History Podcasts

Deaths at Peterloo

Deaths at Peterloo

Thomas AshworthManchestersabred and trampled
John AshtonOldhamsabred and trampled
Thomas BuckleyChaddertonsabred and trampled
James CromptonBartontrampled
William FildesManchestertrampled
Mary HeysManchestertrampled
Sarah JonesManchesternot recorded
John LeesOldhamsabred
Arthur O'NeillManchestertrampled
Martha PartingtonManchestertrampled
John RhodesHopwoodnot recorded
Joseph AshworthManchestershot
William BradshawBurynot recorded
William DawsonSaddleworthsabred and trampled
Edmund DawsonSaddleworthsabred

History of the Peterloo massacre, 1819

A short history of the mass killing of workers protesting for democracy and better conditions by the British army in 1819. While brutal, the repression did not dampen working class unrest but in fact helped spawn the Chartist reform movement.

An estimated 18 people, including a woman and a child, died from saber cuts and trampling. Over 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.

Was Henry Hunt a real person?

Much of Leigh’s film hinges on a group of reformers in Manchester trying to persuade famed orator Henry Hunt to address their protest. Played by Rory Kinnear as a brilliant but conceited jerk, Hunt was indeed at St. Peter’s Fields Britain’s National Archives still hold the letter inviting him to speak. Hunt wasn’t hurt in the massacre, but the white top hat he wore on the day was skewered by a sword and became a symbol for the reform movement.

After a spell in prison for his radical views, he became a member of the British parliament. His political agitation helped usher in the Reform Act of 1832, which expanded voting rights to 18% of Britons. Ironically, he was then voted out of office.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

The Peterloo Massacre - The Historiography

The Historiography of Peterloo

It is part of a Left-wing dogma that Peterloo was an act of class war perpetrated by Lord Liverpool’s government on the working class, that the 60,000 people peaceably assembled in St Peter’s Field on 16 th August 1819 to listen to Hunt’s speech on reform were unprovokedly dispersed by drunken cavalry who savagely sabred several innocent people to death and wounded many others, all on the orders of the panic-stricken specially formed select committee of magistrates. It needed a Mancunian antiquarian bookseller of today, Mr. Robert Warmsley, to put the factual record straight 150 years after the event and after thirty years of patient and scrupulous research for his monumental book, Peterloo: The Case Re-opened. [Michael Kennedy] [1]

Although it became known as the Peterloo Massacre, the events in and around St. Peter’s Field on 16 th August 1819 were regarded by both sides with a great deal of passion. At the time the Peterloo massacre divided English society as a whole, with petitions and mass meetings being organised for and against the position taken by the authorities. [2] As Philip Lawson emphasises contention lies at the heart of Peterloo because ‘one side argues that the reformers went too far in their protest or demonstration at St Peter’s Field and that in the aftermath of Peterloo, support for the established order was reaffirmed by the mass of the population’ and ‘on the other side exists the view that a legitimate movement of popular constitutionalism ended in a massacre, betrayed on all sides by middle-class equivocation and a corrupt and repressive political system.’ [3]

In the aftermath of Peterloo an examination of the historiography shows that Peterloo quickly grew into a battle between the loyalist authorities on the one side and the reformers on the other. [4] In the words of the radical Manchester Observer, Peterloo was ‘a day of paramount importance to the liberties of our country,’ and as ‘Big with the fate of Freedom and of Albion.’ In contrast, the Reverend Mr Hay thought that ‘The meeting was looked upon, on both sides, as an experiment-a touchstone of the spirit of the Magistrates, and of courage of the mob.’ [5]

Within two weeks after Peterloo Francis Philips, a cotton manufacturer and a prominent member of the Pitt Club and Tory party, published An Exposure of the Calumnies circulated by the Enemies of Social Order and reiterated by their abettors Against the Magistrates and Yeomanry Cavalry of Manchester and Salford, (1819) defending the behaviour of the Manchester Magistrates and the yeomanry cavalry on the day. This prompted John Edward Taylor to write his riposte Notes and Observations Critical Explanatory, on the Papers Relative to the Internal State of the Country recently presented in Parliament To which is intended a Reply to Mr Francis Philip’s Exposure, London, (1820). Meanwhile the Radical press continued to report on protest meetings and trials in an attempt to have the aggressors identified and punished without success. In contrast the Tory newspapers continued to make excuses for the Manchester magistrates and the yeomanry cavalry praising them and the military for their conduct. [6]

I would agree with Neville Kirk’s analysis that since the late 1950s the historiography of Peterloo has been dominated by three conflicting interpretations. [7] The first interpretation by Donald Read, Peterloo The ‘Massacre’ and its Background, (1957), identifies Peterloo as a massacre although he qualifies this in the preface to his book:

The successful designation of Peterloo as a ‘massacre’ represents another piece of successful propaganda. Perhaps only in peace-loving England could a death-roll of only eleven persons have been so described. [8]

Read argues that the ‘massacre’ was the result of panic and a serious lack of foresight on part of the Manchester magistrates rather from central government direction or premeditation. Read also argues that blame for the deaths and injuries at the August 16 th meeting lies with the magistrates but not with the Home Secretary, Lord Sidmouth, who advised the magistrates to use caution and only to use force as a last resort. [9] According to Read:

The evidence of the Home Office papers was used to show how Lord Sidmouth, the Home Secretary, had advised the Manchester magistrates to act with very great circumspection at the meeting, to collect evidence of any seditious intention, but not to intervene unless violence broke out. [10]

Read’s final conclusion is that the central government was not responsible for the massacre. Instead Read argues:

Ominously, on August 3 rd the ‘loyalist’ Manchester Mercury newspaper, reported that the Cheshire magistrates had ‘come to a determination to act with decision, and to suppress all Seditious Meetings immediately as they assemble.’ It was this policy, not the one advocated by the Home Office, which produced the Peterloo Massacre. [11]

Read also argues ‘How far the attitude of the Home Office differed from that of the Manchester magistrates responsible for the Peterloo massacre was shown in a letter written by Hobhouse to James Norris one of the Select Committee of Magistrates twelve days before Peterloo.’ Henry Hobhouse was the under-secretary to the Home Office and urged the magistrates simply to gather evidence of what took place at the meeting to ignore any illegal proceeding for the time being and not to use force. Read produces the following letter as evidence in support of his claim:

Lord Sidmouth has no doubt that you will make arrangements for obtaining evidence of what passes that if anything illegal is done or said, it may be the subject of prosecution. But even if they should utter sedition or proceed to the election of a representative, Lord Sidmouth is of the opinion that it will be the wisest course to abstain from any endeavour to disperse the mob, unless they should proceed to acts of felony or riot. His Lordship [concluded Hobhouse in a similar letter to a Rochdale magistrate eight days later] considers that on various Accounts this mode of proceeding is far preferable to an attempt to disperse the Assembly by force. [12]

Read also stresses ‘as the evidence of the Home Office shows, it was never desired or precipitated by the Liverpool Ministry as a bloody repressive gesture for keeping down the lower orders. If the Manchester magistrates had followed the spirit of Home Office Policy there would never have been a massacre.’ [13]

The second interpretation by E. P. Thompson in The Making of The English Working Class, (1963) argues that:

We shall probably never be able to determine with certainty whether or not Liverpool and Sidmouth were parties to the decision to disperse the meeting by force. [14]

Thompson is critical of Read’s book and a highly charged historical debate followed after Thompson writes:

Dr. Read succeeds in writing an entire book on Peterloo without finding space for a single eye witness account by a member of the crowd. It is difficult to follow the argument that an historical technique which screens all the evidence, accepting O.K. witnesses and official papers but rejecting the evidence of people who were ridden down or sabred, is likely to turn out ‘scientific’ or ‘objective’ work. [15]

Thompson goes one step further and writes:

There is reason enough to suppose that the Government had determined upon a show-down with the reformers before Peterloo. At some point Old Corruption, faced by swelling demonstrations, a full-blooded Radical press, the election of national representatives, drilling. and threats to withhold taxes, together with ominous symptoms of a growing middle and working-class alliance, was bound either to retreat. or to resort to repression. [16]

It can be seen how these two historical interpretations vary. Donald Read argues that Peterloo was the unfortunate consequence of the lack of foresight on the part of the Manchester magistrates. Whilst E.P. Thompson suspects that it may have been ‘planned as a show-down with the radicals’ definitely in the case of the magistrates and possibly involving Lord Liverpool’s government. Nevertheless, both Read and Thompson agree that the evidence suggests that the crowd at Peterloo were ‘orderly and generally peaceful.’ [17]

The third interpretation by Robert Warmsley in his book Peterloo: the Case Reopened, (1969), disagrees with Thompson on practically every issue and with Read in one issue in particular. Warmsley says that ‘No one has ever seriously tried to refute the radical interpretation of Peterloo,’ and that he intends ‘to put the record straight.’ Firstly, Warmsley agrees with Donald Read that the central government was not responsible for Peterloo. Secondly, Warmsley attempts to absolve William Hulton the magistrates and the yeomanry from any blame at the Peterloo meeting. He also disagrees with both Read and E. P. Thompson along with the majority of other historians of Peterloo. In fact Warmsley’s assertions are nothing more than an endorsement of the testimony given by William Hulton, members of the yeomanry cavalry and special constables. Warmsley’s argument is that the yeomanry rode into the crowd not to injure and kill but to arrest Hunt, and that, only when assailed by missiles from a minority of the crowd, did the yeomanry react in self defence. William Hulton, upon seeing the yeomanry under attack, ordered the 15th Hussars to disperse the crowd. [18] Warmsley concludes:

All the actors in the tragedy were victims. The radicals on the platform, the militants in the crowd, the peaceable in the crowd, the Yeomanry, the constables, the magistrates in their room, and the captives in the New Bayley, were each and severally as much the victims of the tragic chain of circumstances as the dead special constable lying in the Bull’s Head, the wounded in the infirmary, and Mrs Partington, crushed to death, lying at the bottom of the cellar steps. The Statesman sardonically wrote of a Victory there were no victors and no vanquished, only victims. [19]

The 150 th anniversary of Peterloo witnessed the appearance of Jane Marlow’s The Peterloo Massacre, (1969), a valuable contribution and general reader on this controversial historical topic. [20] At the same time Warmsley’s book received some complimentary press, when Michael Kennedy a journalist from the Daily Telegraph in his article ‘What really happened at Peterloo?’ wrote ‘Warmsley’s massive research challenges the accepted version,’ his book ‘leaves no fact unchallenged and uncorroborated, no document unread in full, no source unchecked,’ and that it ‘utterly discredits the accounts in Prentice and Bamford,’ furthermore ‘In the melee the crowd fled. It seems that most of the casualties were caused by panic and that several people were trampled to death by their fellows.’ [21] This was followed by Michael Kennedy’s book Portrait of Manchester, London, (1970), in which he also endorses Warmsley’s view and asserts:

It is part of a Left-wing dogma that Peterloo was an act of class war perpetrated by Lord Liverpool’s government on the working class, that the 60,000 people peaceably assembled in St Peter’s Field on 16 th August 1819 to listen to Hunt’s speech on reform were unprovokedly dispersed by drunken cavalry who savagely sabred several innocent people to death and wounded many others, all on the orders of the panic-stricken specially formed select committee of magistrates. It needed a Mancunian antiquarian bookseller of today, Mr. Robert Warmsley, to put the factual record straight 150 years after the event and after thirty years of patient and scrupulous research for his monumental book, Peterloo: The Case Re-opened. [22]

In addition Michael Kennedy writes:

Why is Peterloo, a comparatively trivial affair not to be compared with the riots in Bristol and Nottingham. the facts of Peterloo and the motives behind it are a good deal less lurid than Socialist propaganda has made out over the years. It was an inspired journalist on the staff of the Manchester Observer, who, with Waterloo but four years in the past, coined the word Peterloo and by this single idea alone probably ensured that the incidents on St. Peter’s Field would have a place in history far beyond their merits or deserts. [23]

Michael Kennedy in defence of the Manchester authorities writes ‘before they are condemned utterly as reactionary oppressors let it be remembered that the excesses of the French Revolution were still fresh in the minds of governing authority.’ [24]

In marked contrast on 11 th December, 1969, an anonymous review of Robert Warmsley’s book appeared in The Times Literary Supplement, which was later discovered to be written by E. P. Thompson. This review was later re-published as ‘Thompson on Peterloo,’ in the Manchester Regional History Review, (1989), and later in a series of essays by Thompson in Making History: Writings on History and Culture, New York, (1994). In this publication Thompson who argues that:

Warmsley is mainly interested, in the events of the day of Peterloo, and even more closely in the events of one half-hour of that day-between 1.15 and 1.45 p.m. and yet the fact is that Mr Warmsley has no new facts to adduce about this half-hour at all. Because the main thrust of Mr. Warmsley’s argument is that, what happened on the day was unintentional, and the crowd (or part of it) was the first aggressor.’ [25]

Thompson also argues that Warmsley ‘would have us believe that the Yeomanry were ordered to support the special constables in the execution of the warrant to arrest the speakers and then advanced in reasonable order and without aggressive intention or action into the crowd and then that the crowd closed in upon them in a menacing manner and the Yeomanry were assailed, at some point close to the hustings, by brickbats and sticks hurled by a portion of the crowd, but that most of the Yeomanry kept their heads until Hunt and his fellow speakers had been arrested, and then, increasingly assailed by brickbats and hemmed in on all sides by a threatening crowd they were forced to beat off their attackers only using the flats of their sabres, in self defence.’ [26]

Thompson says ‘from the outset Warmsley asserts that both Samuel Bamford and Archibald Prentice, ‘continued to pass on their own version…as wilful deceivers of posterity’ and stresses that:

Mr. Warmsley became convinced, not only that William Hulton had been unfairly treated by historians, but that he and his fellow magistrates were victims of nothing less than a Radical conspiracy to falsify the events of the day-a conspiracy fostered by Hunt, Bamford and Richard Carlile, and furthered by Archibald Prentice, (author of Historical Sketches of Manchester), and John Edward Taylor, of the Manchester Guardian, and in which John Tyas, the correspondent of The Times who witnessed the events from the hustings, the Rev. Edward Stanley, and dozens of others who were witting or unwitting accessories-a conspiracy so compelling that even Donald Read, in his sober and by no means radical study of Peterloo (1957), failed to detect it. [27]

Soon afterwards, Donald Read wrote his contrasting review of ‘Peterloo: The Case Re-opened, by Robert Warmsley,’ in History, Volume, 55, (1970), in which he says:

It was probably inevitable that a right wing reassessment of the responsibility for the Peterloo Massacre would follow the emotional left wing interpretation offered by E. P. Thompson in The Making of the English Working Class. [28]

Read further points out that both Warmsley and Thompson are dissatisfied with his distribution of responsibility for the massacre in his Peterloo: the ‘Massacre’ and its Background, (1957), although they differ from him for contrasting reasons. Read stresses that Thompson rejected his interpretation arguing that ‘Sidmouth was anxious for a violent showdown with the Radicals, and that the absence of evidence for this in the Home Office papers was proof only of Establishment cunning in fixing the record.’ Read continues ‘Nevertheless extreme left-wing and extreme right-wing observers of early Radicalism seem to share a propensity to be deeply impressed by the lack of evidence.’ [29]

Further Read argues, ‘However, Warmsley dismisses Thompson’s argument and agrees with Read that, ‘the Home Secretary and his assistants were not responsible for the massacre.’ and ‘Warmsley is agitated because this inevitably lays responsibility for the tragedy exclusively upon the magistrates, and especially upon their chairman at Peterloo, William Hulton.’ Moreover, Read says, ‘Warmsley’s explicit chief intention is to defend Hulton from what he regards as the calumnies of both contemporaries and historians.’ [30]

It can be seen how historical interpretations vary. Firstly Donald Read identifies Peterloo as a massacre, albeit of a peculiarly English kind which resulted from panic and serious lack of foresight on part of the Manchester magistrates rather than from central government direction or premeditation. Secondly, E. P. Thompson, sees Peterloo as a bloody class-based massacre in which premeditation was definitely evident in the case of the Manchester magistrates and possibly by Lord Liverpool’s government. Thirdly, Robert Warmsley has offered the revisionist argument that Peterloo constituted an unfortunate tragedy rather than a massacre, resulting from a series of mishaps and misunderstandings, and in which there were only victims as opposed to victors and vanquished. [31]

In conclusion the three historical interpretations discussed all have their flaws. Both Read and Warmsley ignore the eye witness accounts and inevitably give a pro loyalist bias to their work. On the other hand E. P. Thompson seeks to implicate Lord Liverpool’s Government in the massacre without the support of documentary evidence and in the face of the contradictory evidence presented by Donald Read. Other writers have of course, merely repeated one of these interpretations depending on their sympathy or inclination. For example most recently Robert Poole writes ‘A conservative strain of history has downplayed Peterloo, which in some versions is relegated to the status of a ‘tragedy’ or even an ‘incident.’ [32] In another study the Yeomanry were described as the ‘‘murders of Manchester’’ while another reduced all the events of 16 th August to ‘‘the St Peter’s Field incident.’’ [33] A major problem with in the historiography of Peterloo is of course, most historians have not based their research on primary source documentation and eye witness accounts. Instead the history of Peterloo has been largely based on the assumptions of previous writers and their analysis of the facts taken from secondary works which have simply been repeated in every generation. However, I must agree with Robert Poole that ‘the contrived debate over ‘blame’ for the massacre has been unproductive and attempts to exonerate the Manchester authorities have been wholly unconvincing.’ [34]

[1] Michael Kennedy, Portrait of Manchester, (The Portrait Series), London, (1970), p. 66.

[2] W. A. Speck, A Concise History of Britain 1707-1975, Cambridge, (1995), p. 67.

Manchester commemorated the 200 th anniversary of an infamous day in its history known as the Peterloo Massacre with a £1million memorial in British stone, built by Manchester stone company Mather & Ellis. It is an outstanding example of masonry skills in British stones.

It has taken 200 years, but there is now a memorial in Manchester to commemorate those who died in the Peterloo Massacre, recorded in Shelley’s poem, The Mask of Anarchy. The massacre saw troops ride into a crowd of 60,000 men, women and children, sabres drawn, killing and injuring hundreds of them.

The memorial was erected by Manchester stone company Mather & Ellis – and what a superb example of stonemasonry craftsmanship and display of British stones it is.

Commissioned by Manchester City Council and designed by Turner prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller, it is part of a scheme by Caruso St John Architects with Conlon Construction as the main contractor.

Mather & Ellis Director John Russell says his involvement began when he was visited by a representative of Conlon in November 2018 and was told the project had to be completed in time for the 200th anniversary of the massacre in August 2019. “At that time they didn’t even have planning,” says John, who accepted the project but admits it gave him sleepless nights. “I wasn’t convinced we could finish in time.”

Conlon Construction was chosen as the main contractor because Manchester has a term contract with the company. Conlon approached Mather & Ellis because it had priced the work for the architect on the project a couple of weeks before. “The only brief we had was that it had to be in indigenous stone,” says John.

In spite of John’s reservations, the work was actually finished a week ahead of schedule.

Most of the stone was bought as block and worked by Mather & Ellis, although DeLank and Fyfe Glenrock worked the granites they supplied and Burlington worked its Broughton Moor slate that tops the memorial, while DAR Marble & Granite, another long-standing Manchester stone company, used its Denver Quota CNC machine to cut the inlays to the top of the stone treads to accept the inserts, while the inserts were cut on a waterjet by Aquacut in Knutsford, Cheshire. The files for the CNCs to work to were prepared by Mather & Ellis.

There are a lot of inserts in the 19 courses of stone. They include bronze by architectural metalworker Leander Architectural in Derbyshire in the Broughton Moor Cumbrian slate in the centre of the circles. Broughton Moor and Welsh Cwt-y-Bugail slate are used as inlays in Peak Moor sandstone Cove Red sandstone and DeLank Granite in Whitworth Blue St Bees red sandstone and Cwt-y-Bugail in DeLank Corrennie Pink and Dolerite from Scotland in Cop Cragg Dolerite and Cop Cragg in St Bees St Bees and Cwt-y-Bugail in Fletcher Bank. They appear in splendid combinations that delight the eye and lift the spirit.

The lettering was cut by hand by the masons of Mather & Ellis – and there’s a lot of it. It includes the names of 18 people who died in the massacre (although many more died of their wounds subsequently) and the places the protesters came from. Laying out of the lettering and producing templates for the masons to work from was carried out by Mather & Ellis using AutoCAD.

The monument is 1.8m high and consists of two circular designs, one in the pavement and one rising out of the pavement in diminishing circumference concentric circles on top of each other, creating steps or seats for people to use as a civic space in what Caruso St John describes as the best tradition of Victorian architecture.

But the design brought protests from the time it was announced to the time it was unveiled from people in wheelchairs who objected that they would not be able to access the summit.

Jeremy Deller did amend his design just before it went for planning approval to incorporate a semi-circular ramp of Portland limestone around the base to enable wheelchair access all around the monument, but the problem of reaching the top remained and throughout the construction a dignified demonstration was mounted one evening each week by people in wheelchairs and their supporters.

The controversy denied the memorial the grand opening many believe it richly deserved. Instead, the council simply quietly removed the fencing around it that had protected the site during construction three days before the anniversary of the massacre. There was talk of adding a lift to make the summit accessible to wheelchairs, although that would inevitably compromise Jerry Deller’s artistic concept.

Commentary on the accessibility of the memorial joined with Manchester’s ongoing homelessness crisis and references to the financial crash and an Immigration Removal Centre at Yarl’s Wood when the 200th anniversary of the massacre duly arrived and events were held to mark it.

The air of protest was, perhaps, appropriate for what the memorial commemorates, as the original Peterloo demonstration so violently broken up was calling for parliamentary reform and an end to the corn laws that protected the incomes of wealthy land owners by keeping food prices artificially high.

Whether the memorial does eventually get wheelchair access or not, John Russell says he and his team are “absolutely delighted” to have been involved in the project.

Being from Manchester, John says he was aware of the Peterloo Massacre but doubts many people throughout the country were. It is hoped the memorial will help raise the profile of the Peterloo Massacre.

“Every time I pass it there are people looking at it,” says John. “I think a majority of schools in the city have visited it and everyone involved has taken their families to see it. I will be proud to have been involved in it every time I pass by for many years to come.”

Inlaid into the Broughton Moor centres of the circles are the Leander Architectural bronze pointers indicating the direction of other state attacks on civilians, including Tiananmen Square in China and Bloody Sunday in Derry.

The reference to the other atrocities gives a wider poignancy to the memorial, because the artist wanted it to carry the message that the case of a state turning against its citizens is not unique to one place or time.

The Mather & Ellis contract included the ground work of paving and a dwarf wall. Two people did that while five masons were on site for the build of the memorial. Six more of the 34 people the company employs were brought in to help with the lettering.

The stonework is built around a reinforced concrete frame. The accurate positioning of each unit was vital, as small errors in setting out a circle can quickly cause problems if the exact perimeter is not followed, resulting in a distorted shape.

Each day John Russell insisted that measurements from the centre-point to the perimeter were double checked, but this proved to be time consuming. The masons on site came up with a solution. They built a wooden jig (pictured on the previous page) that they took spots off for each stone with the help of a laser level. It clearly worked as the finished job is perfect.

John, along with Nigel Sharpehouse and Paul Hilton from Conlon, were pivotal to the project, in conjunction with project architect Elena Balzarini and Paul Henderson and Dave Carty from the council. So there was some consternation when, in the middle of it, John took a previously arranged five-day cycling holiday in Portugal.

He admits he would not ideally have taken a holiday during the build if it had not already been arranged. Concerns were raised about him being injured and not being able to return to work, but fortunately the problem did not arise.

At various points throughout the project Jeremy Deller, who likes to involve others in the creation of his works because he feels it diminishes the artistic ego, visited to see how his vision was being realised. He paid several visits to the Mather & Ellis yard in Trafford Park to see the stones taking shape.

All the stone companies that contributed to the memorial were delighted to have been involved. As Rob Dunkley at DAR says: “We are very, very proud of it and to have been involved in it.”

And Richard Collinson, Commercial Manager of Fyfe Glenrock, which worked the Scottish Corrennie Granite and Whinstone, said: “We were pleased to be able to work on this project and supply not just one material, as per our original brief, but also a second.

“The Corrennie Pink was the first course to be laid. We hit the target deadlines, which resulted in Fyfe Glenrock being asked to add an additional course in Scottish Whinstone.

“Granite and Whinstone have similar properties and both have been widely used in building works for hundreds of years. The contrasting colours of these materials and the others from around the UK that make up the layers creates a striking impression on the finished appearance of the memorial.

“The memorial has been described as both subtle and powerful and it’s fitting that there is a visual symbol to remember the price paid for democratic representation.”

The companies that supplied the stones were as follows:
Blockstone: Peak Moor Cove Red
Burlington: Broughton Moor
DeLank: DeLank granite
Dunhouse: Cop Crag
Fyfe Glenrock: Corrennie Pink granite
Marshalls: Whitworth Blue Fletcher Bank
E Moorhouse & Sons: St Bees
Portland Stone Firms: Portland
Tradstocks: Whinstone (Scottish Dolerite)
Welsh Slate: Cwt-y-Bugail

Jennifer Rhodes, Secretary of The Lancashire Group of the Geologists’ Association (https://geolancashire.org.uk/) kindly sent us the PDF you can download below. She said:

This is the document I made for the GA Conference in October of last year. It was held at the University of Manchester on the weekend of 18/19/20 October.

We ran four field excursions including a Manchester Building stones walk, which suited people who had trains to catch back to the South East. I began at the Peterloo Memorial, which had been opened on 16 August, the 200 th anniversary of the massacre, as you say. Everyone enjoyed the walk (or so they said!) but, of course, by the time I got to the Crown Court building at the end of the tour we were a very small band of brothers, most people having taken off to catch their trains. I made the attached document so that those people who left were able to read about what they had missed - and might perhaps come back for another walk. I hope others will enjoy reading it.

Who were the victims of the Peterloo Massacre and what are their stories?

Their names are read out aloud every year in Manchester.

The Peterloo Massacre was a dark day in the city&aposs history, but those who lost their lives will never be forgotten.

An estimated 18 people died - and 700 more were seriously injured.

Unable to recover and without medical intervention, many passed away in the days and weeks after the tragedy at St Peter&aposs Field.

The dead included a two-year-old boy who was knocked from his mother&aposs arms and trampled by a horse.

A mother-of-six who is said to have been pregnant also died.

As Manchester remembers the victims on the massacre&aposs 200th anniversary, the names will be read out once more.

The Manchester Evening News and family history website Find My Past can reveal their stories.

Baptism, marriage and burial records, court papers, newspapers and inquest reports were used for the research, along with files from the National Archives.

William Fildes - aged two.

The first fatality of the day was also the youngest.

William Fildes was killed after his mother, Anne Fildes, was trampled by a horse while carrying him in her arms.

Anne was not even part of the protest. She was out running errands with her neighbours when she happened upon the gathering crowds and, sensing the danger, decided to turn back.

While heading back down Mill Street, she found herself trapped between crowds and the approaching cavalry so moved to the side of the road to let the troops pass.

She was struck by a &aposback marker&apos who had fallen behind and was riding at a gallop to catch up. William was sent flying and fell about two and half yards away. He later died from his wounds.

His death was said to have been covered up by officials who recorded the cause as &aposdied from a fall from his mother’s arms&apos.

John Lees - the Waterloo veteran.

Born in 1797, Lees was the son of a wealthy Oldham cotton mill owner.

Military records show he joined the Royal Artillery as a wagon driver and fought at the battle of Waterloo, where he most likely had the dangerous job of delivering powder to Wellington&aposs guns.

After the war he returned home and resumed work as a spinner

An inquest into his death heard he placed himself at the front of the crowd at St Peter&aposs Field and was one of the first to be wounded.

5 Archbishop Thomas BecketScalped And Hacked To Death

Thomas Becket rose from humble beginnings to become the most powerful clerical figure in England&mdashthe Archbishop of Canterbury. However, he became embroiled in a very public spat with King Henry II and subsequently met a bloody and shocking end.

Upon starting his tenure, Becket was very much the king&rsquos man and had a close friendship with Henry, who had promoted Becket over more experienced churchmen. Relations soon turned sour when the two disagreed over Henry&rsquos attempts to remove the church&rsquos judicial powers. After returning from an initial exile, Becket continued to infuriate Henry to the point where the king supposedly exclaimed, &ldquoWill no one rid me of this turbulent priest?!&rdquo Four of Henry&rsquos knights left immediately. On December 29, 1170, they reached Canterbury Cathedral.

Although the knights probably only initially meant to capture Becket, the Archbishop&rsquos stolid resistance led one of the knights to cut the top of Becket&rsquos skull from his head with the swing of a sword. After another blow, Becket still stood firm, but a third hack from one of the knights&rsquo swords forced him to the floor. Becket&rsquos brains seeped out, dying the ground.

As a final insult, the knight&rsquos clerk stood on the back of Becket&rsquos neck and further scattered the Archbishop&rsquos bloody brains across the cathedral floor. The knights fled, and Europe was shocked that a clergy leader could suffer such a sacrilegious death in the most important religious building in England.

Becket became a martyr. He was canonized by the Pope, and the spot where he fell became a pilgrimage point for followers. Henry would fast and wear a sackcloth in penitence for the guilt he felt over his old friend&rsquos death. Over 300 years later, during the English Reformation and split from the Catholic Church, Henry VIII desecrated Becket&rsquos remains showing that&mdasheven in death&mdashBecket was still a threat to royal power.


Witnesses to the events of 16th August 1819 fall into several categories Members of The Press, Magistrates, Special Constables, Members of the various militia, Residents of Manchester, Organisers of the event and, the huge number of 'the general public' who attended.

Some of the witness statements come from a number of inquests which were held into the causes of death of the victims, whilst others are from testimony given at a number of trials which ensued, notably that of Henry Hunt.

All these witness statements and testimonies are available to view in libraries and archives throughout the country but a great debt is owed to a small, dedicated group of people who have spent years, sifting through boxes of documents, books and manuscripts to extract the information on behalf of everyone else.

The results of the research done to date and still going on have been collected in The Peterloo Witness Project.

Deaths at Peterloo - History

"The Peterloo Massacre (or Battle of Peterloo)," published by Richard Carlile aquatint and etching, published 1 October 1819. Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, NPG D42256. (Click on the image to enlarge it. Notice that the caption also addresses the "Female Reformers of Manchester" who had suffered in the "wanton and furious attack.")

During the period 1812-22, it could be said that England suffered more, economically, socially and politically, than during the French Wars. Consequently there were a number of manifestations of discontent and distress, in the shape of riots and disaffection, which epitomised the 'Condition of England Question'. A series of demonstrations in favour of reform culminated in the deaths of eleven people in Manchester in August 1819 — the " Peterloo Massacre".

On 1 July 1817, five Lancashire magistrates wrote to Lord Sidmouth, the Home Secretary in the Tory government of Lord Liverpool, saying

We cannot have a doubt that some alarming insurrection is in contemplation. [We] cannot but applaud the hitherto peaceful demeanour of many of the labouring classes, yet we do not calculate upon their remaining unmoved. Urged on by the harangues of a few desperate demagogues, we anticipate at no distant period a general rising, and possessing no power to prevent the meetings which are weekly held, we as magistrates are at a loss how to stem the influence of the dangerous and seditious doctrines which are continually disseminated.

In fact, a meeting in Manchester was planned for 9 August to elect Henry Hunt as the working-man's popular representative for Lancashire it had to be cancelled because it was declared to be an illegal gathering. On 4 August, the Home Office wrote to the magistrates in Manchester about the proposed meeting:

Reflexion convinces him [Sidmouth] the more strongly of the inexpediency of attempting forcibly to prevent the meeting on Monday. Every discouragement and obstacle should be thrown in its way. He has no doubt that you will make arrangements for obtaining evidence of what passes that if anything illegal is done or said, it may be the subject of prosecution. But even if they should utter sedition . it will be the wisest course to abstain from any endeavour to disperse the mob, unless they should proceed to acts of felony or riot. (PRO, HO 41/4)

The meeting at St Peter's Field, to be addressed by Henry Hunt, was reorganised for 16 August. The main aim was to demand the reform of parliament as a step towards socio-economic betterment: ordinary people wanted government by the people for the people. This is understandable when one considers that Manchester had a population of 200,000 and no M.P. This applied also to other large towns: Birmingham, Sheffield and Leeds, for example. The organisers of the meeting were moderate men who wanted a peaceful event that would show that they were respectable working men, worthy of responsibility. The local magistrates brought in the Cheshire Yeomanry to control the crowd.

16 August 1819 was a glorious summer's day, and groups of people from all the satellite towns poured into Manchester. They were determined to enjoy themselves on a day out: many were dressed in their Sunday best and had taken their wives and children with them. The meeting went ahead, attended by 50,000 to 60,000 people. It was peaceful but noisy since the crowd consisted of families, it seems clear that there was no preconceived intention of violence.

Manchester's ten magistrates, under chairman William Hulton purported to think that the meeting could be the forerunner of revolution. Watching from a house on the edge of the field, they became increasingly nervous as the size of the crowd grew. They obtained statements from a few people who claimed the meeting posed a danger to law and order: on this pretext Hulton ordered Deputy Constable Joseph Nadin to arrest Hunt and his associates. Nadin disliked the idea of forcing his way through the crowd and said it was impossible. The JPs tried to disperse crowd, but did not read the Riot Act the magistrates called in the military, who were waiting in streets nearby.

The Manchester Yeomanry arrived first. This ill-trained militia had been raised as a direct response to the March of the Blanketeers in March 1817 and consisted mainly of middle-class shopkeepers and tradesmen, who may have been the worse for drink. These men went about their job with great enthusiasm. At the cry "Have at their flags!" they charged into the crowd, aiming not only at the flags on the wagon that held Hunt and other speakers, but at the banners carried by the various contingents. Sabres swinging, regardless of the women and children caught beneath their horses' hooves, they rode through the crowd. Eventually the 15th Regiment of Hussars arrived and their commander asked the magistrates for instructions. The reply he reputedly received was: "Good God, Sir! Do you not see how they are attacking the yeomanry? Disperse the crowd." This they did, but they seemed to spend just as much time keeping the Yeomanry in check.

The result was eleven dead including two women, and about 400 wounded. One man had his nose severed from his face. Peterloo was likened to 'Waterloo' in irony. Here was the government killing patriots. Even some of the employers were horrified. Rochdale millowner Thomas Chadwick, who was at the scene, described the massacre as: "an inhuman outrage committed on an unarmed, peaceful assembly."

John Tyas, The Times ' correspondent who was at St. Peter's Field, found himself on the hustings with Hunt and was accidentally arrested. His unbiased account was the main basis for The Times editorial on 19 August:

It appears by every account that has yet reached London, that in the midst of the Chairman's speech, within less than twenty minutes from the commencement of the meeting, the Yeomanry Cavalry of the town of Manchester charged the populace sword in hand, cut their way to the platform, and with the police at their head, made prisoners of Hunt and several of those who surrounded him - seized the flags of the Reformers - trampled down and cut down a number of the people, who, after throwing some stones and brickbats at the cavalry in its advance towards the hustings, fled on all sides in the utmost confusion and dismay. Of the crowd . a large portion consisted of women. About 8 or 10 persons were killed, and, besides those whom their own friends carried off, above 50 wounded were taken to the hospitals but the gross number is not supposed to have fallen short of 80 or 100, more or less, grievously wounded.

Was that [meeting] at Manchester an 'unlawful assembly'? Was the notice of it unlawful? We believe not. Was the subject proposed for discussion an unlawful object? Assuredly not. Was any thing done at this meeting before the cavalry rode in upon it, either contrary to law or in breach of the peace? No such circumstance is recorded in any of the statements which have yet reached our hands.

Hunt, Bamford — who had led the Middleton contingent but had taken no part in the speeches — and several others were arrested. Hunt, Bamford and two others were convicted of "being persons of a wicked and turbulent disposition" they had "conspired together to create a disturbance of the peace . in a formidable and menacing manner, with sticks, clubs and other offensive weapons." Hunt was sentenced to two and a half years' gaol, the others, to a year each.

On the evening of 16 August, the Manchester magistrates wrote to Sidmouth, justifying their actions:

There was no appearance of arms or pikes, but great plenty of sticks and staves. Long before [Hunt's arrival] the magistrates had felt a decided conviction that the array was such as to terrify all the King's subjects, and was such as no legitimate purpose could justify . While the cavalry was forming, a most marked defiance of them was acted by the reforming part of the mob.

The Government completely endorsed the magistrates' actions and decided it was an illegal meeting anyway.In a letter to Canning on 23 September 1819, Lord Liverpool said:

When I say that the proceedings of the magistrates at Manchester . were justifiable, you will understand me as not by any means deciding that the course which they pursued on that occasion was in all its parts prudent. A great deal might be said in their favour even on this head but, whatever judgement might be formed in this respect, being satisfied that they were substantially right, there remained no alternative but to support them.

No public inquiry was allowed until 1820, giving time for the furore to die down and wounds to heal. The Yeomanry was cleared of blame. Canning commented that:

to let down the magistrates would be to invite their resignation, and to lose all gratuitous service in the counties liable to disturbance for ever. It is, to be sure, very proviking that the magistrates, right as they were in principle, and nearly right in practice, should have soilt the completeness of their case by half an hour's precipitation.

In December 1819 the Government decided that a revolution was afoot and applied repressive policies without enquiring why conditions were as they were. They passed the Six Acts in 1819.

Related Materials

A Relevant Recent Publication

Poole, Robert. Peterloo: The English Uprising . Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019.

Based on detailed research, his book examines the background to both the mass meeting itself and the authorities’ response, making the important point that to understand a massacre one needs above all to understand the context within which that violence was inflicted. With extensive use of the Home Office archives - and offering substantial quotation from the sources - he evokes the world of intelligence gathering, spies and agents provocateurs, the exchanges between the government in London and the forces of law and order in the northwest of England, and the attempts to document the activities of radicals and assess the threat they posed. Extracts from the reports come liberally underlined as in the originals, with those passages identified as “sedition”.

One of the important features of Poole’s account is to put place back at the centre of the story. His analysis is especially strong in exploring the specific local economies, cultures and employment of the areas around Manchester, home to so many of the casualties at Peterloo. He is acute in discussing the world of the magistrates, the constables, the yeomanry and the military, and paints a devastating picture of the corruption and other deficiencies of local government in Manchester.” — Clare Griffiths, “The Manchester Massacre: 200 Years Since an Infamous Episode in English History,” TLS (16 August 2019)

Illustration added 2 November 2018 bibiographical item added 2 November 2019

More stories on historical events

People's History Museum

Not only did they have to work in difficult conditions, but they experienced poverty and were forced to live in cramped areas known as slums.

Workers lacked access to clean water and sewers, and their employers failed to provide them with any support.

Such terrible conditions meant that diseases spread easily and many people died at a young age.

People's History Museum

In addition to the poor working and living conditions, workers experienced a number of other issues:

  1. Most people were unable to vote.
  2. Only men could cast votes in elections and most of the people with this privilege owned land.
  3. Men had been expected to fight in a war in France which ended in 1815. When they returned to the UK, there were no jobs available and very little support.
  4. The UK economy suffered after the wars in France and workers' wages were cut.

Manchester workers were desperate for things to change.

They wanted a fairer political system and the right to vote.

People's History Museum

Around 60,000 people came together at St Peter's Field in Manchester to take part in a peaceful protest.

They wanted to bring their requests for rights to Parliament.

Manchester Libraries

However, they were met with force after the authorities gave orders to soldiers to arrest the leaders and put an end to the protest.

Hundreds of people were injured as a result of the violence and it is thought that around 18 people were killed.

This event became known as the Peterloo Massacre. The 'Peter' part of the name came from the location of the event in St Peters Fields, and the 'loo' part coming from the Battle of Waterloo, fought against France in 1815.

Thirteen years later, politics in the UK started to change.

Manchester finally got its voice in Parliament and for the first time, the city had its own MP.

But it would be nearly a century until every person over the age of 18 in the UK was given the right to vote.

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