Peterloo Massacre, by Hablot Knight Browne.

Peterloo Massacre, by Hablot Knight Browne. Getty

A peaceful protest which turned violent when private militia set upon 60,000 protesters in Manchester - killing 18 and injuring over 650.

On 16 August 1812, 60,000 working-class people from all over the now Greater Manchester area marched to St Peter's Field in protest of the political system, which saw only wealthy landowners be given the right to vote. The crowd walked to hear an open-air speech by the radical reformer Henry “Orator” HuntThe peaceful protest turned violent when Manchester magistrates hired private militia, paid for by local landowners,  to break up the protest by storming the crowd with sabres. 

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Violence broke out, with an estimated 18 people being killed and over 650 injured. 

Why did the protestors want the right to vote?

They wanted political reform so their needs would be represented. Unemployment was high, as machinery had started to impact the cotton industry. While the return of 350,000 servicemen after the battle of Waterloo had put a strain on the country's finances.

The system at the time saw only the wealthiest landowners have the right to vote, which meant that large working-class areas were not represented in parliament. Manchester and Salford, which then had a population of 150,000, had no MP due to the working-class environment of the area. The notion of extending the right to vote to all men was opposed by many who believed only those of wealth and education should be allowed a say in decisions. The idea of extending the vote to women was still in its infancy. 

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What happened after Peterloo?

The Peterloo Massacre started the path to political reform, and eventually the Great Reform Act of 1832 which created new parliamentary seats, including seats for the industrial north of England. The massacre also inspired ohn Edward Taylor, a 28-year-old English journalist who was present at the massacre, to establish The Manchester Guardian to ensure news events were reported fairly and justly. 

Peterloo and Mike Leigh

To celebrate the 200th anniversary of Peterloo, Mike Leigh brought the story to the masses with his film Peterloo

* Originally published in August 2019.