Today is the 199th anniversary of the Peterloo by Christopher Oxford

Written by my friend, Christopher Oxford.

Today is the 199th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre, an epochal event in the development of British democracy.

On August 16th, 1819, St Peter’s Fields, a large open space in the centre of Manchester, was the scene of an atrocity in which mounted soldiers attacked a crowd of over 60,000 peaceful suffrage protesters. Eighteen people, including four women and a child, died from sabre cuts and trampling, and nearly seven hundred more received grievous injuries – all in the name of political emancipation.

Peterloo occurred during a period of immense social tension and mass protests caused by political repression, economic depression and widespread poverty in aftermath of the Napoleonic wars. Fewer than one in fifty people had the vote, and hunger was widespread, with bad harvests, and the disastrous Corn Laws, making the people’s staple food barely affordable.

On the morning of August 16th, crowds began to congregate, coming in from the outlying districts of Manchester, and the surrounding towns; all conducting themselves, according to contemporary accounts, with dignity and discipline, the majority of them dressed in their Sunday best.

The main address was to be given by the inspirational speaker Henry “Orator” Hunt, from a hustings platform consisting of a large agricultural cart, and the Fields were filled with banners – REFORM, UNIVERSAL SUFFRAGE, EQUAL REPRESENTATION and, ironically, LOVE. Many of the banner poles were topped with the red cap of liberty – a powerful symbol from revolutionary France (it was only 26 years since the Terror).

Watching the ever-increasing assembly from a window overlooking the Fields, a local magistrate who had been charged with keeping the peace became uneasy, and after a brief consultation, decided to have the crowd disperse by the officially sanctioned method of reading the Riot Act aloud. Above the hubbub preceding the event, the words could scarcely be heard; but that gave legal cover for what happened subsequently.

In neighbouring streets, an extensive military force had been assembled, in anticipation of disorder: unbelievably, there were six hundred mounted Hussars; two hundred infantrymen; an artillery unit with two six-pounder guns; four hundred men of the local Cheshire cavalry; and additionally, four hundred rapidly sworn-in special constables.

With all these troops held in reserve, the local Yeomanry, led by Captain Hugh Birley and Major Thomas Trafford, a paramilitary force drawn from the ranks of the local mill and shop owners, was given the task of moving and arresting the speakers. Many of them had been drinking while they waited, on an unusually warm summer day. On horseback, armed with sabres and clubs, many were familiar with, and had old scores to settle with, the leading protesters. (In one instance, on spotting a reporter from the radical “Manchester Observer”, a Yeomanry officer was heard to cry “There’s Saxton, damn him – run him through!”)

As the Yeomanry approached the hustings, people in the crowd linked arms to try and prevent the arrests. An order was given to advance regardless, and the first rank of the Yeomanry drew their swords, and proceeded to cut down banners and slash at protestors below them with their razor-edged swords.

The surge of panicked people trying to get out of the way was interpreted from a distance as the crowd attacking the Yeomanry, and the Hussars (experienced professional soldiers led by Lieutenant Colonel Guy L’Estrange) were ordered in. Their vanguard cut a swathe through the crowd from the far side of the Fields.

Despite this, there were unlikely heroes among the military. An unnamed cavalry officer attempted to strike up the swords of the Yeomanry, crying, “For shame, gentlemen: what are you about? The people cannot get away!”; while the Cheshire cavalry did not move forward. The Hussars, though, disciplined and relentless, rapidly cut through the crowd and joined up with the Yeomanry, in some cases striking down fleeing protesters.

In only a few minutes, by 2 pm, the carnage was over, leaving St Peter’s Fields piled with abandoned banners and the bodies of the dead and wounded – and the whole of Manchester reeling in shock. The term ‘Peterloo’ was rapidly coined, to mock the soldiers who had attacked unarmed civilians – contrasting their cowardice with the valour of troops at Waterloo, four years earlier.

On the orders of the magistrates, journalists who had been present at the event were arrested; others who went on to report the event were subsequently jailed. As a direct reaction to what he’d seen at St Peter’s Fields, the businessman John Edward Taylor went on to raise a subscription to set up the Manchester Guardian newspaper.

In the weeks that followed, most of the speakers and organizers of the rally were arraigned in court – a charge of High Treason only reluctantly being dropped by the prosecution after a public outcry. The Hussars, and the magistrates, by contrast, received a message of congratulation from the Prince Regent, and all the authorities policing the event were cleared of any wrongdoing by the subsequent official inquiry.

The indignant reaction to Peterloo was hugely influential in prompting a long-lived national debate about who should have the right to vote. After the Great Reform Act of 1832, the late 1830s saw the rise of the mass Chartist movement, with its Six Demands, which pressured governments for nearly twenty years. All those demands bar one (annual Parliaments) were later enacted, in the franchise reforms of 1867 and 1884, and successive Representation of the People Acts in the 20th Century.

via Today is the 199th anniversary of the Peterloo… – Christopher Oxford

The Somme | GM 1914

From July to November 1916, one of the bloodiest battles, not just in the First World War, but in human history took place. For many, the Battle of the Somme truly symbolised the horrors of the Great War. The terrifying and brutal nature of trench warfare, the stalemate and tactics of attrition and death rates far beyond our comprehension today are all associated with the Somme. Over the course of the five months, over 400,000 men would be wounded or killed in the wet, muddy and disease ridden trenches of the Western Front.

The British were led by the now infamous and controversial figure of General Sir Douglas Haig who had previous military experience in Africa where he rose to prominence in the Sudan in 1898. Alongside him was…

Source: The Somme | GM 1914

vintage everyday: The Last Days of the Slums – 20 Amazing Vintage Photographs Captured Life on the Streets of Manchester in the 1960s

From neighbours chatting between rubble-strewn terraces to kids playing cricket on cracked pavements, Shirley Baker’s photographs capture a rich street life on the brink of being bulldozed into history…

Source: vintage everyday: The Last Days of the Slums – 20 Amazing Vintage Photographs Captured Life on the Streets of Manchester in the 1960s

Underground Manchester: Tunnels, a tube station and even shops hidden beneath the city’s streets revealed – Manchester Evening News

Lying just below the surface of Manchester sits a complex network of underground tunnels.

Several kilometres of subterranean passageways and spaces stretch under large parts of the city centre and beyond.

These tunnels include the remnants of a tube station that never was, a communications bunker, air raid shelters, canals and even shops.

Author Keith Warrender has written two books on the subject, Underground Manchester and Below Manchester, and regularly gives talks on what is below the surface of Manchester.

Keith, who took the took the above pictures during his various trips below ground, said there is evidence of tunnels being used below the city for several hundred years.

He added: “It was something that interested me and I began to research the subject and started to…

Source: Underground Manchester: Tunnels, a tube station and even shops hidden beneath the city’s streets revealed – Manchester Evening News.

Women’s Peace Crusades 1916-18 | GM 1914

This blog was written by Dr Alison Ronan of MMU about an exciting project that will be taking place in the near future researching the Women’s Peace Crusades.

The Women’s Peace Crusade 1916-1918 spread like wildfire across the country.

So why haven’t we heard of this series of spontaneous demonstrations? Thousands of women went on to the streets to protest about the war and the need for a peace to be negotiated. They carried banners, wore armbands and sung! The Crusades were co-ordinated by women from the Independent Labour Party and the Women’s International League across the country after the Somme and the first Russian revolution. There were over a hundred crusades across Britain and there was a dedicated column in the Labour Leader after May 1917 which was edited by socialist Ethel Snowden and gave news of the Crusade to its readers.

We want to look at local Crusades in the North West in more depth – Manchester, Oldham, Bolton, Burnley, Accrington, Nelson and Blackburn.

Were they reported in local papers?

Are there any surviving…

Source: Women’s Peace Crusades 1916-18 | GM 1914

The Fallen

GM 1914

One of the most enduring images of the First World War is of the seemingly endless rows of white gravestones, somewhere in a foreign field. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is responsible for maintaining cemeteries and memorials which stretch from the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres to the Helles Memorial in Gallipoli.

Sir Fabian Ware, a British Red Cross commander, started the Commission after being grieved at the number of casualties in the first years of the war. The mobile unit Sir Fabian commanded started to record and care for the graves they uncovered. By 1915, the unit had been officially recognised as the Graves Registration Commission and by 1917 the Imperial War Graves Commission had been granted a Royal Charter.

After the armistice, land and cemeteries for the dead were sought. Three architects were commissioned; Sir Edwin Lutyens, Sir Herbert Baker, and Sir Reginald Blomfield. Rudyard Kipling advised on…

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Originally posted on The Slog.

My great-aunt Lizzie was a mill-girl with aspirations to better herself. Whereas in 2015, ‘aspiration’ is really a euphemism for material greed, back in 1908 it wasn’t. A hundred and seven years ago it meant becoming respectable through marriage. Neither is that attractive as a trait, but in terms of anthropology, the latter is both more natural and not entirely dysfunctional. At the turn of the century before last, it was entirely understandable: if you worked a ten-hour day six days a week and would receive no compensation for falling into the machinery as a result of fatigue, then eschewing the need to do that was a highly desirable step in the right direction.

Like most members of my family, Elizabeth didn’t like her given name. When still very young, she opted for Lilly (or Lil) as a suitable nickname, and to her dying day intensely disliked being called Lizzie. One rather suspects that – given the racy success of the Jersey Lilly as Edward VII’s mistress – she saw this as part of her single-handed attempt to climb the socio-demographic mountain put in the Lower Order’s way in those days. The mountain still exists, the main difference now being that…

Source: Anecdotage

A Real Life Sherlock – Guest post by Angela Buckley – Madame Guillotine

Originally posted on Madame Guillotine.

On the evening of 6 December 1886, Arthur Foster left the Queen’s Theatre, Manchester, with a pocket full of gold and a bejewelled lady on his arm. He hailed a hansom cab and as the couple settled into the carriage, a shadowy figure slipped in beside them. The yellow light of a gas lamp revealed him as an older man, dark-haired, with a full beard and moustache. Foster, AKA the Birmingham Forger, recognised the stranger immediately: the intruder sitting in his cab was Detective Chief Inspector Jerome Caminada, who had once again caught his man.

The year before the début appearance of Sherlock Holmes in A Study in Scarlet, Detective Caminada was at the top of his game. He had been policing the crime-infested streets of Manchester for more than two decades, and had proved himself to be one of the city’s finest detectives. Like his fictional counterpart, his exceptional sleuthing skills were rooted in his past.

Jerome Caminada was born on 15 March 1844 in Deansgate, in the centre of Manchester. His father was an Italian cabinetmaker and his mother had Irish heritage. Jerome’s impoverished childhood was marked by…

via A Real Life Sherlock – Guest post by Angela Buckley – Madame Guillotine.