The Massacre of Peterloo, Manchester, 16th August 1819

The Peterloo Massacre - Manchester 16th August 1819

'The Story of Peterloo' by F.A. Bruton, Pub. 1919

Page 12

march of the Blanketeers was then harassed by the mounted troops mentioned above, all the way to Macclesfield, where a number of arrests were made, and this effort of the Reformers eventually fizzled out. The circumstances of the meeting should be compared with those of Peterloo, because - as Mr. E. Taylor afterwards pointed out: "Here is to be found the precedent for that novel form of reading the Riot Act (if in either case it were read at all) which was followed on the 16th of August, I8I9". lmmediately after the Blanket meeting, the Government set on foot a system of espionage, which greatly embittered those agitating for Reform, and was severely criticised in Parliament. Meanwhile the privileged classes in Manchester and other towns had already met, at the suggestion of the Home Secretary, to consider "the necessity of adopting additional measures for the maintenance of the public peace". Thus repressive measures only drove the discontent under to smoulder, and suspicion helped to widen the breach. The principal perpetrators of this policy, afterwards so pointedly anathematised by Shelley, were Lord Sidmouth, the Home Secretary, Eldon the Lord Chancellor, and Viscount Castlereagh, the Secretary for foreign affairs.

Less than a year before Peterloo, in September, 1818, the Dragoons were once more called out to disperse a crowd of, "turned-out" spinners who were attacking a mill in Ancoats. Evidently this was the scene which Mrs. Gaskell had in her mind when picturing the attack on Mr. Thornton's mill in "North and South". It must not be forgotten that there was, at the time under consideration, no regular police force available. Nadin, the Deputy Constable, who figures in the various arrests, was merely the paid official of the antiquated Court Leet. The so-called "Commission of Police," which was under the control of an absurdly unrepresentative committee, will not bear comparison with the Watch Committees of to-day. The practice of swearing-in special constables was frequently resorted to, but special constables had none of the skill and training in the matter of handling crowds possessed by modern police. The constables sometimes declined to act without military aid, and the magistrates leaned heavily on the support afforded by the troops in their difficulties, and frequently acknowledged their indebtedness to them. It is indeed evident from the history of the Cheshire Yeomanry, that when the question of disbanding that regiment was seriously discussed, as it was in the early


'The Story of Peterloo' by F.A. Bruton, Pub. 1919
Written for the Centenary, August 16th, 1919'.by F.A. Bruton, M.A.(of the Manchester Grammar School.
Download .pdf copy from the Internet Archive HERE

Transcribed here by Sheila Goodyear 2019

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