In the late 1700s, the image of a kneeling, enslaved African man, accompanied by the words ‘Am I not a man and a brother’ became the most prominent emblem for those wishing to abolish the Transatlantic slave trade, in both Britain and America. As well as appearing in books, prints and pamphlets, it was also reproduced on an extraordinary variety of everyday and household items – from crockery and soft furnishings, to jewellery and hairpins.
Hannah More (1745-1833) was a poet, playwright, anti-slavery campaigner and one of the most influential female philanthropists of the Age of Revolution. Seen by some as an early feminist, and others as an anti-feminist, she remains a controversial figure today.
Thomas Muir was a radical, who campaigned for political reform in Scotland. He was eventually accused of sedition and transported to Australia, following one of the most notorious and controversial trials in Scottish history. He became known as the father of Scottish democracy and one of Scotland’s five ‘political martyrs’.
Red Phrygian or ‘liberty’ caps were long associated with the theme of liberty in European and colonial cultures. They were used as icons during the American Revolution and worn during the French Revolution in the late 1700s and came to symbolise allegiance to the republican cause. Along with the red, white and blue cockade, pinned to these and other hats, they became a lasting symbol of revolutionary France.
Marie Antoinette was the wife of the last King of France, Louis XVI, before the French Revolution overthrew the monarchy. She was known for extravagance and indulgence, and was despised by the people of France. She came to symbolise the Ancien Régime – a long-standing system where the monarchy, aristocracy and Catholic Church held absolute power and privilege over ordinary people.
Born Margaret Bulkley, James Barry lived most of his life as a man, qualifying as a doctor and becoming an accomplished and respected military surgeon. His identity as a woman was only revealed when his maid laid him out after his death. It is not known whether Barry identified as a man or whether he simply kept up a disguise in order to have a medical career, at a time when women were denied this opportunity.
In the 1700s Britain controlled and governed extensive areas in the Americas and the Caribbean within its empire. In 1776, thirteen of the colonies in North America came together to reject British rule and the sovereignty of King George III over them, and to declare themselves independent states. This was formalised in the Declaration of Independence, the first step towards establishing a new nation – the United States of America. This handwritten version is thought to be one of the very first to reach Britain.
This is a sampler that records the sufferings of a child, working in one of the many textile mills in Salford (Greater Manchester). It was sewn by Elizabeth Hodgates who was 12 years old in 1833 and reminds us of the terrible working conditions for children, women and men during the industrial revolution.
The Brontës – Charlotte (1816-1855), Emily (1818-1849) and Anne (1820-1849), are the most famous sisters in English Literature. Their insightful, dramatic and often subversive novels, published in the mid 1800s, provide a unique window into the social conditions of the time. With unforgettable characters like Jane Eyre and Heathcliff, and themes which are still highly relevant today, their stories have become classics and been adapted over and over again for stage and screen.
The 1800s saw a series of protests and uprisings in Britain, as people campaigned against slavery, unjust taxes and laws imposed by the government and in support of fair wages, the right to vote and to have their voices heard in parliament. Protest flags, posters and banners carrying radical slogans were a popular way for campaigners to get their message across at marches and rallies, and to cooperate without endangering individuals. The Skelmanthorpe flag was created in secret, in Huddersfield, initially to honour the victims of what became known as the Peterloo Massacre, in 1819.