Peterloo 1819

by Veronica

1819 will see the bi-centenary of The Peterloo Massacre when an armed Militia were sent in to attack a peaceful demonstration of people who had come for a day out.

When famous democracy orator, Henry Hunt ( diary pictured above ) turned up in Manchester to attend "The Manchester Meeting" In August 1819, he could not have envisaged that the day would end in carnage and slaughter and that he would eventually be sent to gaol. It was an event which would haunt him all his days but had important consequences on the course of 19th Century British History.

What lead up to the events on that fateful day, what were the local and national sparks ? Here is a little background to a day which should never be forgotten.

Wizzley page about Henry Hunt

Central Library.Peterloo site
Central Library.Peterloo site

It is perhaps difficult to envisage what the bustling Peter's Square in Manchester would have looked like 200 years ago.  Nowadays it is full of commuters, visitors to the magnificent Central Library and loud with the hooting of trams. 200 years ago though it was called Peter's Fields named after a nearby church. Who would think that even amidst the city bustle that this was the scene of an outrage against over 60,000 peaceful protesters in August 1819. As Waterloo had happened in 1815 and that was soldier against soldier by September 1819, The Manchester Meeting became known as Peterloo where it had been soldiers against innocent civilians.  By the end of the day, the local hospital, The Royal Infirmary was full of casualties and 17 people died from their wounds.  

To understand better what happened in the lead up to the event, we need to take a look at the Corn Laws. The Corn Laws were passed between 1815 and 1846, and set restrictions on imported corn. The aim was to keep grain prices high to help the home economy. The laws raised food prices and were very unpopular.  After the Napoleonic Wars ended with Waterloo in 1815, corn prices went down, and so the government passed the Corn Laws to keep bread prices high. There were riots nationally. There was also discontent about voting rights and representation. Lancashire only had two MPs to represent the whole county.

The Manchester Meeting had been planned August 2nd but was forced to be cancelled. It was then set for August 9th but again was cancelled. On 16th August though, the meeting went ahead. Thousands of people walked to Manchester for a peaceful day out to hear the speakers including Mary Fildes and Henry Hunt speak about voting and the Corn Laws. The Manchester magistrates met at about 10.30 am at "The Sun Inn” on  Deansgate to discuss how to stop the meeting which was  due to start at 1pm.

The organisers went to great pains to ensure that the rally was a peaceful one and did not provoke a reaction. Henry Hunt arrived at about 1.00pm and he with some supporters stood on 2 carts which had been roped together as a platform.  Banners bearing slogans such as “Love ", “No taxation without Representation ", " No corn Laws" . As the crowd gathered, the magistrates version is that they wanted to see the Stage. Whatever the reason, they sent the militia in on horses to clear the way. They were soon joined by soldiers, cavalry, and special constables to arrest the speakers. There were shouts and groans from the crowd who linked arms to protect their speakers. The troops waving sabers charged on the 60,000 crowd trampling people with their horses.   Peter's Field was a scene of carnage. The main organisers including Henry Hunt were arrested.

A year later Henry Hunt was in gaol. He was still angry, hurt and traumatised that his meeting had had such devastating consequences.  His journal entry for that day reads, 

“I eat no meat this day.
I sincerely pray that I may live to witness the condeign punishment of every Scoundral that was instrumental and accessory or principal or in any remote degree concerned in the infamous, cruel, cowardly, unprovoked and pre-meditated assassinations, cuttings and murders  of peaceable men, women and children at Manchester on this day twelve months."

Below is a list of The Peterloo dead. For their sake it should never be forgotten and I hope Manchester City Council acknowledges it in 4 years’ time.


The Peterloo Dead

John Ashton
John Ashworth
Wiliam Bradshaw
Thomas Buckley
Robert Campbell
James Crompton
Edward Dawson
William Dawson
Margaret Downes
William Evans
William Fildes
Sarah Jones
John Lees
Arthur Neil
Martha Partington
John Rhodes
Joshua Whitworth

Updated: 10/22/2015, Veronica
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Veronica on 08/17/2015

Peterloo's anniversary was yesterday and for the first time in ages Manchester did give it a mention.

frankbeswick on 07/07/2015

The distance between the two is much less than a mile, and we have become used to having buildings between them to block the visibility.

As for fields in Manchester, in earlier years Manchester was a small, compact city. It was only with the Industrial Revolution that the city swelled, but development was haphazard and unplanned, so sometimes fields were surrounded by buildings without being built on.

Veronica on 07/07/2015

Frank, I think what surprised me was that Manchester was full of fields and Peter's Fields could be seen from Deansgate! Not like now.

Veronica on 07/07/2015

Sheila Ty.

That is the beauty of a site such as this. We gain from the respective strengths of the other users and so educate ourselves.

frankbeswick on 07/07/2015

As I live in Greater Manchester [the broad region including Manchester and other boroughs] I often pass through the site of the massacre on my tram ride into the centre of Manchester. It is poignant for those knowledgeable about history to see sites where important events have happened and recall the past.

sheilamarie on 07/06/2015

Thanks for teaching us a little bit of British history. I remember reading about the Corn Laws before, but I didn't know all the details.

Veronica on 07/03/2015

Exactly, it was a massive turning point in national opinion. It also started the Manchester Guardian newspaper too which had a big impact on voting rights.

There is going to be a blockbuster film about Peterloo coming out in 2019, director Mike Leigh. I hope it is faithful to the facts. I am fiercely critical of bad history in screen adaptations.

DavidPaulWagner on 07/03/2015

The Peterloo Massacre was an important event in the fight for the vote. It should never be forgotten.

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