The National Museum of Labour History (London)

Louise Thornthwaite

Labour History is generally neglected or ignored by museums and galleries. For this reason, the National Museum of Labour History in London is a rare treasure.

The museum permanently displays collections of photographs, drawings and memorabilia depicting the history of the British trade union and labour movement. It also houses both a specialised photographic library and “a comprehensive research library. For labour historians, the museum is a unique repository of primary source material.

The vast collection of memorabilia includes badges, posters, emblems, printed ephemera, sashes and banners. The banners are probably the most stunning attraction of the museum. Strung from the roof in rows of four,

some fifty banners eyecatchingly depict the slogans, services and causes of guilds, trade unions and labour political organisations. Many are double-sided, beautifully designed monuments which have survived the labour organisations they served. The museum also exhibits travelling collections from time to time. These have included Sylvia Pankhurst’s paintings and photographs illustrating the story of Sir Oswald Moseley and the goosestepping British Union of Fascists.

Although in it’s twelfth year of operation, the museum is currently under threat of closure. Due to the withdrawal of council funding, it is now reliant upon subscriptions and donations. So if you’re going to London, don’t miss the opportunity to see this unique museum. For those savouring the galleries and exhibitions of central London, the National Museum of Labour History is a little off the beaten track, particularly if the London transport system seems daunting. But it’s well worth the visit. Where to find it:

Old Limehouse Town Hall
London E14
(ph. 01-5153229)

Take the tube to Mile End Aldgate East station, then the bus (no. 15, 5, 40, 56, 277,106 or 278) for the 20 min ride to the museum.