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Celebrating a tradition of change-making and radical activity

PETE LAZENBY takes a look at a stunning banner exhibition that’s not to be missed

A REMARKABLE exhibition displaying more than 200 banners of radical, progressive and protest movements has opened in Lancashire.

The Banner Culture exhibition covers more than a century of dissent, and 230 banners have been hung in the huge former weaving shed of disused Brierfield textile mill in Pendle.

The banners’ subjects range from the women’s suffrage movement of a century ago, through historical campaigns such as the Anti-Apartheid Movement and Free Nelson Mandela campaign, the Greenham Common Women, the Grunwick strike of 1976 involving Asian women led by Jayaben Desai, the miners’ strike of 1984-5, the Sheffield Hillsborough football stadium disaster of 1989, through to current campaigns for equality, Extinction Rebellion and against US President Donald Trump and fracking.

The exhibition has been organised by charity Mid-Pennine Arts in co-operation with British Textile Biennial, and crowdfunded with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Nik Hunt has been Mid-Pennine Arts manager for 25 years. Organisation of the exhibition began in November last year.

“We develop community-based projects, and we try to create projects that have a lasting impact. We work across a wide spectrum of art forms,” he said.

“Most of our projects are reliant on a particular place, and the exhibition is part of our Pennine Radicals project.”

He said that Pendle and its surrounding area — known for its fabled Pendle witches and magnificent Pendle Hill — has a long tradition of radicalism.

“We are exploring the work of change-making individuals going back hundreds of years: George Fox and his founding of the Quakers after climbing Pendle Hill 300 years ago, the founding of the Independent Labour Party, and Clarion House as surviving evidence of the Clarion movement.”

Clarion House is the last surviving clubhouse of the Clarion socialist movement which existed from the late 1800s to the 1930s, publishing the Clarion newspaper and Clarion choirs, cycling, walking and campaigning groups.

Sitting on the lower slopes of Pendle Hill, the clubhouse has been restored with the help of West Yorkshire Morning Star supporters and is a regular venue for political events.

“One of our inspirations was the suffragist Selina Cooper from Pendle,” said Hunt. “She was a mill girl, a poor girl whose mother had been widowed. They had to work. They couldn’t be swanning off to Ascot to throw themselves under a race horse.

“She came to prominence through force of will and ended up sitting alongside Millicent Fawcett at suffrage meetings, and going down to Downing Street when Asquith was prime minister. And if you see photos of their activities there are banners in the background.

“In this tradition of change-making and radical activity there is a strong tradition of banner-making to get your message across.”

Contributors to the exhibition include some of Britain’s best-known banner-makers. They include Ed Hall, whose sewn textile creations for trade union and campaign groups now number in the hundreds.

The banner of Greater Manchester Morning Star Readers’ and Supporters’ Group, created by Joan Heath and unveiled in August by Morning Star ambassador and actor Maxine Peake, is on display. Its theme is the Peterloo Massacre of 1819.

“It’s in good company,” said one of the exhibition’s organisers.

Other contributors include Durham Banner Makers, who keep alive the mining community traditions of the Durham coalfield, witnessed every July at the Durham Miners’ Gala.

Also on display is the work of Thalia Campbell, who captured on banners the unbreakable resolve of the Greenham Common women, and of Peter Carney, who captured the heartbreak of the Hillsborough football stadium disaster in which 96 Liverpool football fans died.

The exhibition opened on Saturday October 5, to the accompaniment of Burley-based Clarion Socialist Choir.

It is open Saturdays and Sundays, noon to 4pm, until Sunday November 3. Admission is free.

On Saturday October 12, Ed Hall will be speaking at the exhibition.

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