Working Class Movement Library

Library displays
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Working people have always struggled to get their voices heard. The Working Class Movement Library records over 200 years of organising and campaigning by ordinary men and women. Our collection provides a rich insight into working people's daily lives as well as their thoughts, hopes, fears and the roles they played in the significant events of their time.

We have information on:

• The trades and lives of people who worked in the past - brushmakers, silk workers, tailors, boilermakers and others

• Trade unions, where people have banded together to improve their working conditions

• Politics and campaigns, from Chartism to the General Strike and more recent protests

• Creativity and culture - drama, literature, music, art and leisure

• Important people who have led activist lives

• International events such as the Spanish Civil War, and aspects of Irish history

Much of this information is held in books, pamphlets or leaflets. Many more stories are told by our photos, banners and tape recordings.

Our collection captures many points of view to tell the story of Britain's working classes from the beginning of industrialisation to the present day.

Our oldest items date from the 1760s. From the 1820s we have some of the earliest trade union documents to have survived.

We have material on politics of all shades and come right up to date with the archive of Jim Allen, the Manchester-born screenwriter who worked on Coronation Street and collaborated with film director Ken Loach.

Venue Type:

Library, Archive

Opening hours

Tuesday 10.00a.m. until 5.00p.m.
Wednesday 10.00a.m. until 5.00p.m.
Thursday 10.00a.m. until 5.00p.m.
Friday 10.00a.m. until 5.00p.m.
Saturday 10.00a.m. until 4.00p.m - third Sat of each month only, and by appointment

Closed: Sundays, Mondays

Admission charges

Admission to the library is free.

Additional info

Everyone is welcome to drop by to view our ground floor displays. To use the reading room to study, please contact us in advance to make an appointment.

There are important collections on Thomas Paine, Peterloo, Chartism, rise of trade unionism, Socialism, Labour Party, Communist Party of Great Britain, Ireland, Spanish Civil War, General Strike, CND, suffragettes and suffragists, Co-operative movement.

Collection details

Social History, Photography, Music, Literature, Industry, Film and Media, Archives

Exhibition details are listed below, you may need to scroll down to see them all.

Exhibition 'The Basque children: child refugees from the Spanish Civil War'

  • 25 September — 21 November 2019 *on now

Following the devastating bombing of Guernica in 1937, there was such outrage in Britain that the Government reluctantly agreed to allow one boatload of refugee children and their accompanying adults to enter the country.
This guest exhibition from BCA’37 UK, the Association for the UK Basque Children, tells the story of the children who came to colonies in Manchester, Salford, Bolton and other cities in the North West.
Exhibitions are open Wednesdays to Fridays 1-5pm, and the first Saturday of the month 10am-4pm. Launch event 6pm on Wednesday 25 September - all welcome.


Thomas Paine

Exhibition 'Thomas Paine: citizen of the world'

  • 27 November 2019 — 28 February 2020

This exhibition, part of the Library's Bones of Paine commemoration, tells the story of Thomas Paine's adventurous and eventful life, his narrow escapes from death and his involvement in both the American and French Revolutions. The main focus however is the very modern ideas in his three key publications, Common Sense, Rights of Man and Age of Reason, original early editions of which will be on display.

In November 1819 campaigning journalist William Cobbett brought Paine's remains back from the USA to the UK. He intended bringing the bones to Manchester for a public meeting, but only got as far as Irlam before the authorities, with the horrors of Peterloo still fresh, warned him off. The Library marks the bicentenary of this bizarre event and celebrates Paine’s revolutionary ideas (and the Library’s marvellous Paine collection) by finally getting him symbolically across the river from Salford to Manchester… Full details of project events at

Exhibitions are open Wednesdays to Fridays 1-5pm, and the first Saturday of the month 10am-4pm.


Events details are listed below. You may need to scroll down or click on headers to see them all. For events that don't have a specific date see the 'Resources' tab above.
Bones of Paine puppet outside WCML, August 2019

Bones of Paine parade

  • 30 November 2019

In November 1819 the bones of radical Thomas Paine were brought to Salford (dug up from their original resting place in New York by campaigning journalist William Cobbett), only to be refused entry to Manchester by the authorities, with the horrors of Peterloo still fresh... And then the bones disappeared.

To mark the bicentenary of this bizarre event and to celebrate Paine’s revolutionary writings and ideas (Common Sense, Rights of Man, Age of Reason) the Working Class Movement Library and Walk the Plank are working together to deliver a project which mixes the traditional with the contemporary, and the unusual with the familiar. It includes a Thomas Paine exhibition, talks, workshops and several appearances by a giant Paine puppet...

This event is the project finale. Join our processional puppet plus musicians & dancers as together we create a new and artistic ending for this 200 year old story, to coincide exactly with the anniversary of Cobbett bringing the bones to Salford in 1819. Starts from the Working Class Movement Library and arrives at the People’s History Museum. Timings tbc - keep an eye on the Web site.


Working Class Movement Library
51 The Crescent
Greater Manchester
M5 4WX

logo: Heritage Open Days 2014 logo: Museums at Night




0161 736 3601


0161 737 4115

All information is drawn from or provided by the venues themselves and every effort is made to ensure it is correct. Please remember to double check opening hours with the venue concerned before making a special visit.