Workers' Playtime: Community and culture in industrial Lancashire

Workers' Playtime exhibition

Community and culture in industrial Lancashire.

29 March 2023 to 9 September 2023

About the exhibition

19th century industrial Lancashire was a land of smoke and tall chimneys, fortunes for the Cotton Lords and misery for their workers - the 'hands'. But that's only part of the story. 

Workers' Playtime goes beyond the factories to explore the culture and communities created by the workers in pursuit of a better, fuller life for themselves and their children. It is a tale of political, economic and cultural self-organisation in pursuit of mutual improvement and creative expression. Above all, it is a tale of culture and community made by the hearts and minds of the hands themselves.

Items on display

  • Explore workers' lives outside of the factory including playing sports, trips to the seaside or supporting the growing Co-operative Movement.
  • Uncover the club and societies set up by workers including the Moss Side Debating Society and the brass band from Dobb Lane Sunday School.
  • Read books by the Lancashire mill-workers Ethel Carnie Holdsworth, Ben Brierley and Sam Fitton who became popular writers. 
  • Explore the social side of working-class politics and the early history of the Labour Movement.

Public tours

There are currently no dates scheduled for this tour.

Did industrial workers in Victorian Lancashire have time to participate in literary culture and leisure pursuits? From the Factory Acts to the First World War, this tour will explore archives that illuminate lively networks of poets and performers, humourists, authors, dramatists and theatregoers all belonging to Lancashire's urban communities. 

We are excited to welcome Michael Sanders, Professor of 19th Century Literature and Culture at The University of Manchester and academic lead for Workers' Playtime, who will be guiding this in-depth tour.