In Haunt

To coincide with the 200-year anniversary since the bones of radical writer Thomas Paine were brought to Salford in November 1819 by William Cobbett, the public are invited to join and watch the Bones of Paine Procession – which will travel on Saturday 30 November from the Working Class Movement Library in Salford (starting 4pm) to The People’s History Museum in Manchester (for 6pm).

By Chris Paine

This is no ordinary parade – instead, it is a creative commemoration with unique puppetry, dancing, music and plenty to see. At the heart of the procession will be a brilliant Bones of Paine puppet– in the form of a larger-than-life skeleton figure sitting in a chest, atop a tricycle - created by Salford-based outdoor arts experts Walk the Plank (other examples of their creations include ‘The Strolling Bones’, which many people enjoyed at Manchester’s Halloween in the City). These artistic innovators have collaborated with the Working Class Movement Library (WCML) on the community-focused Bones of Paine project (previously covered here), seeking to celebrate the pioneering political theorist Thomas Paine and his links to Salford, laid down 200 years ago. To mark the occasion, not only will the thrilling puppet be present, but the procession will be complete with a live street band and dancing skeleton puppets: wonderful to watch for all the family.

So what is the story and why does Thomas Paine matter today? When it comes to concepts such as human rights, representative government and the importance of the individual, Thomas Paine is key. During the 17th century this English-born thinker and radical wrote highly influential texts such as the pamphlet Common Sense  – controversial at the time – advocating independence for the thirteen colonies of Britain: the name for America back then, when still seen to be the ‘possession’ of Britain. The pamphlet was published in 1776, at the beginning of the American Revolution, and became a highly important feature in the independence movement. Paine would go onto to write further influential texts including Rights of Man (1791), defending another revolution – this time The French Revolution -recognising the basic natural rights of every individual.

Although Paine’s writing at the time was recognized by some, he was increasingly ostracised by others – dying in New York, in relative obscurity, in 1804. Yet in November 1819 the bones of this pioneering political theorist were brought to Salford, after having been dug up from their original resting place in New York by campaigning journalist William Cobbett – originally a critic of Paine – who wanted to give him a proper burial. So what about the Salford link? The story goes that Cobbett only got Paine’s bones as far as Salford because although Cobbett wanted to cross between the cities, they had been refused entry to Manchester by the authorities – perhaps because of the political turbulence following the Peterloo Massacre earlier in the same year.

Bones of Paine

What then happened to the bones remains cloaked in mystery – some believing that parts stayed in Salford, others believing the reports that they were shipped round the world to be reunited with long-lost family members. There were even reports of his skull in Australia! This strange series of events has informed the Bones of Paine project, developed by the WCML and Walk the Plank to increase the awareness of Paine’s story and to encourage public engagement with it. Not only was the fantastic puppet created but they have been behind a range of events throughout autumn 2019 to mark the bi-centenary of when the bones were brought. This has included a parade as part of Peterloo 2019 commemorations, public engagement in Salford and an exciting Bones of Paine ‘Fun Palace’ at Walk the Plank’s Cobden Works. Bones of Paine pin badges have even been designed and made specially as part of the project, linking to one of the reports that some of Paine’s bones were made into buttons (!) – as the badges actually display a button design! These badges were available at the recent Haunt Manchester networking fair and gathering at The Peer Hat, part of the Gothic Manchester Festival 2019.

Find out more about the bones – and Paine – for yourself, as The WCML is also inviting people to gather at the library on the day of the 30 November (2pm to 4pm, before the procession starts) for refreshments and to see their new exhibition Thomas Paine: citizen of the world. Come on down to this innovative Salford library and enjoy. The exhibition will tell the story of Paine's adventurous and eventful life, his narrow escapes from death and his involvement in both the American and French Revolutions.

Bones of Paine

From the WCML the parade itself will then get underway at 4pm, moving towards Manchester and making a couple of musical pit-stops in the process. This will include the historic Bexley Square (M3 6DJ) at 4.20pm for a vocal performance featuring songs written during workshops held at the WCML with writer Louise Wallwein MBE; reaching New Bailey (M3 5JL) by 5pm for another vocal performance. The procession will finally reach the People’s History Museum (located just below Spinningfields) at 5.15pm, with a colourful welcome and show from Colibri Mexican Folkdance at 5.15pm. The museum will be keeping its doors open until 6pm so people can view Paine’s writing desk and other items.

And that’s not all. There’s more to come on Wednesday 4 December at the WCML, featuring a talk on Paine at 2pm, followed by a public reading of his highly-influential Common Sense at 6.30pm. This is set to be a fascinating event, as American Studies students from the University of Manchester read aloud what some regard as the most effective political pamphlet that has ever been written. All are welcome!

Why does it matter to mark Paine’s legacy? According to Lynette Cawthra, WCML Manager:

"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 information on timings of the parade and more please visit the websites www.wcml.org.uk/BonesOfPaine and https://walktheplank.co.uk/project/thomas-paine/

By Emily Oldfield 

Photography with thanks to Chris Payne (image 1)

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