In Haunt

Coinciding with the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre on 16 August, a giant Bones of Paine puppet made a surprise appearance in Salford and Manchester – as 2019 also marks the 200th anniversary of when the radical writer Thomas Paine’s bones arrived in Salford! Born in Norfolk in 1737, Thomas Paine was a pioneering political theorist whose ideas on concepts such as human rights and representation shared a reformist spirit as could be seen as shared by the Peterloo protestors themselves.

During the weekend’s extensive Peterloo commemorations (read the HAUNT report here), there were sightings of an intriguing Bones of Paine puppet – a larger-than-life skeleton figure sitting in a chest, wheeled along on a tricycle! It was involved in the Peterloo 2019 March for Democracy – passing across the Irwell from Salford and into Manchester, attracting much attention.

Bones of Paine

 The intriguing puppet is result of the Working Class Movement Library coming together with Salford-based outdoor arts experts Walk the Plank. Together they have created a community-driven three-strand project to forge connections, curiosity and conversations about Paine and his links to Salford.

So what is the story?  Although Thomas Paine died in America 1809, in 1819 his bones were dug up from their original New York resting place by the campaigning journalist and former Paine critic William Cobbett who wanted to give Paine a proper burial… and he attempted to bring the bones to England! This involved a journey across the Atlantic, arriving in the port of Liverpool in 1819 and yet on reaching Manchester, Cobbett and Paine’s bones were refused entry to the city, perhaps because political tensions of the area were still high in the aftermath of the Peterloo Massacre. In turn, they only got as far as Salford! The bones later disappeared.

The vanishing of Paine’s bones has attracted various theories over time – and it seems that the remains found no set or single resting place. It is believed that the bones, potentially boxed and sent to relations, are now scattered across the world, with some reports that the brain was returned to New York, claims of the skull in Australia… and perhaps some still in Salford and Manchester? Either way, the connection to Salford is clear.

Therefore, the Working Class Movement Library and Walk the Plank are passionate to reconnect the public with his fascinating Paine connection – and to encourage people to find out more about the history. Paine is a figure of international impact, with his 1776 pamphlet Common Sense advocating American Independence and highlighting him as a cutting-edge thinker. He was seen as especially radical in his day, with his 1791 publication Rights of Man offering a defence of the French Revolution, criticising hereditary government and discussing human rights – with this influential book being a key feature in the modern puppet’s design.

Bones of Paine

Paine’s ideas caused controversy in their day however, with his political views and support of revolution actually leading to a stint in prison – as his ideas were perceived as a threat to the authorities of the time. For example, his notable essay The Age of Reason, provided a critique of religious institutions, seen as highly influential today – yet contributed to his widespread unpopularity in America at the time of his death. It was other reformers and radicals such as William Cobbett who went on to keep the ideas of Paine alive, and his advocacy for rights and representation has underpinned many instances of modern reform for the people.

Now the public can engage with The Bones of Paine for themselves and discover more about this fascinating man, his ideas and links to the local area. The three-strand project allows people to firstly make CONNECTIONS: with various occasions to meet the puppet and see it in parade. This includes Saturday 14 September at Salford’s Big Day Out, Sunday 6 October at East Salford Fun Palace, Friday 25 October as part of ‘Witches Walk’ at Salford’s Buile Hill Park and also at Irlam Fireworks at Princes Park on Friday 1 November. All these events are leading up to a finale of Saturday 30 November – with a big parade already planned.  Join the processional puppet plus musicians and dancers in a walk from the Working Class Movement Library (timing TBC) in Salford to the People’s History Museum. This is set to be an artistic and immersive ending to the 200 year old story of the Bones of Paine – as is after all taking place on the very anniversary day of Cobbett bringing the bones to Salford in 1819!

The project also seeks to inspire CURIOSITY – with Bones of Paine pin badges available with their own unique and intriguing artwork. The art features a skull and also buttons, as one of the theories behind what happened to Paine’s bones is that they were made into buttons!  It’s certainly  inspiring people to talk about Paine and why he matters.

Badge Design

  In turn, the final aspect of the project is centred around CONVERSATIONS, and people are encouraged to find out more and discuss Paine’s legacy by visiting the Working Class Movement Library (their extensive Paine collection is well worth a visit) and to join in with discussion at a series of events, including a public reading of Paine’s Common Sense. See the full programme here.

Lynette Cawthra, Manager at the Working Class Movement Library, added:

“We’re excited to be working with the people of Salford and Walk the Plank on telling this bizarre but important story, which offers a local angle on a character who had a significant impact on history internationally.  Recounting the story within the context of events such as Peterloo helps give this unusual tale a relevance to a modern audience.  We hope that our Bones of Paine events will get everyone talking about the extraordinary Thomas Paine in a fun and engaging way that inspires curiosity.”

For more information please visit www.wcml.org.uk/BonesOfPaine.

By Emily Oldfield

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