14th Feb 2020: Visit, Listen, Learn, Write – Disrupt? Peterloo and Protest

Come along to the People’s History Museum (Left Bank, Spinningfields, Manchester, M3 3ER, United Kingdom) at 2pm where we will go around the ‘Disrupt? Peterloo and Protest’ exhibition before having a chat in the cafe about any thoughts which came to mind.

Peterloo Massacre


The event is an informal visit to an exhibition taking people through the history of the Peterloo Massacre which happened in 1819.  The aim is to visit the museum, take in the exhibition and history through listening and conversation, and – for those who want to – they can write an article on what they have learned.


The People’s History Museum celebrates our radical past with the aim to inspire and motivate people to take action and shape a future where ideas of democracy, equality, justice and co-operation are thriving.


This exhibition is part of the national commemorations marking 200 years since the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester in 1819.  The exhibit tells the story of Peterloo and highlights its relevance today, examining issues within our democracy that people are campaigning for 200 years on.


The exhibition features objects, including original Peterloo artefacts, brought together for the very first time, alongside pieces telling more recent stories of various protests.  It includes a specially commissioned short film which brings to life the story of Peterloo, protest, and the road to democratic reform.


Also there is a creative space within the exhibition framed as a Protest Lab; an experimental gallery for individuals, communities and organisations to use to share and develop their views and ideas for collective action.


A few paragraphs on the subject:

In 1819 St Peter’s Square in the center of Manchester was the site of a huge peaceful pro-democracy and anti-poverty demonstration which brought together 60,000 people from the surrounding country in an effort to gain political representation for the unrepresented people of Lancashire who were subjected to abject poverty.


The political system was corrupt with what were called Rotten Boroughs which held a perversely disproportionate influence in the Parliament of the United Kingdom compared to the size of their populations.  Political representation was something which was afforded to wealthy patriarchs and a host of problems resulted from this.


It was a time after the Napoleonic wars (1815) when chronic economic depression was damaging the population as wealthy industrialists cut wages with no consideration of giving support of poor relief.  Wages had been cut to a third of what they were and the Corn Laws had been imposing tarrifs to prevent grain and cereals from being imported, so the general population had no choice but to pay the inflated prices local producers were asking for poorer quality food stuffs.


From these circumstances the drive and desire for widespread political reform brought communities together to petition George IV for representation and better conditions.  Contemporary accounts documented that the event was well organised and peaceful, being orchestrated with dignity and discipline, the majority being dressed in their best Sunday clothes.


Watching this from a window the local magistrates feared the assembly of people and enacted the riot act to disperse the crowds.  The local Yeomanry, intoxicated from drinking all day, were told to arrest the speakers in the protests.  Led by Captain Hugh Birley and Major Thomas Trafford, a militia was set upon the peaceful protest using cavalry, sabres and clubs.


18 people, men, women and a child, died from sabre cuts and trampling as well as almost 700 men, women and children were recorded to have extremely serious injuries.  The day came known as The Peterloo Massacre because it joined the battle of Waterloo with St Peter’s Field to form its name.  Today this history is remembered as a legacy of what happened.


John Edward Taylor who was a member of the business community witnessed the atrocity and turned to journalism in an effort to aid the campaign for reform.  The Manchester Guardian was born which eventually became the Guardian newspaper which we have today.


More information can be found:

Working Class Movement Library learning resources: https://www.wcml.org.uk/download/4bd02833cef8a/

The Peterloo Memorial Campaign: http://www.peterloomassacre.org/index.html

The Guardian Newspaper: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/jan/04/peterloo-massacre-bloody-clash-that-changed-britain


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