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In Search of the Peterloo Memorial

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Manchester Central Library

Saint Peter's Square

Manchester

M2 5PD

United Kingdom

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16 August 1819: troops charged 60,000 Mancunians at a rally called to lower the price of bread and demand the vote. More than a dozen people died and some 650 were injured. The event, the most violent episode in English political history, became known as the Peterloo Massacre.

This is a differnet walk from our usual commemoration of the awful events of the Peterloo Massacre. We go in search of the Peterloo Memorial, the semi-mythical obelisk dedicated to Henry Hunt, the main speaker on the day, that stood in Ancoats for only around 30 years.

A statue to Hunt, set on a slender 32 foot-high obelisk, stood from 1842-88 in the burial ground of the Bible Church on Every Street, Ancoats. The land had been donated by James Scholefield who had built the adjacent Round House chapel and toured the area to win support for the idea following Hunt’s death in 1836, urging people to “remember the foul deeds of Peterloo”.

The foundation stone was laid on Good Friday 1842 when some 16,000 people lined the half-mile route from Stevenson Square to Every Street. Presiding over the ceremony was Feargus O’Connor, the Irish Radical MP and a leading member of the Chartists, the body that wanted to radically change the British voting system.

During the proceedings a 15-year-old boy from the Manchester Youth Chartist Association made a speech in which he warned O’Connor that the young people of Manchester would have little time for the Charter “unless it would give them a Government based on the principles of Republicanism”. This call to replace the monarchy with a presidency alarmed the authorities. Worried at the prospect of a large unruly mob assembling, they cancelled the official unveiling of the monument, set for 16 August 1842, the anniversary day of the Peterloo Massacre. The prime minister, Robert Peel, told Queen Victoria that he planned to send “a battalion of Guards by railway…it is feared that there may be a great assemblage of persons riotously disposed on that day.” The government also printed a Royal Proclamation, threatening action against “lawless and disorderly Persons assembled in a riotous and tumultuous manner.” The day passed off peacefully.

By the 1880s the monument’s stone work had rotted away due to pollution and it was demolished. Surprisingly the stone itself was sold for only its market price, with no value put on its associations with Peterloo. The site, including the burial ground, was listed in 1974 but razed in 1988, as it was said to be unsafe.

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This tour has been devised by Ed Glinert, political commentator with 30 years’ experience for various leading newspapers, magazines and publishers, who worked with Paul Foot on Private Eye.


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Manchester Central Library

Saint Peter's Square

Manchester

M2 5PD

United Kingdom

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