central Library and extracts of their interviews feature in the exhibition.

The exhibition also shows a series of short animations made by young people from across Greater Manchester during workshops that took place at the Pankhurst Centre over the summer.

Participants included young people from RECLAIM, a youth leadership and social change organisation that strives to amplify the voices of working class young people. The films include stop motion animation to visualise excerpts of the oral history interviews with the women who helped shape the Pankhurst Centre in the 1980s.  

A reading corner, where you can look through copies of Spare Rib magazine and other community resources collected by staff and volunteers at the Pankhurst Trust from the early 1980s, completes the visitor experience.

Charlie Booth, Project Manager for Rooms of Our Own, said: “Rooms of Our Own, tells a part of the Pankhurst Centre’s story that has never been told before. It now attracts visitors from across the world who want to see the place where the suffragette movement was founded and Emmeline Pankhurst once lived, but few people know that in the 1970s campaigners had to fight for its survival and how this would lead to it merging with Manchester Women’s Aid in 2014.”

Rooms of Our Own is located in the Manchester Histories Hub in the lower ground floor of Manchester Central Library. Entry to the exhibition is free and it is open during the library’s hours (Monday to Thursday 9am to 8pm; Friday and Saturday 9am to 5pm).