Challenging Histories Public Programme 2017-19

Processing Suffragettes c.1908

Challenging Histories was a pilot programme that explored some of the more hidden aspects of our places between 2017 and 2019. Each year we focused on a different theme that reflected national anniversaries and public debates. Through exhibitions, events and story-telling, we explored how these overlooked histories have shaped how we live now.

In 2019, 200 years after the Peterloo Massacre, we looked at places where people fought to express and contest their political and social rights. In 2018 we shone a light on women’s history and suffrage and in 2017, as well as launching our Challenging Histories programme we explored our connections to LGBTQ heritage.

We’ve learnt a lot from this work. Please explore the links below for further information and resources. We’ve adopted the learning into our approaches to curatorship, programming and partnership working.

2019 - People's Landscapes

In 2019 we showcased places in our national landscape which are important symbols of passion and protest. We commemorated the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre and we explained how the reverberations of this critical moment in democracy can still be felt.

Through events and exhibitions, we told the remarkable stories of those who fought for the rights of ordinary people and the sites that remain places of modern pilgrimage today. 

An archive image of the people marching in the 1932 Kinder Scout trespass overlaid onto a modern day image of the landscape

Marching for access to the outdoors

The 1932 mass trespass of Kinder Scout, Derbyshire, is marked every April when a group of ramblers revisit the route across the moor. It's a reminder of how lucky we are to enjoy the freedom of access to the outdoors we have today.

Inside the Writ in Water installation at Runnymede, Surrey

Celebrating individual rights and freedoms

We care for the meadows at Runnymede, the world-famous site where King John sealed Magna Carta in 1215. This was a step on the road to modern democracy and the liberty of the individual under law.

A large tree in summer, next to a small wooden hut

Recognising workers' rights

In 1834, six land workers from Tolpuddle in Dorset met beneath a large sycamore tree and formed a trade union. We now care for the tree, which has become a place of pilgrimage for trade unionists in Britain.

People's Landscapes Find out more
2018 – Women and Power

In 2018, 100 years since women first gained the vote in the UK by shining a light on women's history and the fight for suffrage at our places. 

Painting of Nancy Astor by John Singer Sargent

Campaigning for women's suffrage

Some of our places have strong connections to women who influenced the suffrage movement. Gunby Hall in Lincolnshire was home to the women’s rights campaigner Emily Massingberd. Cliveden in Berkshire was home to Nancy Astor, the first sitting female MP and Bodnant House in Conwy was the home of Laura McLaren, the founder of the Liberal Women’s Suffrage Union.

Portrait of George Nathaniel Curzon, 1st Marquess Curzon of Kedleston

Opposing women's suffrage

We also have connections to some key figures on the other side of the debate: George Curzon of Kedleston Hall was president of the National League for Opposing Woman’s Suffrage.

Women and Power Find out more
2017 – Prejudice and Pride

At least 25 of our places were home to, and shaped by, people who challenged conventional ideas of gender and sexuality. 50 years after the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality, we explored our LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer) heritage with a programme called Prejudice and Pride.

The following are just some of the places that were involved in Prejudice and Pride, working with University of Leicester’s Research Centre for Museums and Galleries to better understand these stories. Staff and volunteers took part in a training programme looking at how and why to better acknowledge this LGBTQ history. This learning was shared with the university and heritage sector in a conference in spring 2018.

The art collection in the Saloon at Kingston Lacy, Dorset

Art and exiles 

Kingston Lacy in Dorset was profoundly shaped by William Bankes, who fled England in 1841 to avoid prosecution for same-sex acts. He had no choice but to leave England and the home he loved but he continued to send back works of art and treasures – the collection which can be seen and enjoyed by visitors today.

West view of Knole House in Kent

Literary connections

Virginia Woolf’s novel Orlando was inspired by the family history of her lover – Vita Sackville-West. Vita’s family owned Knole in Kent and the book tells the story of a gender-changing character whose life spans the 400 year history of the house.

The 17th-century barn theatre at Smallhythe Place

A ménage a trois 

The story of Smallhythe Place in Kent was fashioned by the artists who shared a home there. Edy Craig, daughter of actress Ellen Terry, and herself an accomplished actor, costumier, director and producer, shared Smallhythe in a ménage a trois with two other women for over 30 years and, together, created the theatre which still thrives.

Tackling historic issues that resonate to this day

We look after hundreds of places, from stone circles and beaches to mansions, moors and workhouses. With millions of objects in our collection, from the everyday to the unique, and archives of photographs, maps and letters, we have an opportunity to tackle stories found at more than one place to show how they fit into our nations’ tale. By working with public anniversaries and commemorations, we want to play our part in a wider debate on issues that have their roots in the past but are of continuing relevance today. 

Help from academic experts

We’re working with academics and other specialists to uncover these stories. This new research will help explain our places better to visitors and we’ll also be sharing our findings through academic conferences and expert publications. 

Bringing our research to life for our visitors

You’ll be able to delve further into these uncovered tales through podcasts, guidebooks and specialist publications. 

Our work with Trusted Source, a partnership with Oxford University, will create new digital information that adds greater depth and background to our places.

More about our research

In line with our Research Strategy we engage in relevant, up-to-date, rigorous research into these topics.