On the 16th August 1819, the Peterloo Massacre occurred at St Peter’s Field in Manchester when a group of over 60,000 protesters were charged by cavalry. An estimated 15 people died, and approximately 700 others were injured.

The protesters had gathered to hear the radical speaker Henry Hunt demand parliamentary and social reform. Britain was caught in the midst of economic depression and the textile industry, concentrated in the industrial centres of northern England, was particularly badly hit. Factory owners cut wages by as much as two-thirds which, combined with the increased price of grain due to the Corn Laws that imposed tariffs on cheaper imports, led to workers facing famine as they could no longer afford to buy food.

They also lacked political representation. The millions of people who lived in the Lancashire mill towns were represented by just two Members of Parliament due to out-of-date constituency boundaries and, due to the limitations of voting rights, they weren’t eligible to vote anyway. These inequalities became a target for radicals, who quickly gained working class support.

Contemporary accounts say that the crowds were peaceful and in good spirits when they assembled on the morning of the 16th August. However, the chairman of the magistrates was concerned by the enthusiastic reception when Henry Hunt arrived, the ordered the local Yeomanry to arrest him. Caught in the crowd, the cavalry began hacking with their sabres. The melee was interpreted by the magistrates as the crowd attacking the yeomanry, and more cavalry were sent in. The crowd dispersed within ten minutes, but eleven people died on the field.

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© Scott Allsop