[1819] - Peterloo Massacre takes place, St Peter’s Fields, Manchester

The Peterloo Massacre, 16th August 1819, pub. 1st October 1819 by Richard Carlile (coloured etching) by Cruikshank, George (1792-1878) (Manchester Art Gallery, UK/ The Bridgeman Art Library)

The Peterloo Massacre took place on 16 August 1819 at St Peter’s Fields in Manchester. Following the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, food shortages, high unemployment and the lack of suffrage in the industrial cities of northern England had fomented the radical cause in Britain. Consequently, the Manchester Patriotic Union, an organization dedicated to parliamentary reform, organized a mass political meeting in Manchester at which the orator Henry Hunt was invited to speak. A crowd of approximately 60,000 people had gathered, but as the meeting got underway local magistrates called on the military to arrest Hunt and a number of other leading figures who were present. As a result, armed cavalry stormed the meeting, charging into the crowd with swords drawn: fifteen people were killed and hundreds were injured. The event became known as the Battle of Peterloo, an ironic allusion to the Battle of Waterloo of 1815. The massacre only encouraged the government to suppress reform initiatives further by introducing the Six Acts, a body of legislation that sought to prevent large political meetings and restrict radical periodicals. The massacre inspired Percy Shelley to compose ‘The Mask of Anarchy’.

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