Four years after the Battle of Waterloo, England saw the Industrial Revolution in full swing, but ordinary people were suffering in a divided country where they lacked parliamentary representation. Today we have boundary and electoral reform commissions but then large places of population like Manchester had no representation, yet a deserted place like Old Sarum had two members of Parliament where people had moved away to live in what is now the present city of Salisbury. Members of Parliament, absent from their constituencies, were enjoying the pleasures of their landed acres, hunting, or enjoying the delights of spa towns or the seaside. Ordinary men had been away fighting to defend the country from Napoleon, and then came home to find no work because of increasing industrialisation, restrictive practices, high taxes and the exorbitant cost of food.
Therefore two hundred years ago the ordinary people of Manchester and surrounding towns and villages were galvanised by the Manchester Patriotic Union and converged on St. Peter’s Fields, Manchester on the 16th August 1819. They went to listen to powerful orators like Henry Hunt, who could put the case for parliamentary reform and speak of the grievances of ordinary folk, and thus inform the establishment of the situation.
Once the meeting had begun the Manchester and Salford yeomanry charged into the crowd to arrest Hunt. The Hussars were then called to disperse them and charged with sabres drawn. ‘The people began running in all directions, and from this moment the yeomanry lost all control of temper; numbers were trampled under the feet of men and horses; many, both men and women, were cut down by sabres, several,…were slain on the spot.’ (from the Annual Register 1819)
18 people were killed and at least 400 were wounded.
Little was done following Peterloo until the first parliamentary reforms in 1832.
The Chartist movement for workers’ rights followed in the 1840s.
The ‘Manchester Guardian’ was founded.
Samuel Greg, the founder of Quarry Bank, a cotton mill 12 miles from central Manchester, and his son, Robert Hyde Greg saw the Peterloo massacre from close quarters. They opposed the subsequent ‘cover-up’ and Robert later gave testimony criticising the establishment’s response.
Quarry Bank is now owned by the ‘National Trust’ and is open to visitors.
Some Possible Actions
List places in the world today where people are struggling to achieve democracy.
Choose one out place and find as much as possible.
Identify a community in the place you choose, and write a card of concern and support
August 2019 Action Card