On 16th August 1819 there was a mass meeting held at St Peter's Fields in Manchester protesting against the starvation wages being paid to cotton spinners and particularly weavers, and against the old system of Parliamentary representation which meant that Manchester, then the second largest city in England, had no MP. The meeting was addressed by Henry Hunt, a famous Radical. The Mancunian authorities were nervous that the crowd were going to attempt a revolution so they read the Riot Act and decided to arrest Hunt. The size of the crowd, tens of thousands, meant that they felt the police, mostly consisting of volunteer Special Constables recruited for the occasion, would be unable to accomplish the arrest and the dispersal of the crowd so the magistrates requested military back up. The Manchester and Salford Yeoman Cavalry, a company of part-time amateur soldiers, were in readiness, having sharpened their sabres when recruited to attend the meeting. They had also been fortifying their nerves with spirits and were drunk. They charged the crowd resulting in at least a dozen deaths from trampling and sabre wounds and several hundred injuries. Since this happened four years after the Battle of Waterloo it became known as the Peter Loo, or Peter-Loo, or Peterloo Massacre. The right-wing reactionary Tory government of Prime Minister Lord Liverpool proceeded to refuse demands for an inquiry, to exonerate the panicking magistrates (promoting one of them) and to praise the over-reacting and murderous Yeomanry. They even prosecuted the Radicals who had been there and jailed a number of them. The Radical movement collapsed afterwards. However, it may be that the memory of Peterloo helped bring about the parliamentary reforms starting with the Reform Bill of 1832.
This is a well-written book. The first half is concerned with the situation before the Massacre: the economic condition of the weavers and spinners during the early Industrial Revolution, and the development of radical and Radical thought. The archaic methods of governing Manchester, a market borough owned by the Lord of the Manor who appointed the BoroughReeve, the Court of Leet, and the two Constables (while attempting to sell his manorial rights for £90,000), contributed to a magistracy that was out of touch with the people and prone to panic. The actual Massacre takes only a couple of chapters; after all, it happened quickly. The truly shocking aftermath of government reaction takes the rest of the book. Despite the fact that the gory bits are dealt with swiftly, this is a fascinating read.
A slice of working class history that deserves to be better known. November 2018; 208 pages
- Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57