60,000 people marched on St Peter's Field August 16, 1819, a site , on which the Free Trade Hall stood, the home of the Halle orchestra and which has been transformed into the extremely ugly Radisson Hotel.
The marchers wanted to hear Henry `Orator' Hunt, a popular political campaigner of the time and champion of parliamentary reform - when only 2% of adult males had the vote.
Henry Hunt, Samuel Bamford and others were put on trial at York assizes for conspiracy and sedition in connection organising the meeting which ended in the 'Peterloo Massacre'. Bamford defended himself, and his line of defence at times puzzled the judge. Bamford's star witness was James Dyson, a neighbour from Middleton. Dyson's description of the march as a kind of festive village outing ...
The wives of several of the party accompanied their husbands. There were several hundred of women with our party and the Rochdale party. I saw many of them at Manchester . . . the women who accompanied us were relatives of the men who marched in the procession. It is customary at our wakes and rush-carts in Lancashire to have banners and music; the rush-carts are held on a Saturday, and on the following Monday the men walk in procession, but they do not keep the step. Justice Bayley asked for an explanation of the term 'rush cart'. Mr Bamford explained , that it is an annual custom to have a cart in which rushes are neatly placed; this cart is drawn by young men decorated with ribbons, and preceded by young women, music, etc.Panicking magistrates, fearing an uprising, ordered Hunt's arrest. They ordered the crowds to disperse. When they did not, the Yeomanry already drawn up in readiness, drew their sabres and charged - killing several protestors including a woman and child. 11 died and some 500 limped back home in jured . Click here for popular print of the day showing the scene - Published by J.Evans and Sons, 42 Long LaneWest, Smithfield, 27th August, 1819)
With the command to the Yeomanry Cavalry to 'have at their banners', and, as Samuel Bamford, vividly recalled, the contest for them continued throughout that terrible day. Peterloo banners that survived were regarded as sacred relics (see below) and often took pride of place among the banners and flags carried by the local Chartists.
Today on the 188th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre, protestors led by Peter Fitzgerald, 46, gathered on the site to demand a new commemorative plaque (pic of suggested plaque) and a monument to those who fell.
Sir Richard Leese, Labour council leader, agrees the plaque should be replaced explaining the City also wanted to officially mark the Suffragette movement and the Abolition of Slavery.
Some of the flags carried that day (were ?) are to be seen in Middleton Public Library. Ben Brierley wrote of the graves of 5 of the dead in Queens Park cemetery in Harpurhey, north of the City. Lord Patel has tried to find them in the overgrown and neglected municipal cemetery - but the place is overrun in daylight hours with drug users / dealers, drunks and is none too safe to root around in.
Anyone interested in pursuing the identifying of their graves, cleaning and arranging for visotrs to find them should contact Lord Patel.
The Women at Peterloo: The Impact of Female Reform on the Manchester Meeting of 16 August 1819. M.L.Bush - History 89 (294), 209–232. doi:10.1111/j.1468-229X.2004.00298.x
"Central to the Peterloo Massacre in 1819 was the high public profile of working-class women who attended the parliamentary reform meeting that preceded it in all-female contingents, carrying their own flags, distinctively dressed in white and with their own women leaders prominently displayed on the speakers' platform."
... and an unbroken line to Annie Kenney, the Pankhursts and the Suffragettes.
"These persons bore two banners, surmounted with caps of liberty, and bearing the inscriptions: "No Corn Laws," "Annual Parliaments," "Universal Suffrage," "Vote By Ballot." Some of these flags, after being paraded round the field, were planted in the cart on which the speakers stood; but others remained in different parts of the crowd." More here
This is the Skelmanthorpe Flag (or banner) made in 1819 , not carried at Peterloo but embroidered and used in marches and protests around Skelmanthorpe near Sheffield.
"Skelmanthorp will not rest Satisfied with the Suffrage being anything but Universal."a claim / demand taken up by the Chartists. Their demand for Annual Parliaments remains.... (Original in the collection of People's History Museum, Manchester)
The event prompted Percy Bysshe Shelley to write the Mask of Anarchy...the last verse ...
'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.'