‘Manchester’s Tiananmen Square’: Walk commemorates anniversary of bloody Peterloo Massacre

By David Keane

Mancunians can get to grips with their city’s brutal history, in a walk to commemorate the anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre – deemed Manchester’s Tiananmen Square.

Tens of thousands had gathered on an open piece of land – an area near St Peter’s Square where the Radisson Hotel now stands – demanding parliamentary reform on August 16 1819.

Yet the peaceful crowd were charged by cavalry with sabres drawn, leaving 15 dead and well over 600 injured.

Nick Mansfield, director of the People’s History Museum in Salford, said: “Peterloo is a critical event not only because of the number of people killed and injured, but because ultimately it changed public opinion to influence the extension of the right to vote and give us the democracy we enjoy today. It was critical to our freedoms.”

The name ‘Peterloo’ came from ‘Waterloo’ and the massacre was often referred to as ‘The Battle of Peterloo’, mocking those soldiers who had turned their swords on unarmed civilians.

The crowd had been demanding parliamentary reform in a time when only aroudn 2% of the population had the vote.

Reports at the time claimed many of the yeomanry were drunk when they charged the crowd, however many of those who tried to report on the event were subsequently arrested.

Many historians cite it as one of the major events in the struggle to win ordinary people the vote, as well as being a key factor in the rise of The Chartist Movement – from which trade unions eventually came.

And now Red Flag Walks are retracing the fateful events of that day 193 years ago.

This Thursday, they set out from the Friends Meeting House on Mount Street – which is where the protestors gathered outside – and explore the background of the massacre, as well as its impact afterwards.

They will also explore the role of women in the reform movement and their involvement in the bloody events of August 16 1819.

“The role of women in the events of Peterloo is often overlooked” said Michael Herbert, founder of Red Flag Walks and author of numerous Manchester history books.

“In July 1819 women in Blackburn, Manchester and Stockport set up Female Reform Societies which issued addresses to the public calling for parliamentary reform. 

“Women took part in the processions which went to Peterloo, indeed, some were led by young women wearing white. Mary Fildes was on the speaker’s platform and was attacked by the military. Four women were killed and over a hundred women injured,” he said.

One startlingly vivid eye-witness account noted how at least one woman fought back and paid the price.

Sam Bamford wrote after the event: “A heroine, a young married woman of our party, with her face all bloody, her hair streaming about her, her bonnet hanging by the string, and her apron weighted with stones, kept her assailant at bay until she fell backwards and was near being taken; but she got away covered with severe bruises.”

The walk begins at 11am on Thursday August 16 outside the Friends Meeting House, Mount Street and costs £6/£5 concessions. It will be led by Michael Herbert.

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