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People's History Museum and Left Bank Cafe Bar

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by David Keyworth (subscribe)
I’m a freelance journalist and published poet, based in Manchester. My debut poetry pamphlet is available at
Published September 12th 2012
Not just for politics students
After you've visited Spinningfields' bars such as Australasia, Alchemist and Oast House, you might just stumble into an exhibition about the Temperance Movement.

The core aim of the People's History Museum (PHM) is to tell the history of democracy in Britain in the last 200 years.

Its current main exhibition, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, is called: 'Demon Drink, Temperance and the Working Class?' Joining the movement meant pledging not to drink alcohol.

The exhibition highlights the various attempts to tempt people away from the pub via sporting events, parades, lessons, games, quizzes and children's entertainments. I was amused and slightly troubled to read: "Some children were introduced to drink by adults to keep them quiet."

Some of the black and white archive films give a fascinating glimpse of an aspect of North West life. There is even a 'human-scale temperance-related snakes and ladders game', which may or may not encourage you to sign the pledge.

The PHM staff are friendly but only offer you as much help as you want. The building is in two parts and you may need to ask for guidance.

With 1,500 historic objects exhibits, each visitor will notice something different. Artefacts such as over 100-year-old political pamphlets might only appeal to Politics PHD students. However, some of the colourful banners are very striking, including one carried by The Liverpool Tinplate Workers in 1821.

On my own visit, my attention was captured by a Spitting Image puppet of ex Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, which looked as though it could come to life at any moment. On a graver note, it was unsettling to see a whip and shackles, used on slaves, exhibited in a glass case.

Interactive features include 'people in boxes' – items which reveal details of a person's life. The only disappointment, in terms of the interactive exhibits, was an out of order notice on the Bal-AMi Hi-Fidelity jukebox.

More recent history can be seen in an exhibition about 1950's – 1980's nightclubs in Moss Side and Hulme. Exotic clothes and listening posts help tell the story.

If you feel overloaded by history you can take the weight off at the Left Bank café bar. My visit took place on a rainy afternoon and it was a bit disappointing that food wasn't served after 2pm. The cafe has a relaxed ambience. You could spend a lazy hour watching the river. Although, beneath a grey sky, the Irwell was not much to look at.

Vedett and Peroni are served on draft and some bottled lagers, ciders and wine are also available. Equally, if the 'Demon Drink' exhibition hasn't put you off alcohol, the Spinningfield Bars will still be open to welcome you back with relief and open arms.

Date for your diary: The Manchester Weekender, 11 – 14th October. PHM will be taking part in this 'snapshot of the best of Manchester's art and culture'. The museum will host printing workshops and a new song-cycle. The Temperance Movement will be further explored via an illustrated talk, a city centre trail and a Magic Lantern Show.
Visit this website for more information.

Local groups can display their own work at the museum. For more information contact

'Demon Drink' continues until 24th February 2013.
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Phone: 0161 838 9190
Where: Left Bank, Spinningfields, Manchester M3 3ER
Cost: Free
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