Museums & Galleries Edinburgh celebrates 30 years of The People’s Story Museum with brand-new exhibition

The People’s Story at 30: The Making of the Museum.

Original publicity shot for opening of People's Story Museum. People gathered in costume

It’s been 30 years since The People’s Story Museum opened its doors for the first time becoming one of the UK’s leading social history museums. Radical and ground breaking at the time, it was concerned with the lives and times of the ‘ordinary’ people of Edinburgh; the real people whose lives played out in this historical city. 

This July 2019 a brand-new exhibition entitled The Making of the Museum explores the fascinating story behind the Museum’s creation; a time when social history was emerging as a new discipline and there was growing interest in the history of the working classes. People didn’t want to only hear stories about the lives of the great and the good, or the rich and the famous, they wanted to see more of their own history represented; to learn about, and to learn from, human experience.

Showcasing the ongoing work of the People’s Story Museum, this charming exhibition features a selection of recent acquisitions as well as objects to handle and a fun dressing up area. Highlights include an athletics trophy, ‘The Edinburgh Harriers Challenge Cup’, which is engraved with the names of cup winners from 1892 – 1969; a box of shirt collars from the 1940s – meaning collars could be detached from the shirt and washed quickly, before the invention of modern appliances; a stags head brooch c.1945, which bears the emblem of the Canongate and the motto “Sic Itur Ad Astra” (“this is the way to the stars”); and two suffragette badges dating from around 1910, which belonged to the prominent Edinburgh Suffragist, Agnes ‘Nannie’ Brown – one of the ‘Brown Women’ who marched from Edinburgh to London collecting petition signatures in support of women’s rights.

The contemporary material on display includes a crocheted ‘Anti Trams’ protest banner (2017) and promotional material from the Save Leith Walk campaign (2019) as well as a tie worn in the Edinburgh Gay Men’s Chorus. Alongside these items will be a newly commissioned film featuring first-hand account from some of the curators who were responsible for the establishment of this radical Museum thirty years ago.

Councillor Donald Wilson, Edinburgh’s Convener of Culture and Communities said: “As its name suggests, this Museum reflects the day to day story of the people of Edinburgh from the eighteenth century right up to the present day. And this exhibition, explaining how the museum came to be, is a very appropriate way to mark the 30th anniversary. The importance of the Peoples Story goes beyond the central theme of the most important aspect of the creation of Scotland’s great Capital City, its people, and extends to the building itself and the role and function of museums and how they have changed over the years. 

“If you haven’t paid a visit to the museum before this is a perfect introduction. The collection focuses on the Capital’s history, culture, crafts and trades but also allows you to explore more contemporary issues, events and opinions.”

Curator Gemma Henderson said: “This exhibition has been really interesting to work on. A lot has changed in the processes of museum curation in the last thirty years and it has been fascinating to learn how my predecessors established an entire museum collection from scratch. The work that they carried out was truly ground-breaking and they were amongst the first in the profession to introduce the principals that are so important to today’s curator such as community engagement, co-curation and outreach. We want the museum service to continue to represent and celebrate the diverse lives and cultures of Edinburgh’s people and this exhibition is allowing us, and our visitors, to think about what has changed since the museum opened and how it might develop over the next thirty years.”


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