Monday 16 August 2010

Peterloo: 191 years ago today

Today is the anniversary of the Peterloo massacre, when pro-democracy and anti-poverty protesters in Manchester were brutally murdered by mercenaries and cavalrymen in the service of the British government. The aftermath of the day led to an acceleration in the progress of suffrage in Britain (and more directly, to the formation of the Guardian newspaper).

Brits: there's a reason why they stuck to Henry the Eighth and the Empire in school. They want us to be proud, but not about this sort of thing. We need to remember that there's another history of Britain, a history of poverty and disenfranchisement and the struggle for workers' rights and women's rights, the struggle against slavery at home and abroad.

Remember, remember the sixteenth of August.


  1. We weren't taught it at school?

    I was.

    Oh, wait. I was the last year not to have the National Curriculum. I frequently wonder if that explains a lot more things than it should.

    British history: a big pile of failed rebellions that the ruling classes papered over with a few concessions.

  2. I was taught about it at school. Perhaps because I went to school in Manchester? But yes, I doubt it gets much of a mention between the wars and royals and whatnot.

    I'm glad they have a proper plaque there now.

    Thanks for pointing the date out. I'd never realised the anniversary is also my sister's birthday.

  3. I was taught about Peterloo as a footnote to the Bristol Riots, which my history teacher went on about at great length because he had written a textbook on the subject.

    And this was at a posh boy's school.

    The question is not why we don't celebrate Peterloo, but why we have stopped having lethal riots in response to being screwed over by our betters.

  4. I was also taught about the Peterloo massacre and I'm eighteen! I'm not sure which school you went to, but we certainly weren't taught about the empire.

    Who is `they`?

  5. I learnt about it, but only as context for some of the poetry of Shelley.

    Sonnet: England in 1819

    An old, mad, blind, despised, and dying king,
    Princes, the dregs of their dull race, who flow
    Through public scorn, mud from a muddy spring,
    Rulers who neither see, nor feel, nor know,
    But leech-like to their fainting country cling,
    Till they drop, blind in blood, without a blow,
    A people starved and stabbed in the untilled field,
    An army, which liberticide and prey
    Makes as a two-edged sword to all who wield
    Golden and sanguine laws which tempt and slay;
    Religion Christless, Godless a book sealed;
    A Senate, Time's worst statute unrepealed,
    Are graves, from which a glorious Phantom may
    Burst, to illumine our tempestuous day.

    Percy Bysshe Shelley

    (first time commentator, love this blog, keep up the good work!)

  6. Add me to the people who were taught this in school - Peterloo, the Chartists, the role of the Corn Laws in the Irish Famine, the Suffragettes, the Union movement, all that stuff... Mind you, this was in Scotland twenty years ago.

  7. Nope. I never learnt about it, just Henry VIII and Hitler for me, thanks for educating me (again).

  8. Well we learned a lot about how great the industrial revolution was and how nice Arkwright was to his workers. But nowt about Peterloo.

    Ditto how great the 1906-14 Liberal Govt was. But nowt about the Great Unrest.

  9. I studied it the blanketeers and chartists as part of the National Curriculum at GCSE. It's all there, it just depends on what your teacher chooses from the topic choices and whether you choose history of course.

  10. I studied this at school. Well, at sixth form.

    Not sure whether it necessarily did accelerate the progress of greater suffrage. I think that statement probably needs to be followed with 'discuss'. My hunch is that it was highly symbolic but not specifically important in terms of most of what happened afterwards.

    In general, the 19th century certainly showed the self-interested ideological flexibility of the British ruling class in all its glory.

  11. I wasn't here then (either point in history that you are discussing).

    But wouldn't it have been odd if it hadn't happened? The bridge a km from my home was fought over by Cromwell and co. A nation is always born in conflict.

    What becomes interesting is who was there? Who had an ancestor on either side? Who has done the trace and found their birth certificates.

    And don't wimp out now. In NZ, the Maori can trace their forefathers back to the original 7 canoes (8th Century). That's what it means to be Maori. To trace your whakapapa right back to the first waka (canoes). And with every fallen hero on every battlefield from mid-1800's when we Brits arrive.

    Do you know your ancestry? Do you have any inkling of the ancestry of the person sitting next to you? Any notion how your stories are intertwined and what makes them such human stories?

  12. i went to school in bristol and was taught about peterloo, though it may have been a-level. i was taught about the suffragettes and poor law reform at gcse.

    we should be taught more about this though - i agree.

  13. Congrats! Buy Private Eye tomorrow! You're in Pseuds Corner!

  14. And from 1606 to 1799 Scottish miners were serfs, bought and sold with the pits they worked in. Nothing about that in history lessons 40 odd years back and still very little today. It was only family history research, mentioned in the last comment, that showed me that my ancestors, from 1641 to 1799, were what might more robustly be called slaves.

  15. "The aftermath of the day led to an acceleration in the progress of suffrage"

    This is not true, the aftermath led to a suppression of the reform movement with passage of things like the Six Acts. Remember, the suffrage wasn't expanded until 1832.

  16. I was taught about Peterloo - enough to know that the Yeomanry, who carried out the charge, weren't mercenaries - and it wasn't in Manchester or pre-National Curriculum either, so the inference of a grand plot to keep the history books blemish-free doesn't really hold up to scrutiny.

  17. Was very much taught about it at school, at a comprehensive in Essex and on the national curriculum. Though I sympathise with your general point.

  18. Penny, you may wish to check page 28 of the current issue of Private Eye.

  19. I was not taught about Peterloo at all. I studied the Industrial Revolution in my History GCSE and narry a mention was made. A Level was late 19th/early 20th century, so no luck there either.

    It's fair to say though that I don't remember being taught about Henry V11 either.

  20. Courtesy of the class-obsessed Welsh Joint Exam Board, I got the Merthyr Rising rammed down my throat *seven* times during my education. The Roman occupation was a blessed relief. Well, if you see what I mean.

  21. there's a reason that none of us were taught about this in school

    That's a sweeping statement not based on facts. I was educated under Thatcher and I was certainly taught about; Peterloo, Great Reform Act, Chartism, Matchgirls Strikes and Suffragettes and so on. In fact the only things I wasn't told taught about in any great detail, were that actual wars themselves and Empire.

  22. About 70 years ago, the democratically elected mayor of my city was shoot in a ditch, like many other people, whose charges were being loyal to the democratic government, union members, writers, politicians, teachers, or just "reds".

    196 more people were shoot at the cemetery's wall. No plaque remebers that.

    And in the common graves, in the forests or road ditches, thousands of corpses still await to be found, identified and give to their relatives.

    Spain is different. 40 years of dictadure, how many of oblivion?

  23. i was taught about this in school -

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