Know about Thomas Paine and his disappearing bones? This quirky event will tell the tale

It’s one of the strangest stories in Manchester history, but few know of Thomas Paine and his disappearing bones. That’s all set to change on Saturday 30th November, when a giant illuminated puppet parade will tell the quirky tale…200 years after it happened.

One of Britain’s most prolific radicals, Thomas Paine’s support of the American Revolution earned him a place as one of the Founding Fathers - yet his views on Christianity saw only six people attend his funeral.

Ten years later, in 1819, journalist William Cobbett decided to rectify this matter and dig up his bones (as you do), transporting them from New York to Manchester in the hope of burying them properly.

Unfortunately his arrival coincided with the aftermath of the Peterloo Massacre. With authorities still smarting from the revolution, he was turned away and the bones disappeared forever. 

2019 11 22 Thomas Paine By Laurent Dabos
Thomas Paine was a pioneering political theorist Laurent Dabos

Now, two centuries on, the steps Cobbett took from Salford to Manchester on his unusual journey will be retraced by a giant procession of puppets, musicians, stilt walkers and dancers on Saturday 30th November. Beginning at the Working Class Movement Library, they’ll parade through the streets of Salford and into Manchester, winding up at the People’s History Museum (PHM). 

2019 11 22 Bones Of Paine
The parade will be led by the Bones of Paine, a larger-than-life skeleton puppet in a chest

An apt finale, PHM is not only the national museum of democracy but stands on the edge of the River Irwell separating Manchester and Salford. The museum also holds one of the greatest Thomas Paine treasures in its collection; the desk on which he wrote his most famous work Rights of Man, a book advocating that men over the age of 21 should have the right to vote. It would enrage the government so much he had to escape the country, first to France and then to the USA. He would never return. 

2019 11 22 Thomas Paine Desk
Paine’s desk is on permanent display in PHM’s Main Gallery One, alongside his death mask and a lock of hair

The Bones of Paine parade is the grand finale of a joint National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF) project for People’s History Museum and Working Class Movement Library (WCML); which has supported both organisations in the acquisition of new collection pieces. It’s funded by Arts Council England, supported by East Salford Community Committee and delivered by outdoor arts organisation Walk the Plank. 

The Bones of Paine parade | Saturday 30th November

2-4pm, Working Class Movement Library: Refreshments and viewing of Thomas Paine: Citizen of the World. On until Thursday 26th March 2020, this new exhibition explores Paine’s adventurous and eventful life via three key publications - Common Sense, Rights of Man and Age of Reason - original early editions of which will be on display.

4pm, Working Class Movement Library: Parade begins

4.20pm, Bexley Square: Vocal performance, including songs written during workshops held at WCML with writer Louise Wallwein MBE

5pm, New Bailey: Vocal performance

5.15pm, People’s History Museum: Parade is welcomed by a colourful performance from Colibri Mexican Folkdance. The museum will be keeping its doors open until 6pm so people can view Paine’s writing desk and other items; the café will be serving celebratory Bones of Paine biscuits.

Find out more about Working Class Movement Library and People’s History Museum on the websites