Economic Annals of the Nineteenth Century

By William Smart | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXXII
1819. PETERLOO

. . THE widespread depression of 1819 was taken full advantage of by the "Radical Reformers," as they were now being called. In June, many large meetings were held at Glasgow, Leeds, and Ashton-under-Lyne; one at Hunslet Moor, it was said, was attended by 35,000 persons. Not the slightest breach of the peace occurred at these meetings, but the language of the speakers was certainly very inflammatory. A Female Reformers' Society was formed at Blackburn for the purpose of co-operating with the men, in "instilling into the minds of their children a deep-rooted hatred of our tyrannical rulers." The ferment spread through Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cheshire, Nottingham, and Leicester. At Birmingham, a great assemblage took the extraordinary step of appointing Sir Charles Wolseley their "representative," or "legislatorial attorney," to advise the Prince Regent, and Wolseley was foolish enough to consent to the farce, and pledge himself to claim a seat in the House of Commons. The Manchester Radicals resolved to follow the precedent, but, warned that this would not be allowed, they contented themselves with organising a meeting at St. Peter's Field, on the 16th August, to petition for a reform of parliament. This was the Manchester Insurrection -- the "Peterloo" immortalised by Carlyle.

Radical agitation

St. Peter's Field

All the forenoon, crowds to the number of 20,000 kept pouring in from the surrounding country, armed only with sticks, but in rude imitation of military formation of fours deep, carrying flags and emblems inscribed "No Corn Laws," "Vote by Ballot," "Equal Representation or Death," etc.

By one o'clock, there was a vast crowd, estimated variously from 50,000 to 80,000, on the field -- a then unenclosed space of about three acres -- among them about 150 female reformers

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