Thursday, 14 August 2014

Peterloo: Commentary (Part Four)

Henry Hunt was a West Country man (by no means forgotten!) and a follower of the radical Sir Francis Burdett. The parliamentary reformer, Edmund Cartwright, toured the country in 1812-13, holding meetings north and south, including Stroud; who knows, perhaps Hunt visited Stroud, himself.
After imprisonment, Hunt eventually became a Radical MP for Preston. He was an ardent campaigner against the 1832 Reform Act (which essentially gave the vote to the middle classes, despite the involvement of mass working-class action for an extension of the franchise) and his commitment to the Great Northern Union helped bring about the formation of Chartism after his death.
We could commemorate Hunt (not at all forgotten) and Peterloo, therefore, with a local walk and a sing-song on Selsley Hill, site of the 1839 Chartist mass-meeting.

Here is some more detail about the planned commemorative events in Manchester, as reported by Paul Britton on August 7th in the Manchester Evening News, with added comment from me:
Walkers will retrace the routes to Manchester taken by tens of thousands of campaigners before the infamous Peterloo Massacre’ as part of a campaign to create a memorial in the city centre to the fallen.
‘Eighteen people were killed and hundreds injured when cavalry and soldiers charged a peaceful rally’ for working class votes on August 16, 1819.
‘They had walked to St Peter’s Field in Manchester – now part of St Peter’s Square’ and there was a ‘bloody massacre’; anger accelerated when the Prince Regent’s government congratulated the Manchester J.P.s on their action.
‘Paul Fitzgerald, chairman of the Peterloo Memorial Campaign,’ said ‘the lack of a memorial in Manchester was a “neglected landmark in the history of democracy…
We hope these marches will be the first step in our aim to recreate the entire web of thousands of people who marched into the city centre on that fateful day.
Interest in remembering the massacre has been growing at an amazing rate in the last five years and by the 200th anniversary in 2019, we’re hoping that every town that originally sent protesters will have a presence at the ‘Peterloo Picnic’ we’re in the process of planning. We invite everyone interested to join us on the day.”
The various marches will converge at 1pm at the site of the original protest, the plaza in front of the Manchester Central convention centre. The names of the dead will be read out in front of civic dignitaries.
After the ceremony at 3pm, musicians from the Middleton delegation will stage their performance of a play called ‘Soldiers on the Rampage’ at the People’s History Museum.
A smaller ceremony will be held on the actual anniversary, August 16, beneath the Peterloo plaque at the Radisson Edwardian Hotel.’
For details, email

Even though the lyrics centre on ‘my boys’, there was a large number of women present at the meeting (about 10% of a total of at least 60,000 demonstrators), including many members of the newly formed female reform societies, with a goodly number dressed symbolically in white, forming all women contingents, carrying their own flags. There were over 650 casualties; some 170 were women, four of whom died either on the fields, or later as a result of wounds.
Armed insurrection seemed only too possible after the official reaction to ‘Peterloo’ – and even though government spies and agents-provocateurs infiltrated the radical movement, the Cato Street Conspiracy of 1820 and the March of the Blanketeers in 1819 showed the mood of the country, both north and south.
Shelley, of course, wrote the Masque of Anarchy in response to the massacre at ‘Peterloo’. The poem excoriates the hypocrisy and greed of governmental figures such as Lord Sidmouth, Lord Eldon and ‘I met murder on the way, He had a face like Castlereagh’ within a piece of some 90 verses. Just a few stanzas are included here:
Stand ye calm and resolute,
Like a forest close and mute,
With folded arms and looks which are
Weapons of unvanquished war.

And if then the tyrants dare,
Let them ride among you there,
Slash, and stab, and maim and hew,
What they like, that let them do.

With folded arms and steady eyes,
And little fear, and less surprise
Look upon them as they slay
Till their rage has died away.

Then they will return with shame
To the place from which they came,
And the blood thus shed will speak
In hot blushes on their cheek.

Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number,
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you-
Ye are many — they are few

 With thanks to for permission to use With Henry Hunt we'll go under a Creative Commons License.

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