Sunday, 16 August 2015
The Peterloo massacre is the term given to an attack by Yeomanry cavalry on a pro-parliamentary reform demonstration which had converged on St Peters Field in Manchester on 16th August 1819, since renamed St Peters Square. Where over 60,000 peaceful pro-democracy and anti- poverty protestors had gathered, amid a time of growing poverty and unemployment, mainly caused by the Corn Laws that artificially inflated bread prices at a time when only 2% could vote. According to contemporary accounts those that assembled carried themselves with dignity and discipline, the majority dressed in their sunday best.
The key speaker was a famed orator by the name of Henry Hunt, the platform consisted of a simple cart, and the space was filled with banners - Reform, universal suffrage, equal representation, and love. Many of the banners poles were topped with red cap of liberty- a powerful symbol at the time.
Local magistrates panicked at the sheer size of the crowd and read out the riot act, and ordered in the military to arrest the speaker. The cavalry hussars charged and attacked the meeting, riding their horses into the crowd. The end result left at least 15 dead and up to 700 seriously injured. It is not known how many of the injured died later from wounds inflicted by sabre wielding cavalry. The massacre was named Peterloo in an ironic comparison to the Battle of Waterloo which had taken place 4 years earlier
It would lead to the suppression of public expression of opinion, debate, gathering and dissent, which unleashed a wave of public anger and protests, which eventually was to lead to the Great Reform Act of 1832, which led to limited suffrage, and todays still limited parliamentary democracy. It also gave rise to the Chartist movement, and the strength of the Trade Union movement.
We should never forget on whose shoulders we stand. It also was marked shortly after by Percy Bysshe Shelley's powerful 91 verse epic The Masque of Anarchy.
A reminder today that such rights that we have today were hard one, but are slowly being taken away by this current vicious Tory Government. All roads lead to Manchester where the Tory's will be having their winter conference in October, we must continue to display our defiance.
" Shake your chains to earth like dew,
ye are many -they are few " - Percy Bysshe Shelley
Link to Masque of Anarchy