The Peterloo Massacre, Manchester, 1819.

The Peterloo Massacre, Manchester, 1819.


On the wall of the Radisson Hotel (once the Free Trade Hall), Peter Street, Manchester.


A blue plaque.




The UK has had a Parliament for seven hundred years, but most of the population were not allowed to vote in parliamentary elections until relatively recently.

In 1819 only rich property owners could vote. Ordinary people complained about "taxation without representation" and demanded the right to vote. The demand was strong in Manchester, a power house of the industrial revolution, with a large population but little political power. Henry Hunt was one of the most eloquent campaigners. When it was learned that he was to speak at a meeting in Manchester many wanted to hear him.

The government resisted attempts to broaden the vote. They represented people who had a lot to lose and were afraid that the UK may follow the same revolutionary path as France 30 years earlier.

Those in power were troubled by the meeting. In preparation, they assembled four hundred special constables, fifteen hundred infantry, a thousand cavalry (Hussars and Yeomanry), and some Royal Horse Artillery equipped with six-pounder cannon.

What happened at Peterloo

On Monday 16th August 1819, thousands walked into Manchester from surrounding towns and villages. The meeting was held on St Peter's field near the Friends Meeting House. By the due time about 60,000 men, women, and children were pressed round the hustings in an effort to hear the speakers. As the speeches began, cavalry galloped into the crowd wielding freshly sharpened sabres. At the same time the infantry, with bayonets fixed, positioned themselves at the main exits and blocked escape routes. Those who did escape were pursued through the streets. The result was carnage.

At the last moment the magistrates had decided to ban the meeting. They sent 60 cavalry into the crowd to arrest the speakers, then sent in more cavalry to "rescue" the original 60 who had become enveloped in the crush.

Manchester is in Lancashire, but this web site covers the old county of Cheshire. At least three thousand Cestrians crossed the river Mersey on that fateful day, and walked the six miles into Manchester. Many of them were battered and bruised, 50 were seriously injured, one killed:

Serious casualties from Cheshire

William BANKS of Chestergate, Stockport, machine maker, 49,beaten by constables, disabled one week.
John BANTLER of John Street, Stockport.injured.
Ann BARDSLEY of Bamford Street, Stockport, single woman, 20,sabre cut on arm, disabled two weeks.
Mary BARLOW of Lancashire Hill, Stockport, 30,trampled, disabled five weeks.
Sarah BARLOW of Weaver's Row, Stockport, widow, 50,trampled by cavalry, disabled permanently.
Thomas BARTON of Swan Court, Stockport, spinner, 38,trampled, two broken ribs, disabled three weeks.
James BERRY of Carrington Fields, Stockport, weaver, 60,three sabre cuts to the head, disabled three weeks.
John BLACK of 10 Union Street, Stockport, weaver, 67,beaten by constables, disabled ten days.
Martha BOON of Heaton Lane, Stockport, widow, 53,trampled by cavalry, disabled permanently.
Peter BOSTOCK of Carr Green, Stockport, tailor, 32,sabre cut on hand, disabled two weeks.
John BOLTON of 7 John Street, Stockport, shoemaker, 60,beaten using the butt of a musket.
Benjamin BREARLEY of Stockport,severe sabre cut to face, trampled by crowd.
Thomas BRUNT of Brentnall Street, Stockport, labourer, 65,severe sabre cut to head, disabled three weeks.
Joseph BUCKLEY of Dukinfield Hall, Dukinfield, weaver, 70,sabre cut to head, disabled three weeks.
Joseph COLLINS of Dukinfield, weaver, 21,beaten by constables, disabled two months.
James COOPER of Hillgate, Stockport, weaver, 22,severe sabre cut on shoulder, disabled three weeks.
William CORNWALL, Adlington Square, Stockport, labourer, 63,sabre cut on face.
John DAVENPORT of Higher Hillgate, Stockport, weaver, 20,part of skull cut away by sabre, disabled three weeks.
Edward DOOLEY of Carrington Fields, Stockport, weaver,trampled by horses and crowd, disabled three weeks.
Edward EDWARDS of Back Street, Macclesfield.injured.
Joseph EPPLESTONE of Edgeley, nr Stockport, weaver, 50,trampled by cavalry, disabled nine weeks.
Anthony GIBBON of Chadkirk, nr Romiley, weaver, 23,sabre cut on head.
Gleve NAPPYLINAS of Temple Bar, Stockport, woman, 22,trampled by cavalry, two broken ribs.
John GOODWIN of Carrington Fields, Stockport, 28,hit by the butt of a musket, disabled two weeks.
John HARDMAN of Union Street, Stockport, weaver, 38,bayoneted by a soldier, disabled two weeks.
Joseph HEPTONSTALL of Stockport,trampled by cavalry.
James HIGGINS of Union Street, Stockport, weaver, 30,beaten by constables, jailed five days, disabled two weeks.
William HOPWOOD of Daw Bank, Stockport, dyer, 57,sabre cut to knee.
Isabella JACKSON of Union Street, Stockport, 20,trampled by cavalry, disabled permanently.
Thomas JONES of Edgeley, nr Stockport, weaver, 27,trampled by cavalry, internal injuries.
Mary McDONALD of Union Street, Stockport,trampled by cavalry, disabled three weeks.
James MAKIN of Hempshaw Lane, Stockport, weaver, 19,sabre cut on face, disabled three days.
MARSLAND of Chadkirk, nr Romiley.injured.
Peter MASON of Chestergate, Stockport,sabre cuts to arm and leg, disabled one month.
James MELLOR of Stockport.injured.
James MORTON of Back Lamb Street, Stockport, weaver, 60,sabre cut to head, disabled one month.
John NUTTAL of Gee Cross, 39,sabre cuts and trampled by cavalry, disabled two weeks.
John OLLERENSHAW of Carr Green, Stockport, hatter,sabre cut on forehead, disabled one week.
John PIMBLETT of Little Lee, nr Northwich, labourer, 38,bayonetted by a soldier, disabled three weeks.
Joseph ROBINSON of Thomas Street, Stockport, 60,trampled by crowd, internal injuries, disabled three weeks.
Thomas SHAWCROSS of Little Moor, Stockport, hatter, 53,trampled by cavalry, disabled five weeks.
James SLATER of Chestergate, Stockport, book keeper, 40,sabre cut to chin.
Wright SMITH of Hempshaw Lane, Stockport, weaver, 42,beaten unconscious by constables, disabled five weeks.
William STODDART, Tollbar Street, Stockport, chair mender, 46,trampled, disabled two weeks.
William TOMLINSON of Bullock Smithy, cotton printer, 24,sabre cuts to head and hands, disabled five weeks.
Isaac WEBB of Lancashire Hill, Stockport, spinner, 23,crushed, disabled one week.
Joshua WHITWORTH of Hyde, 19,shot by a soldier, died.
John WYNNE of Royle Street, Stockport, tailor, 75,knocked down and trampled, disabled five weeks.
William WYNNE of Rosemary Lane, Stockport, 69,knocked down and trampled by horse, disabled five weeks.

What happened next

Those in power tried to suppress news of the event. Some reporters and publishers were jailed, publications confiscated.

Over the following year several private individuals put much effort into making an accurate record of the event, and a full list of the serious casualties. The above list is based on their work. It is believed that about 650 people were seriously injured (480 male and 170 female), of whom 18 died. The vast majority of the injuries were caused by sabre, or by being trampled by cavalry.

People in Manchester and surrounding towns were present at Peterloo, or saw the bruised and battered thousands returning home and heard first hand accounts. They learned that newspapers could not be trusted.

The event became known locally as the "Peterloo Massacre". Peterloo, from the name of the field where it took place and the location of the troops' last significant action (Waterloo). Massacre, because the effects of sending a thousand cavalry into an unarmed crowd in a confined space could have been foreseen.

The government's immediate reaction was not to extend the vote, but to pass a number of repressive laws.
- The Seditious Meetings Prevention Act prohibited meetings of more than fifty people without the consent of a magistrate.
- The Training Prevention Act prohibited people from gathering to train or drill.
- The Seizure of Arms Act allowed magistrates to search any person or property.
- The Blasphemous and Seditious Libels Act provided stronger punishment for publications that upset the authorities.
- The Newspaper and Stamp Duties Act increased the scope of the tax on newspapers.
- The Misdemeanours Act reduced the rights of those facing criminal charges.

The Right to Vote in the UK

In 1819, at the time of Peterloo, only about 1.5% of the adult population were entitled to vote in parliamentary elections. In later years the following classes of people were added to those entitled to vote:
- 1832, more male householders, about 4% of adults could now vote,
- 1867, most men in towns, about 14% of adults could now vote,
- 1884, most men in the countryside, about 30% of adults could now vote,
- 1918, almost all men and most women, about 91% of adults could now vote,
- 1928, almost all women.

About 99.8% of the adult population of the UK can now vote (UK bureaucracy thrives on exceptions). However, there is still some way to go. Voters elect only one of the two houses of parliament, the House of Commons. The other House, once the hereditary Lords, remains unelected. Most of its members are now appointed by those already in power, a situation that encourages corruption (or suspicion of it) at the highest level in government.

Carl's Cam