Sunday, 12 July 2009

Procession

The recent art-work 'Procession' by Jeremy Deller is a significant reminder and celebration of the processions that used to be a regular feature of Manchester's civic calendar. Indeed, Deller's banner that headed the procession [now on display at the Cornerhouse] deliberately and kindly imitated the traditional trade union banners now catalogued by the People's History Museum. Deansgate has long been a central feature of processions, its straight length linking the symbols of old power [the Collegiate Church, now Cathedral] with the new [the canals of Castlefield and the railway].

Local elites encouraged civic pride and national patriotism through processions: no birthday of a royal family member or celebration of a naval victory was complete without a procession round the town. Yet the ritual of processions - their banners and their bands - were highly regulated and controlled. The order of the procession was a visual reminder of the order in society: gentlemen and officers at the front, trades at the back.

Ordinary inhabitants and those on the margins of society had to content themselves with being spectators at the sidelines. By parading round the 'principal streets' of a city, local elites reminded inhabitants of their power over the city. The inhabitants could conform, disagree in silence whilst still participating in the spectacle, or could resist by non-attendance or organising their own processions.

For the Manchester trade unions' boycott of the 1838 Coronation procession, see:
- R. Sykes, 'Early Chartism and Trade Unionism,' in D. Thompson and J. Epstein, eds., The Chartist Experience
- J. Knott, Popular Opposition to the 1834 Poor Law (1986)