Thursday, 16 August 2018

Liberty Or Death!

16 August 1819 - 199 years ago today - marked a significant moment in our democracy.
Up in Manchester, over 50,000 people [half the population of that city and the surrounding towns] had come together- peacefully - to call for parliamentary reform.
The men, women and children - many dressed in white - bore banners proclaiming "Liberty and Fraternity" and "Taxation without representation is unjust" marched to an area of Manchester known as St Peter's Fields.
For many, Monday was their day off, particularly the people who worked handlooms in their homes. It was a bright, sunny day. Witnesses spoke of 'the peaceable intentions on the crowds' - they travelled in from Oldham, Rochdale, Middleton, Saddleworth and beyond. They wanted to hear the speeches, and show their support for this just cause.
Old Sarum - a deserted windswept hill outside Salisbury had two MPs at this time. Manchester, the great, growing metropolis has none!
But despite the peaceful, jolly family outing atmosphere, the authorities panicked. They were terrified of events turning into the sort of bloody revolution which had happened in France and elsewhere on the continent.
They panicked- and sent the cavalry riding into the the crowds, brandishing sabres. The first wave of troops clattered down the cobbles of Cooper Street, knocking down a young woman named Fiddes - and trampling on her baby son - the first fatality of the day. Other people were crushed against walls, slashed with swords, injured by horses' hooves...
200 were sabred, 180 trampled by horses, and 70 battered by truncheons.
Within twenty minutes of wild panic, the field had been cleared of people- apart from victims were strewn on the grass, and friends seeking desperately to help the injured and comfort the dying. 
Many were afraid to report their injuries or seek help - for fear that they would lose their employment. Others were turned away from the Infirmary, and refused medical assistance, because they had been at the rally.
The nation was shocked- a local reporter decided to make a pun on the name of Wellington's Victory four years earlier-  and told the story under the title of the Peterloo Massacre. For his pains, he lost his job, and went to prison for sedition. Parliamentary Reform was slow in coming ['Beginning reform is beginning revolution' declared Wellington] Some reforms happened in the 1830s, but it was to be another hundred years before women got the vote. But the massacre did result in the founding of The Manchester Guardian - and it did cause many ordinary people to take more positive steps towards reforming our democracy.
I looked up all this information recently, because of my brother! When we were driving through Manchester last month, we saw a sign to St Peter's Fields, and Adrian asked "Is that where the Peterloo Massacre was?"...and none of us in the car could answer, or remember what it was all about.
I'm ashamed to say we did study it briefly at school, but I had forgotten everything.
However I am hoping to find out a lot more this autumn [and use my Meerkat Movie concession again!]


  1. we had a history teacher back in the 70s who would raise this history event at every prompt , he was a very militant socialist, always absent due to one protest or another , its always struck me that public resistance comes in waves , we seem to be in a trough at the moment or have we moved on to be keyboard warriors ?

  2. I learned about this bit of history through a fiction book but can't remember who wrote it.... many years ago. Maybe Howard Spring? or Delderfield.

  3. just checked out that film. I will go and see it when it comes to Suffolk and try and find out about the book to re-read

  4. The film sounds interesting, i hope they do it justice and not romanticize it etc x

  5. hi! I read about the massacre in a bok called the Manchester man. Great read, lots of stories about Manchester and surroundings in its old social setting. M.

  6. Thanks for this book recommendation, it looks worth checking out Sue, I think you refer to H Springs "Fame is the Spur" which I read decades ago and forgotten about.

  7. Again, I learned something new by reading your blog! :)


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