Still no monument for British Peterloo massacre after 200 years

Campaigners in Manchester erected this 15ft scultpure at the weekend to help remember the 1819 Peterloo Massacre. It is called the Liberty Cap and is based on the design of hats worn by protesters demanding democracy

Campaigners in Manchester erected this 15ft scultpure at the weekend to help remember the 1819 Peterloo Massacre. It is called the Liberty Cap and is based on the design of hats worn by protesters demanding democracy.

By Mark Krantz in England:

11.54am Mon 20 Aug 2012

Manchester’s battle to remember the Peterloo Massacre

Mark Krantz writes on the campaign to build a proper memorial to protesters hacked down by the cavalry in 1819

Statues of bankers and politicians pepper the town squares in Manchester. But the city does not have a monument or memorial to the Peterloo Massacre of 16 August 1819.

Up to 18 people were killed that day and hundreds more injured when local magistrates ordered cavalry to attack a 60,000 strong political rally that had gathered at St Peter’s Fields to demand the vote.

The Peterloo Memorial Campaign has long called for an appropriate memorial in the city that educates and informs people about what actually happened that day.

Campaigners have secured a pledge from the city council that a memorial will form part of the redevelopment of St Peter’s Square, which now stands where the massacre took place.

Commemorating Peterloo has long been a source of controversy. In 1879 the painter Ford Madox Brown started work on a series of murals that now adorn Manchester’s Town Hall.

He wanted to include the Peterloo Massacre as one of the key moments in Manchester’s history, but this idea was blocked by the city council.

For years a blue plaque in the square made no mention of the deaths, referring only to the “dispersal” of the crowd by the military. It was replaced a few years ago with a red plaque that noted the deaths and injuries.

Today the council wants the new monument’s design to be decided by a panel of three led by council leader Richard Lease. Campaigners are unhappy with this process.

“The key issue now is that it’s a democratic process, or we might all drop dead of irony”, said artist and campaigner Paul Fitzgerald. “You can’t have less people than the number who died making this decision.”

After much argument it is now accepted by historians that Peterloo was indeed a massacre. But we should see it as much more.

The rebellion that started there was taken up later by the Chartists, and then the Suffragettes. That struggle—to secure political representation and power for the working class—continues today.

The events of the Peterloo Massacre

In August 1819 Manchester was under military occupation. Severe economic depression had swept across the industrial areas in the north of England. Even those still in work were left hungry and impoverished.

The Tory government responded by deploying thousands of soldiers to those areas to put down a growing mass movement demanding democracy and political reform.

Workers decided to hold a mass meeting on 16 August. The mills and factories were all shut that Monday morning. Everyone was on strike and getting ready to march to Manchester for a massive rally at St Peter’s Fields.

Thousands marched in from the surrounding mill towns. Women and young people were prominent among the 60,000 who came to hear the radical speaker Henry Hunt. He was a passionate reformer who believed that everyone should get to vote.

But before Hunt could speak, magistrates ordered their militia, the Salford and Manchester Yeomanry, to arrest all the speakers. The cavalry charged at the crowd, hacking people with sabres.

The carnage that ensued shocked even sections of the establishment. Journalists named the massacre “Peterloo” in ironic reference to the battle of Waterloo that had taken place four years earlier.

Mark Krantz’s pamphlet on Peterloo, Rise Like Lions, is available from Bookmarks, the socialist bookshop—phone 020 7637 1848. For more on the Peterloo Memorial Campaign go to

Tomorrow is the 175th anniversary of the last armed rising on English soil. On May 31 1838, troops of the 45th foot regiment engaged the followers of “Sir William Courtenay” at Bossenden Wood in Kent: here.

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