The Fabric of Co-operation: Waving the banner for women’s history

Today we were very excited to acquire a new collection of objects relating to women’s history in the Borough.

The poppy is used by guilds in the Midlands as a symbol of courage. This banner was made in 1983 to celebrate the Guild's centenary.

The poppy is used by guilds in the Midlands as a symbol of courage. This banner was made in 1983 to celebrate the Guild’s centenary.

Nuneaton’s Co-operative Women’s Guild disbanded in early June 2016 and over the last few months we have been working closely with the group to help it find a home for its banner collection. After careful consideration we decided to acquire two banners from the Guild together with a small group of artefacts for the museum’s collection.

Women’s history is generally under-represented in the museum’s collections and these objects are important additions that will enable us to tell stories about women’s work, retail and the impact women have had both locally and nationally through the Co-operative movement.

Founded in 1883, the Co-operative Women’s Guild aimed to educate women on the principles and practices of the Co-operative movement and to help improve the status of women within society. Through the Co-operative movement ordinary people campaigned for civil rights and women’s equality.

This fragile banner displays the Co-operative slogan "each for all and all for each".

This fragile banner displays the Co-operative slogan “each for all and all for each”. The banner is headed “Nuneaton Co-operative Women’s Guild 1908”.

Banners have played a central role in the imagery and work of the Guild. They are used to advocate and proclaim beliefs through parades, protests and marches. They also form the backdrop to the social and cultural life of the Guild. These banners often demonstrate significant artistic skill and beauty.

The next step is for us to explore the conservation work needed to preserve the older of the two banners, which is particularly fragile. The banner has hung in the Guild’s meeting rooms and has been taken to Annual Congress and rallies to parade or decorate the rooms where members gathered. It is a tangible reminder to members of the commitment made by the women at the beginning of the Guild’s history and symbolises the work done to improve the lives of ordinary people.

The painted face of the banner has weakened with exposure to light and soiling over time. As a result the fabric is splitting quite badly and the banner is in a very vulnerable condition. We are very grateful to the national executive of the Guild, which is kindly donating £1,000 towards the cost of the work needed to stabilise the banner and ensure its preservation for future generations.

We’ll keep you up to date as we uncover more about the banner and its history through the conservation project.

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