The Massacre of Peterloo, Manchester, 16th August 1819

The Peterloo Massacre - the Aftermath
Sheila Goodyear

Thumbnails link to larger images
With no local newspaper, until the mid 1850s, for happenings specific to Oldham or the townships, we have to rely on other resources. Filling the 'local' gap are those such as the Diaries of William Rowbottom and 'Historical Sketches of Oldham' by Edwin Butterworth. (both transcribed on this website) Rowbottom was a handloom weaver, who lived on Burnley Lane, and kept his diary for 40 odd years, from 1787 to 1829, recording everything he heard of.

A goldmine of local history in themselves, they were serialised in the 'Oldham Standard', from January 1887 to March 1889, by Samuel Andrew, Secretary of the Master Cotton Spinners’ and Manufacturers’ Association.With the benefit of almost 70 years hindsight, Andrew added extremely informative and useful comments on many of the entries.

Bibliography and Resources.1
Illustrations can be a bit thin on the ground so I've tried to include some of the political cartoons of the day plus images that reference the time and/or the place.

So, here we are, 200 years and counting, since the 16th August 1819. The following few weeks saw a frenzy of activity around the different commemorative events and now, it almost seems like an anti-climax!
What do we do next?
Well, for a start, we don't say 'done and dusted' ... let's forget about it now! It was important in the grander scheme of political awareness and not just here, in our own corner of Lancashire, around Oldham.
Around 60,000 men women and children had fled back to their homes, licked their wounds, grieved the dead or even succumbed to their own injuries and died.

Over 600 were wounded; at least 16 died; and an untold number would die, in later weeks or months, as a consequence of being attacked.
But there would always be those who carried on demanding change, regardless of consequences; it just got harder!
We now live in a world where we can know through print, or the various media of TV and mobile internet devices etc., what's going on, almost minute by minute, in our own corner of the world, or another corner, thousands of miles away.
BUT we see and hear, and are bombarded by, the facts that any huge organisation or authority, political or otherwise, wants us to know, thereby influencing our own perception of right or wrong, even 'brainwashing' us into what 'they' want us to believe. So, can we honestly believe, looking back, that things were so very much different, Everyone would have had their own 'truth', their own agenda.
The class of workers that is most frequently associated with Peterloo is that of the handloom weavers but there was general unrest across the country fueled by economic ups and downs. In different localities, even within the broad categories of agriculture or industry, there were areas of economic difference. A district dependant on one industry ... might be struggling whereas, a few miles down the road, another pocket of localised industry is thriving.
In the months and years leading up to Peterloo, Rowbottom writes in his diary of general distress, hardship and lack of work but it is always the weavers and hatters who are cited as being the most badly hit around here, and would continue to be so impoverished well into the next decade. Here, the handloom weavers, working in their own homes, had once been the elite, the highly skilled, the highest paid group of workers, in the cotton, wool and silk manufacturing industry.
As the years leading up to Peterloo unfolded, mechanisation became the driving force in industrial economies. In cotton, the spinning industry was the first to mechanise and workers began to move from cottage industry into the earlier, smaller mills.The handloom weaving industry would eventually follow, but slowly and very reluctantly. However, by 1819, the handloom weavers couldn't compete. No matter how many hours they worked, that is, whenever the work was actually available, they couldn't earn enough to keep a roof over their heads or feed and clothe the family. And nothing would ever change, substantially, for them even though some would hang on to their trade for the next two decades or even more.
For a brief summary on the immediate aftermath of Peterloo, we probably can't do better than go to F.A.Bruton's, 'The Story of Peterloo', written for the centenary in 1919:

* The organisers were arrested and jailed in the New Bailey.

* There was a torrent of press reports on the events of the day.

* There was the Meeting held at Star Inn, a few days after Peterloo, to propose a vote of thanks, from the 'Inhabitants of Manchester', to the Magistrates and Military.

* This was immediately followed by the indignant 'Declararation and Protest', with upwards of 5,000 signatures, protesting that the meeting was private and exclusive and most certainly not representative, of the views, of many Manchester residents.

009 george 4
* The Prince Regent's first remark, on hearing of the tragedy, was that he, "trusted the proceedings at Manchester would prove a salutary lesson to modern "reformers".

* At the suggestion of Lord Sidmouth, the Prince then sent his 'Thanks' to the magistrates and the Military.

010 Relief fund
* A Relief fund was set up, immediately following the Massacre, for those injured and to aid those facing prosecution. The fund raised a large amount of money, from sympathisers right across the country, which was subsequently paid out to those who were injured and for the legal expenses, etc., of those prosecuted. The careful investigation by the Relief Committee eventually revealed 600 cases of those killed and wounded in the attack. Many more of the wounded would not apply for aid, too fearful of losing their jobs.
* Harrowing details of the injuries, which had been reported by John Edward Taylor, had been revealed at the Inquest on John Lees at Oldham. Which inquest, after dragging on for months was quashed by the Court of King's Bench, on the technicality that the Coroner and the Jury had not viewed the body at the same time, as required.

* Other inquests had been dealt with in a summary fashion, many with verdicts implying that death was 'accidental', and certainly not the result of a deliberate attack.

012 notes-obs & calumnies
* Francis Philips published his, 'Exposure of the Calumnies Circulated against the Magistrates and Yeomanry'. Which was swifty followed, * by John Edward Taylor's comprehensive and compelling, 'Reply' to it. Taylor was a middle class reformer and journalist who would sit on the committee for the Relief Fund and go on to be a founding member and Editor of the Manchester Guardian.
013 notes-obs & calumnies
014 notes-obs
* To justify the action taken, by the magistrates and the military, "The Papers relative to the internal state of the country" were presented to Parliament in the autumn. These contained a selection of the correspondence between Magistrates, and those is authority, from across the north, and the Home Office in the weeks before, and then following, Peterloo.

* This, in its turn, was followed by John Edward Taylor's 'Notes and Observations on The Papers relative to the internal state of the country', refuting or qualifying the magisterial, the Government, and the military statements.

015 authority
* A storm of indignation had risen across the country resulting in many Protest meetings in London and the provinces, all demanding an inquiry ... one which, however, would never be held.

* Government ministers closed ranks, to suppress demands for the said inquiry, which led to even more protests all round.

* For summoning a protest meeting to this efect, the Lord-Lieutenant of the West Riding, Earl Fitzwilliam, was immediately removed from his post. The reason given?? "The Prince Regent having no further occasion for his services." There was even a protest from Earl Grosvenor, who sent £50 to the Relief Fund, "not as a friend of Universal Suffrage," but as protest against the refusal to allow an investigation; and another protest, from Lord Carlisle, who, in a confidential letter characterised the conduct of the Government, on this particular matter, as, "marked by downright insanity."

* The Lord Mayor, Aldermen, and Commons, of the more radical City of London, presented a protest to the Prince Regent.

016 Memorial of M/c streets
* When Henry Hunt was bailed at Lancaster, there was a triumphal procession, bringing him back to Manchester; and then, there was a subsequent welcoming reception, by enormous crowds, when he arrived back in London.
017 Six Acts
* The repressive policy, already being adopted by the Government, culminated in the infamous Six Acts in December 1819. Sometimes these have been referred to as the 'gagging acts' but, in fact, these were actually 2 acts passed in 1817, banning meetings of over 50 people (Seditious Meetings Act); and arrest for seditious libel (Treason Act). The '6 Acts' reinforced and extended the government's stranglehold on any freedom previously enjoyed. Habeus Corpus had been suspended in 1817-1818, but had lapsed by 1819. A fact not always recognised by the populace.

* There were the interminable discussions, as to the legality of the meeting, and the right or otherwise, of the magistrates to intervene, which dragged on and on.

* Lord Castleagh had publicly stated that the assembly was, "on all hands considered illegal" but later, Lord Sidmouth had to admit that the Manchester meeting was, in fact, 'not contrary to law,' a fact which was withheld from the commons whilst the Bills were pending.

019 arrest of Burdett
* And in 1820, Sir Francis Burdett, the Reform MP for Westminster, was tried at Leicester Assizes, fined £1,000, and imprisoned for 3 months, for seditious libel. In reality, for his strong censure of the Government's actions.

* Finally, for this catalogue, was the test trial, in 1822, at Lancaster. Thomas Redford, who had been injured at Peterloo, brought a civil action against Hugh Hornby Birley and the Manchester Yeomanry, for 'unlawful cutting and wounding'. Unsuprisingly, the jury found for the defendants, in just six minutes.

021 neutral newspaper
The loyalist versus radical presses were reporting their own dramatic version, of the day's happenings, within hours. But there were also the more restrained presses, some more loyalist than radical, which reported on the horror - and injustice - of what had happened on the 16th of August, with a degree of impartiality.
John Tyas, a respected and unbiased reporter for the 'Times', in London, had been one of the men unceremoniously dragged off the hustings, arrested and taken to the New Bailey, where he spent the night in jail. As soon as he got back
022 London
to London, he penned his angy, critical account, sticking to the facts, neither embellishing the already horrific details nor indulging in throw-away insults; nonetheless, putting the blame squarely on the authorities and the military. His influential account was quickly published, and republished, across the country. It was read by a horrified audience who would read, in no uncertain terms, that a peaceful gathering which could expect to be protected by the law had, instead, become the victim of an unprovoked attack by the military, on the orders of the civil authorities. It was an attack in which a number of defenceless men, women and children had died,and hundreds more been injured.
023 Manchester Market
In the meantime, in those first few days after Peterloo and then stretching into weeks loyalists in Manchester, and elsewhere, were certainly nervous. Anger and threats were constantly in the air.
Tuesday the17th August ... and it should have been market day but the streets were deserted.
Then panic set in, when Chief Constable John Moore, rushed into the Exchange, in a state of terror and reported that an armed mob, intent on revenge, was approaching; everywhere should be shut down, he. insisted, and the business-folk go home, which they did. But it turned out to be a hoax!
However, also on that sameTuesday, a large, angry mob gathered in Oldham and the military were called in to disperse them
Special constable Robert Campbell who, presumably, had been on duty on the 16th was threatened in his home and began firing a loaded pistol into the street. Only hours later he was attacked and subsequently died of his injuries.

In Macclesfield, on the 17th and 18th, there was a pitched battle in which windows were broken, abuse hurled at those apparently more affluent, and the Riot Act was read. There were 2 more riots, at New Cross, before the end of that week.

On Thursday, there was 'angry tumult' in Rochdale; the 15th Hussars and a contingent from the 31st were sent in to break it up, leading to 3 more arrests.

027 outrage meetings
Across the country, in those later months of 1819, there were innumerable protest meetings and demonstrations; some absolutely peaceful, and some retaliatory - attacking the premises, of known anti-reformers.

Not wanting to repeat the mistakes of the Manchester Magistrates, these Meetings, frequently attracting many thousands, were often free of military intervention, and most would disperse peaceably. However, it was obvious from the exchange of letters that not all magistrates wanted to compromise in this way,

028 Communications
From towns across the north there was a landslide of apprehensive reports sent by magistrates to Lord Sidmouth, at the Home Office. In extracts from just a couple of the many reports, found in 'Notes and Observations', we can read :
029 Communications
Huddersfield, August 20th,
My Lord,
We think it our duty to inform your Lordship that last evening, about seven o'clock, a large multitude of people was suddenly assembled, within half a mile of the town, to the number (as near as we can ascertain) of three thousand. A person from Manchester related to them what had taken place there and concluded by telling them that now was the time to be revenged.
030 Communications
Manchester, October 21st, My Lord,
From every quarter, the universal information and opinion is that the people are in a great measure armed, and are continually, and as quickly as possible, extensively arming. It is strongly surmised that pikes have been sent from Birmingham ... and I have put this matter in a train of investigation. I fear, also, my Lord, it is but too true, that many hundreds, of small-priced pistols have been sold in this town and that the lower classes are purchasing them in great numbers."
[my note : I think we can probably assume that even more loyalists and business men were buying them, to protect their own lives and properties.]
031 Communications 2
There are accounts of many more meetings with the same, constant expectation of worse to follow. And so it continued, with depositions from government spies maintaining that pikes' heads were being made by local blacksmiths, and hidden against the day when they could be used in retaliation, or even revolution. It appears that panic was most definitely contagious and the frequently draconian responses, on the part of the authorities, were not always either necessary or appropriate. There doesn't appear to be any record of anything other than local revenge-inspired disturbances and certainly no strongly organised, co-ordinated or supported attempts to overthrow the government, occurred.
032 Cato street 2 thistlewood
Probably the most memorable of revolutionary attempts in that era was that of the Cato Street Conspiracy, in early 1820. It was an example of government entrapment choreographed by George Edwards who was a government spy, an agitator, and one who would become Thistlewood's 2nd in command. The Conspirators were led by Arthur Thistlewood, a long time radical, who wanted to see revolution, and the downfall of the monarchy and government, with the institution of a new social order, along the lines of common ownership of land, which were the radical ideals advocated by Thomas Spence in the late 18th century. It was Thistlewood and his followers who had instigated the unsuccesful Spa Fields attempt, at starting a Revolution, in December 1816, in London.
033 Cato street 2 executions
In 1820, ttheir plan was to assassinate the Cabinet whilst they were all together at dinner, overthrowing the government and proclaiming a Republic. On the evening of the planned attack they were gathered together in a building,on Cato Street, when the police burst in to arrest them. In the ensuing scuffle, one of the policemenwas killed. Five of the conspirators were transported. Thistlewood and four others, who had been charged with high treason, were publicly hanged and beheaded on the 1st of May, 1820 (they were spared the further ordeal of quartering).
034 sherwin's register
From as early as the 1790s the desire for political and parliamentary reform was being covertly discussed; the reformers always being at risk of being denounced as 'Jacobins', and attacked, as in the 'Royton Races' incident in 1794.
These Reform ideals were being disseminated, mainly, through the clubs for the shared reading, of often illegal publications, such as William Cobbett's 'Political Register' and newspapers, followed by discussion on topics raised.
In the first 15 years or so of the 19th century, adding to the simmering 'melting pot' of discontent, was the general unrest and violent attacks by the Luddites. Much of this was largely about antagonism towards mechanisation and the spontaneous, angry, drawing of attention to grievances such as low wages, and high prices of provisions rather than of any co-ordinated political action.
036 heaven&earth
For the working man these coalesced, around 1816, into the belief that, if Parliament was reformed and the rotten borough seats re-distributed, to the industrial towns that were without representation, then the workers would have a voice in Parliament, to air their grievances for them, and also that, if Parliament was reformed their troubles would soon be at an end and the labouring man would have a fair share of the fruits of his own labours. However, universal suffrage WAS on the lips, and in the hearts, of many and this would become part of the context for the many mass meetings, between 1816 and 1819.
037 death or liberty
But, we must ask ourselves, who was pulling the strings?
Revolutionaries ... wanting a 'foot in the door' and a platform from which to start introducing more violent and radical solutions, suggesting a republic along the pattern set by the French?
Union men, who wanted the working man to be in a position to combine with others, to force changes for the better, in the workplace?
Working class reformers ... some of whom wanted universal suffrage; some of whom, would be content for just someone, to speak for them, in the corridors of power.
038 glorious reform in parliament
And then there were the Moderate Reformers, such as Archibald Prentice and John Edward Taylor. Humanitarians? Quite probably and frequently Non-conformists. But what sort of reform would they be hoping for? The majority would want reform by redistribution of seats in parliament, taking the balance of power away from the landed class; an extension of the franchise, to include themselves, thereby providing them with opportunities both to vote and to sit in the Commons. Few, of these men would really want the vote to be given to every Tom, Dick and Harry without some property qualification. The majority of these reformers would most probably have favoured a more paternalistic society.
039 Hunt  & Cobbett
There were exceptions, of course, and Hunt was one of them as was Cobbett (who would become one of Oldham's first 2 MPs after the Great Reform Act of 1832). Whatever criticisms might be levelled against Hunt, he never wavered in his calls for reform of Parliament, repeal of the corn laws, universal suffrage (even votes for women on occasion!) annual and secret ballots, reform in working conditions and much more.
Some of the high profile names before 1819, and many of the more 'shadowy' figures, would still be active after Peterloo. Some would become more vehement, some would modify their ideals, 'trimming their sails to prevailing conditions', and some would change 'tack' completely. But who were actually honest in their promises for a better future? And then, again, for whose future?
If we go back again, to the 16th, we know that the meeting became a massacre and that there were dozens arrested.The actual arrest warrant, was only for 4 men : Henry Hunt, John Thacker Saxton, James Moorhouse and John Knight but, in the end, over 80 people would find themselves in the New Bailey and facing charges, relating to the day. The organisers would face charges of High Treason, a capital offence. At the other end of the scale would be a charge relating 'to helping set up the hustings'.
041 Carlile
Publisher Richard Carlile had escaped the Field and managed to get back to London the following day, where he had the chance to publish his indictment, of the actions of the magistrates, yeomanry, Prince Regent and Government, before he was arrested, on the 21st. Carlile would also face the more serious charge, of publishing seditious and blasphemous material, when he came to court, in October. He would be found guilty and sentenced to 3 years in jail, with an additional £1500 fine.
As he refused to pay the fine, he was actually imprisoned for six years from November 1819 to November 1825. It didn't stop him, though. He carried on writing for the 'Republican' from his jail cell in Dorchester prison, and his wife would publish it. She would eventually be charged, and sentenced to imprisonment, as was his sister. But others would then step forward, again and again, to replace those arrested and keep the 'Republican', in print. Carlile has to be one of the front-runners in this brutal battle, for the freedom of the press.
042 New Bailey
In the dock, in Machester, almost 2 weeks after the Massacre, were Henry Hunt, John Knight, Joseph Johnson, Sam Bamford, Robert Jones, Robert Wylde, James Moorhouse, Joseph 'Doc Healey', George Swift and John Thacker Saxton. The 10 men were committed to Lancaster, and from there they were remanded to appear at the York Lent Assizes in 1820, charged not with High Treason, but with 'Conspiracy to overturn the Government, etc.' All were given bail and, in the case of the poorer men, the cost was met by more wealthy reformers. It was time to keep their heads down whilst they went about their lives waiting for March to come around
043 Hunt & co trial
And so we come to the long walk of the Manchester Reformers, over the Pennines, for their trial at York Assizes. There were the long days of the Trial itself, made even longer by Henry Hunt's lengthy, personal defence. Then followed the Judge's summing-up, ensuring that the verdict went against the leading Reformers. They were found guilty of, "assembling with unlawful banners, an unlawful assembly, for the purpose of moving and inciting the liege subjects of our sovereign lord the King, to contempt and hatred of the Government and Constitution of the Realm, as by law established"
044 hunt Ilchester Jail
Their appeal was quashed and, in the subsequent proceedings, sentence was pronounced. Hunt would serve two and a half years in Ilchester jail, Bamford, Johnson, and Healey were each given one year in Lincoln jail. Close as they had been as Reformers, living together at close quarters with one another in jail, would sour the relationships. John Knight had already been imprisoned, for speaking at a meeting in the autumn, demanding justice for those attacked at Peterloo.
The 4 or 5 years following 1819 can seem less eventful, in retrospect, because the 6 punitive Acts were rigorously enforced and because there were no more monster protest or reform meetings to report. Samuel Andrew, commenting in Rowbottom's Diary, tells us that, in 1821 all the symptoms of returning prosperity began to display themselves. "The great body of the people ... became contented with their conditions ... so long as trade continued flourishing." The dynamics of reform, in its wider sense, were also changing.
There were probably several reasons, for the seeming quiet after 1820, but not one of them was that people had lost interest in reform or o,proving the lot of the working man.. Depending on which later version of events you read, and taking account of the political bias of the authors, we can either understand that, by 1820, the working men went back to work, the economy improved slightly, and the reform leaders were either jailed or bailed as things went back to relative normality. Or, alternatively, we can understand that there was constant, localised unrest, rioting and a general breakdown in law and order. The truth, presumably, lies somewhere in between. Our own area is the focus of this essay but, at the same time, we have to remember that other areas of the country that were dependant on different manufacturing industries, or agriculture, were going through their own turbulent times of unrest, with demands for representation plus better working and living conditions.
047 -acts freeborn man
The 6 Acts, of December 1819 effectively crushed, and continued to crush, the life, out of the movement for radical reform. Or did they? Not absolutely but its nature changed, adapting to circumstances, finding new ways to make change without ending up in prison, or worse. The Combination Acts of 1799 & 1800 had made all forms of trade unionism illegal. Anyone found guilty of breaking these laws was subject to a 3 month jail sentence or 2 months hard labour. The Acts had made it illegal for any man to combine with another to demand increases in wages or fewer working hours. It was illegal to strike, or induce others to strike, or to refuse to work with another workman (presumably a 'strikebreaker'). Anyone providing financial aid, for a man so convicted, was liable to a fine.
048-spinning baines
However, in practice, there was a double standard. Employers' combinations, and more middle class political societies, were also technically illegal but none of the employers or members of loyalist political societies was ever prosecuted although great numbers of working men were! After the repeal of the Combination Acts, in 1824, the infant unions came out of the shadows (where they had been hiding in secret as 'Benefit Societies' and the like) and in the following months there were a high number of strikes, calling for increases in wages. They were swiftly, and unsurprisingly, followed by calls for the Act to be reinstated.
There could be no going back completely but, in 1825, the Combinations of Workmen Act was passed. This allowed trade unions to exist but with severe limitations on their activities. They were allowed to negotiate wages and hours, but with penalties for “intimidation”, “obstruction” or “molestation”, making concerted strike action well nigh impossible, within the law. Although now legal, many employers were openly hostile to the unions, and were often known to have made it a condition of employment that employees did not join a union; thus, in many instances, driving the unions, to remain operating in secret. The trade unions remained extremely vulnerable. Their funds were not protected by law, meaning they could be sued for breach of contract or, in the language of the 1825 Act, action “in restraint of trade”.
049 parliament
If reform of Parliament had, for many, become a distant dream then there could be other ways, to gain more control. The unions would draw together working men and bring pressure for change from the bottom up, instead of from the top down. That would be achieved, in part, through control of the local Vestry. The goal would, again, be largely about the labourer enjoying more of the fruits of his own labour. His wages should reflect the profits being made, and enjoyed, by the employers. The unions would need to set their own rules and penalties in order to be effective.
Again, organised labour was being forced to place itself outside the law. Implicit in this was the absolute necessity for solidarity and. with references to 'knobsticks', and assaults, in accounts of strike action etc., we can infer that intimidation was going to be a part of their operations.
050 Oldham 1831
At the beginning of the century effective control, of all aspects of local government,lay with the members of the Vestry, so called, because, in earlier times, it actually met in the church vestry.
The Vestry would be responsible for all secular and church business, for levying the rates, appointing jurors for inquests, repairing roads, administering Poor Relief, have control of finances, appoint Police Constables, give permission for public meetings and so on.

[Wikpedia article on the Vestry HERE]
From 1819, Oldham had a 'select vestry'. Only those men who were ratepayers could be members of the Vestry or vote at meetings. According to Foster : "Pretty well the whole purpose of working class politics was control of the Police and Poor Relief expenditure." We can infer that the tactics of intimidation were employed by the radicals in gaining control of the vestry. The Oldham ratepayers who could vote for or be a member of the 'select vestry', were usually the shopkeepers, publicans, owners of small businesses etc. and, crucially, dependant on local support for their own livelihood. It would become the practice to 'lean on' such voters ensuring that they made the 'right' (ie. union endorsed) decisions. Union members and supporters would boycott the shops or businesses of those who did not support their demands, and support those retailers and businesses who did.
But there was more of a battle, ebbing to and fro, for control of the Police, especially after the Oldham Police Act came into being in 1826. According to the National Archives
HERE ...

"Under the Act everyone owning property worth more than £50 a year or paying a yearly rent of £30 or more could become a commissioner. [This qualification limited the post to only the largest employers in the town and, even by 1848, there were only 360 residents in Oldham qualified to sit as a commissioner.] The commissioners had extensive powers, under the Act, to improve the town and regulate nuisances. They could raise rates, and were responsible for sanitation; repair of highways (other than turnpike roads); the lighting of streets; control of the police; and management of the Fire Brigade."

For the unions, keeping any sort of control of the Police was never going to be an easy task, with the odds always stacked against them.
Andrew adds the comment ...

"In January, 1827, the new Act for the government of the town, passed, May 26, 1826, had come into operation. Mr. Jonathan Mellor, churchwarden, was appointed the first chairman of commissioners, Chadwick was appointed beadle, and Newton was appointed watchman. Up to this time the town was governed by the vestry. The old church and its officials had performed for centuries the various duties imposed by the Church and State. No doubt these duties were discharged at small cost to the ratepayers, but the growing wants of the town called for stricter rules of local government. Not only were the streets in a fearful state of repair, but, as already seen in these annals, the town was badly supplied with water, and the streets were dark and narrow. Sanitary arrangements seem to have been altogether neglected, while the majesty of the law was set at nought of commissioners was fixed on a rental of £30 a year, or possession of visible property of £50 value.
The establishment of the cotton trade in Oldham had no doubt been the cause of the progress of the town, and had enabled very many of the ratepayers to qualify as commissioners. Once a commissioner, however, and always a commissioner if the property qualification remained. A commissioner was answerable to no man, and no body of men could turn him out of his stewardship. The Radical Oldhamer soon found out the mistake. The system was bad, and the administration of it was worse, if anything. In the old days, the vestry depended on the popular vote to a great extent, if not altogether. An obnoxious churchwarden could easily be removed at the Easter meeting."

And it was easy to miss something important. The Oldham unionists had, mistakenly, left the offices of Church Wardens to be filled, often reluctantly, by employers but, in 1824, the churchwardens presented a petition to Parliament for rebuilding the nave of the church, at a projected cost of £6,000. Subsequently, an Act was passed naming 44 large employers as trustees,with discretionary powers to co-opt additional trustees with property qualifications of £100 rateable value. Crucially, during the rebuilding, the Trustees were given absolute control over the rates collected and Vestry control of finance was suspended. A further Act was passed, to continue rebuilding projects until, by 1830, the whole church had been rebuilt. In 1832 the repayments were completed and financial control returned to the vestry but not before the total cost had reached £30,000. The lesson was learned, in the future, the unionists would attempt to keep even the office of church warden under their control.
051 Lancashire mills
In 1825, there had been a lack of confidence in the economy and a run on the Banks. In January, Rowbottom, tells us that, "Most of the banks have stopped payment which has caused the greatest distress in this neighbourhood." and a year later, in January 1826 Andrew, adds his own comment, "The Panic in London had subsided about the end of last year. The Bank of England had sustained the strain, Though many country banks were unable to meet their engagements and Oldham banks did not escape. There was a serious run on both the banks in Saddleworth, and Harrop's Bank was compelled to close its doors."
Incidentally, we know from Rowbottom that, on March 5th 1825, there was an accident involving a power loom and Andrew tells us that, "This is the first mention of the power loom in Oldham, in these annals and, according to Higson, "Though power looms had been invented many years before they did not come into general use in Oldham until about the year 1825." and in September, Andrew adds the comment that, "As seen in previous annals the operative spinners were strongly organised as trade unionists."
Foster tells us that, at this time, within the cotton industry there were variations in wages of up to 15% for the same job. Wages were highest in places where breakdown in law and order was the more serious ie., Ashton, Stockport and Oldham. Oldham workers were receiving wages from 5% to 10% higher than those in Manchester, which was well garrisoned with the military. [At this time the military on duty in Oldham were billeted in local public houses as Oldham didn't have a barracks until the mid 1830s when a temporary one was built.]
In February 1826, the Diary tells us that banking difficulties were causing a terrible knock-on effect as, "Hundreds of weavers had been laid off." Most factories were only working 3 or 4 days a week and operatives' wages had been lowered. Mill masters were unable to get coin, to pay the wages, and couldn't themselves be paid, for any work done, as all the banks were closed. Some manufacturers were bankrupted. Rowbottom also adds that, "The spinners had made a powerful stand against having their wages lowered but had at last, been forced to submit."
052-cotton factories
In April 1826, Rowbottom tells us that, in Manchester, the Riot Act was read after a factory was set on fire and looms destroyed. Rioting became a common occurence across south Lancashire with thousands gathering to smash the power looms. At Chatterton, near Bury, 6 people were killed when soldiers opened fire on the rioters. In Shaw and Royton, power looms were smashed. Mill masters had their workers sworn in as constables and soldiers and artillery were also deployed.
Soon after this, 20 mill-owners took matters into their own hands, combined together, and took the opportunity to attempt to reduce the level of wages to the lower, Manchester rate. This resulted in a strike and lockout. in the largest mills, of over 2,000 workers, which dragged on until January 1827.
As an endnote, in that December of 1826, Andrew tells us how it started:

"The boom of the good trade in Oldham, in 1825 caused the operative spinners to put their heads together for the formation, of a new standard list to regulate spinners' wages ... What prevented this list being put into force was the fearful panic of 1826 when banks were failing on every hand and a general monetary crisis prevailed throughout the country. It was this list which called into operation the first Oldham Master Cotton Spinners' Association. It seems to have been well known by employers that a return of good trade would only bring the new proposed list of the operatives, to maturity. The employers forestalled the operatives by demanding an immediate reduction ..."

053 Infirmary
In October of 1826 we learn from Rowbottom that some of the spinners had gone back to work on the lower wages but, regarded as 'knobsticks' they were, "in imminent danger of their lives, from turnouts." Neither side in the dispute would give an inch and desperation was setting in with, as Rowbottom writes, "the most wanton acts of barbarity are inflicted on those unfortunate men, called knobsticks." On the 8th of November, he writes of an attack on the 'knobsticks' at work one night in which many were hurt before the military arrived and the Riot Act was read. Several of the strike-breakers ended up in the infirmary in
Manchester and several spinners were arrested. On December 22nd, in what must have been a last desperate attempt, Rowbottom writes, "Last night, the turnout spinners of Oldham assembled at Heyside, at the mill of Mr. Daniel Neild and compelled his workpeople to leave the mill. The 'flints' or turn-out spinners still continue hostile to their masters and refuse to work at the prices or the wages offered by them." On January 29th, we can read in the diary, that they finally accepted defeat, "This day the turnouts returned to their spinning to the different factories at the abated prices, which their masters offered them nearly six months ago."
054 bent map
Political meetings were still taking place just not dramatic enough to be that newsworthy! In March 1827, Rowbottom writes that, "A large meeting was held on Bent Green, Oldham to petition for a redress of grievances." Andrew adds, "This meeting was addressed by the redoubtable John Knight and by one Walker from Ashton and Brooks from Manchester. It was held for the purpose of petitioning Parliament for the free importation of foreign grain [ie. repeal of the Corn laws] for a reduction of public expenditure, for the adoption of annual Parliaments, universal suffrage, and election by secret ballot."

But sometimes, amidst the setbacks, there was the occasional triumph and, on August 28th, Rowbottom writes, "The master hatters had given notice to their workmen for a reduction of wages. The men struck and have been out for about six weeks. The masters have now given up the contest and the men are returned to their labour."
Jumping on 2 years and there are more reports of loom smashing. On May 5th, 1829, Rowbottom tells us that, Manchester was the scene of more destruction of mills running power looms and similar occurences in Rochdale. "When the soldiers arrived in Rochdale the mob pelted them with stones upon which the soldiers fired at them. Five were killed on the spot and a large number wounded of which several more died later."
In his comment, Andrew adds that, "In 1833, Mr. John Fielden, M.P., for Oldham stated in the House of Commons that the hand weaver had his wages reduced from 4s. 6d. to 1s. 3d. between 1815 and 1832.

057 swing riots
And things were no better in the agrarian economy. In 1830, farms in the south and east, were attacked in the 'Swing Riots' in response to increased mechanisation and harsh conditions.
058 cartoon borough mongering
Reform of Parliament, the re-allocation of the rotten boroughs seats and extension of the suffrage franchise continued to be a major issue, long after Peterloo but now the dynamics here, had also changed. It was now mainly the middle classes, the newly wealthy industrialists, mill and factory owners, small landowners etc., who wanted the vote and the opportunity to sit as an MP. Some of the earlier reformers and radical MPs were becoming less radical, supporting only limited reform ideals and certainly not often those including universal suffrage.
060 observer
Going back again, to 1819 and 1820, 'The Manchester Observer', was at its height of influence and popularity but, as the 6 Acts gained a stranglehold, the 'Observer' saw a succession of editors and proprietors imprisoned, as it changed hands several times, and tried to stay afloat maintaining its ethos of radical reform. It wasn't to be. Thomas Wooler of the 'Black Dwarf' publication brought it under his banner in mid 1821, with John Thacker Saxton but, by this time, there were no great Reform meetings to report and excite the populace. The more
visible radical leaders were all, more or less, serving prison sentences, nervous of futher reprisals, or virtually bankrupt as a result of the massive fines that had been imposed. In September 1822 the last edition of the 'Observer' was published.. The last really Radical provincial newspaper, that actually reached a larger than local audience, went out of business,followed in 1824 by Black Dwarf.
The 'Manchester Guardian', which had been set up in 1821 had similar but not identical aims to the 'Observer'. The 'Guardian' stood for Reform but without radicalism. It became the influential mouthpiece of Reform with a less strident tone, keeping within the law, and moving to become, to quote Robert Poole, "... the forum for Manchester's enterprising middle class and the core of the later 'Manchester school of free trade politics."
The 'Guardian' would support Reform of Parliament, within constitutional boundaries, and within the law, but not demand universal suffrage and the rights demanded by the radicals.
If you want to read more of the fascinating history of the 'Observer' you can read Robert Poole's study, 'The Manchester Observer: Biography of a Radical Newspaper'
062  chartists-owen
According to Thompson, this was the era of, "The proliferation of Trade Unionism, Owenite Propaganda, Radical journalism, the 10 hours Movement, the lead up to the revolutionary crisis of 1831/32 and the Reform Act and, beyond that, the many movements which would make up Chartism."
063 republican & dwarf

Amongst the most radical and influential publications has to be included Richard Carlile's 'The Republican', written from his prison cell and also the Black Dwarf written and published by Thomas Jonathan Wooler, from 1817 until 1824 which published reform and radical contributions in the form of poetry, prose and songs along with reports and political commentaries ... and, at the same time not forgetting Shelley, and the many anonymous poets and balladeers who poured out their work in protest .

064 house that jack built
But I think we should also include the satirical works of writers, publishers, illustrators and cartoonists; William Hone and George Cruikshank being amongst the most well known names from this era in satirising the establishment. We have to remember, though, that it wasn't only the radicals who made their point through satire, whether pictorial or in prose and poetry.
066 house parody
Loyalist anti-reformers were just as likely to turn to the pen or pencil, as in this parody on a parody.
067 Reform bill debate
As we reach the end of this first decade after Peterloo the middle class voices for Reform are ever more insistent. The Bill for the Great Reform Act would be debated in the Commons amidst violent riots, particuarly those in Bristol, protesting that the extended franchise as proposed, was still property based, excluding the working man yet again.
The Bill was passed through the Commons with a majority of just 1 vote!
But the Lords threw it out - twice.
Fearful that Revolution was a serious possibility if the Act was thrown out yet again, it was only the threat, of enough Whig peers being created, that was enough to force its passage through the Lords and ensure its eventual enactment.
069 Chartists
However, the Battle for universal suffrage would continue and it was now coming up to the time of the Chartists, who, later in this decade and the next, would come together to list their demands for Parliamentary Reform. Their 2nd petition, the Great Charter, was presented to parliament in 1842, with over 3 million signatures in support. It was largely ignored.
070 chartist procession
Their demands for Reform grew ever more insistent until this movement, in its turn, was crushed by 1848.
Many names well known at the time of Peterloo have faded into obscurity. Not skilled with the pen, killed or jailed, many of their names are either just footnotes in history or lost completely. Of the local men who left their mark on events, in the decades after Peterloo, we sometimes know just a little. Some have found recognition through their own writing, and others through a modern researcher, dragging them into the light of recognition. Yet more have slipped completely through the cracks of history, leaving behind nothing more than a name on a list or a report.
To name just a few, (those with a link have brief biographical details) are :
* John Knight ... activist and unionist all his life; one of the 38 arrested for
illegal oaths at Ancoats in 1812
* John Doherty ... spinner & union organiser; later, after 1832, a printer
* William Fitton ... Surgeon and Radical Reformer,
* John Earnshaw ... Quaker surgeon ... accused of trying to influence the John Lees Jury.
(link to companion website - opens in new tab)
* John Fielden ... Oldham MP in 1832
* Samuel Bamford ... weaver & author of 'Passages in the Life of a Radical'
* James Wroe ... Observer newspaper co-founder & editor
* Joseph Johnson ...Brush manufacturer; co-founder of Observer newspaper
* John Thacker Saxton ...Observer newspaper co-founder
Return to top of page
The above essay is more of an introduction to the first few years after Peterloo, merely scratching the surface and leaving so much more to be included.
Apart from the 20th century publications by Foster and Thompson, there is a wealth of material, for free download, from the online internet archive of over 21 million books that are out of copyright.
You can search HERE by author, title or keywords.

1Bibliography and Some Resources (all open in new tabs)

Cartoons mostly courtesy of The British Museum collection, with a Creative Commons licence.

William Rowbottom's Diary transcribed on this website HERE

'Historical Sketches of Oldham' by Edwin Butterworth, pps.188-193 & 196-217
transcribed on the companion website, HERE

20th century publications:
John Foster ... 'Class Struggle and the Industrial Revolution'
E.P. Thompson ... 'The Making of the English Working Class'

Download as free .pdf filesfrom the Internet Archive:
F.A. Bruton ... 'The Story of Peterloo' transcribed on this website HERE
Download .pdf copy from the Internet Archive HERE

John Edward Taylor ... 'Notes and Observations Critical & Explanatory, on the Papers Relative to the Internal State of the Country, Recently Presented to Parliament; Dec. 1819 '
transcribed on this website HERE

Letter to Viscount Castlereagh. Download .pdf copy from the Internet Archive HERE4

J.L. & B. Hammond ... 'The Skilled Labourer - 1760 - 1832'
Download .pdf copy from the Internet Archive HERE

J.L. & B. Hammond ... The Town Labourer - 1760 - 1832'
Download .pdf copy from the Internet Archive HERE

Thomas Redford v. Hugh Hornby Birley and others, in the Court of King's Bench.
Download .pdf copy from the Internet Archive HERE

The Trial of Henry Hunt and others.
Download .pdf copy from the Internet Archive HERE

Timeline Docu-drama of th John Lees Inquest on Youtube, HERE

Peterloo project Menu Page
Peterloo project
Peterloo Project Menu
on our companion website,