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Peterloo Democracy

On 16 August 1819,  a crowd of 60,000–80,000 peaceful pro-democracy and anti-poverty protesters gathered to demand the reform of parliamentary representation and bring forth democracy.

 

People came from all over Greater Manchester to St Peters Field, now St Peter's Square in the Centre of Manchester

 

An estimated 18 people, including four women and a child, died from sabre cuts and trampling. Nearly 700 men, women and children received extremely serious injuries. All in the name of liberty and freedom from poverty.

 

The Massacre occurred during a period of immense political tension and mass protests. Fewer than 2% of the population had the vote, and hunger was rife with the disastrous corn laws making bread unaffordable.

 

The key speaker was to be famed orator Henry Hunt, the platform consisted of a simple cart, located in the front of what's now the Manchester Central Conference Centre, and the space was filled with banners

-REFORM, UNIVERSAL SUFFRAGE, EQUAL REPRESENTATION and, touchingly, LOVE.

 

Many of the banner poles were topped with the red cap of liberty - a powerful symbol at the time.

Local magistrates watching from a window near the field panicked at the sight of the assembly, and read the riot act, (in)effectively ordering what little of the crowd could hear them to disperse.

 

As 600 Hussars, several hundred infantrymen; an artillery unit with two six-pounder guns, 400 men of the Cheshire cavalry and 400 special constables waited in reserve, the local Yeomanry were given the task of arresting the speakers. The Yeomanry, led by Captain Hugh Birley and Major Thomas

 

Trafford, were essentially a paramilitary force drawn from the ranks of the local mill and shop owners.

On horseback, armed with sabres and clubs, many were familiar with, and had old scores to settle with, the leading protesters. (In one instance, spotting a reporter from the radical Manchester Observer, a Yeomanry officer called out "There's Saxton, damn him, run him through.")

 

Heading for the hustings, they charged when the crowd linked arms to try and stop the arrests, and proceeded to strike down banners and people with their swords. Rumours from the period have persistently stated the Yeomanry were drunk. 

 

The panic was interpreted as the crowd attacking the yeomanry, and the Hussars (Led by Lieutenant Colonel Guy L'Estrange)

were ordered in.

 

The term 'Peterloo', was intended to mock the soldiers who attacked unarmed civilians by echoing the term 'Waterloo' -

the soldiers from that battle being seen by many as genuine heroes.

 

Fatalities resulting from Peterloo

 

John Ashton (Cowhill, Chadderton) Sabred and trampled on by crowd.

John Ashworth (Bulls Head, Manchester) Sabred and trampled.

 

William Bradshaw (Lily-hill, Bury) Shot by musket.

 

Thomas Buckley (Baretrees, Chadderton) Sabred and stabbed by bayonet.

 

Robert Campbell (Miller Street, Salford) Killed by a mob in Newton Lane.

 

James Crompton (Barton-upon-Irwel) Trampled on by the cavalry.

 

Edmund Dawson (Saddleworth) Died of sabre wounds.

 

William Dawson (Saddleworth) Sabred, crushed and killed on the spot.

 

Margaret Downes  (Manchester) Died of sabre wounds.

 

William Evans (Hulme) Trampled by cavalry.

 

William Fildes (Kennedy St, Manchester) Ridden over by cavalry. (Two years old, he was first victim of the massacre.)

 

Mary Heys (Oxford Rd, Manchester) Ridden over by cavalry (Mother of six children, and pregnant at the time of the meeting.)

 

Sarah Jones (96 Silk St, Salford) Beaten on the head by a Special Constable's truncheon.

 

John Lees (Oldham) Sabred.

 

Arthur Neil (Pidgeon St, Manchester) Inwardly crushed.

 

Martha Partington (Eccles) Thrown into a cellar and killed on the spot.

 

John Rhodes (Pits, Hopwood) Sabre wound to the head.

 

Joshua Whitworth (Unknown) Shot at New Cross.

 

 

Historians acknowledge that Peterloo was hugely influential in ordinary people winning the right to vote, led to the rise of the Chartist Movement from which grew the Trade Unions, and also resulted in the establishment of the Manchester Guardian newspaper.

 

According to Nick Mansfield, director of the People’s History Museum in Manchester, "Peterloo is a critical event not only because of the number of people killed and injured, but because ultimately it changed public opinion to influence the extension of the right to vote and give us the democracy we enjoy today. It was critical to our freedoms."

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