The Peterloo Massacre - Manchester 16th August 1819

The Peterloo Massacre - Manchester 16th August 1819

Rowbottom's Comments on Trade and Politics - 1800 to 1819
As Recorded in the Diary of William Rowbottom
Comments and additional information (in italics) are from the transcription by Samuel Andrew,
serialised in the 'Oldham Standard' between 1887 & 1889
Cost of Provisions HERE


Rowbottom’s annals for 1817 are missing; their place must therefore be supplied from other sources. John Higson and E. Butterworth have both preserved scattered notices of the events of this year.

E. Butterworth says:- On the 3rd January, 1817, an unusually numerous Radical Reform meeting was again held on Bent Green (known now as Bent Grange), when a banner bearing Radical mottoes and a band of music imparted peculiar animation to the events of the day.

This was the second Reform meeting held at Oldham.

Oldham Radicals were evidently fully alive to the interests of their cause, and they seem to have been persistent in their demand for reform, nor were they alone. Reform meetings were held in most of the neighbouring towns, and Manchester seems to have been the centre of the reform movement. On the 13th of this month a meeting of the inhabitants of Manchester and Salford was held to consider the necessity of adopting additional measures for the maintenance of the public peace. The more peaceable inhabitants were evidently greatly alarmed at the aspect of public events. We are told the organised system of committees, delegates, and missionaries, contributions levied, pamphlets disseminated, language of intimidation used, and the appointment of popular assemblies in various parts of the kingdom on one and the same day afforded strong manifestation of mediated disorder and tumult, and bore no analogy to the fair and legitimate exercise of that constitutional liberty which is the birthright and security of Englishmen. See Wheeler, p.108. There can be no doubt that both sides suffered from being over-zealous, and it was this which hindered the progress of real reform. Some of the leaders of Reform in Oldham and elsewhere were men of sense, who afterwards were greatly esteemed, but some of the followers were no doubt of dangerous character, and their fervency in the cause was such as to cause distrust and dismay even to their own party. On the part of the Government much mischief was caused by not properly gauging the real evils from which the country suffered, evils which it cannot be denied had their rise in misgovernment.

During the year 1816 a Hampden club was formed in Middleton, which seems to have been a kind of Radical centre, as we find that delegates from other localities – among whom were some leading reformers – sometimes met there. The meeting place was an old disused chapel, once held by the Kilhamites. Sam Bamford tells us the following Radicals occasionally attended the meetings of the club:- John Knight, of Manchester, Cotton manufacturer in a small way, formerly of Mossley, who was a very earnest champion of the cause; William Ogden of Manchester, whom Canning once referred to as the “revered and ruptured Ogden;” William Benow, of Manchester, shoemaker, Charles Walker, of Ashton, weaver, Joseph Watson, of Mossley, clogger, Joseph Ramsden, of Mossley, woollen weaver, William Nicholson, of Lees, letter-press printer, John Haigh, of Lord’s Gate, Oldham, silk weaver, Joseph Taylor, of Oldham, hatter, John Kay, of Royton, cotton-manufacturer, William Fitton, of Royton, student-in-surgery, Robert Pilkington, of Bury, cotton weaver, Amos Ogden, of Middleton, silk weaver, Caleb Johnson, of Middleton, cotton weaver, and S. Bamford, of Middleton, silk weaver, whose book, entitled “Passages in the Life of a Radical,” ought to be re-printed in a cheap form , and read as a class-book by politicians of all shades of opinion.

As showing the opinions held by these early reformers, Bamford says,:-

“On the 1st of January, 1817, a meeting of delegates from twenty-one petitioning bodies was held in our chapel, when resolutions were passed declaratory of the right of every male to vote who paid taxes. That males of eighteen years of age should be eligible to vote. That Parliament should be elected annually. That no placeman or pensioner should sit in Parliament. That every 20,000 inhabitants should send members to the House of Commons. And that talent and virtue were the only qualifications necessary.” Bamford makes it very clear, quoting Major Cartwright, that reformers ought to be law-abiding citizens, and he says, “After physical force was mentioned among us our moral power waned, and what we gained by the accession of demagogues we lost by their criminal violence and the estrangement of real friends.” As the meeting in Oldham was held only two days after the delegates’ meeting in Middleton, we may form some opinions of the nature of the speeches.

February 10th - E. Butterworth says a third Radical reform meting was held on Bent Green. The authorities became alarmed, and a number of special constables were appointed on the 8th. In addition to the civil power, a body of soldiery of the 54th Regiment of Foot, 104 in number, were stationed in a temporary barracks in Fog-lane, which they first occupied on the 3rd March 1817

What was called the “Green Bag Inquiry” was instituted about this time, so named from a green bag full of papers supposed to have been of treasonable character having been laid before Parliament by the Prince Regent.

Secret committees were appointed by Parliament, the result being the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, on the 3rd March. The Government adopted a system of espionage, which created much of the mischief which it was supposed to discover. These spies were distributed through the country. Bamford mentions one of the name of Oliver, who was busy in the summer of 1817, who tried to lead the reformers into mischief, and then would have “split” upon them.

March 10th - (says E. Butterworth)

At an early hour in the morning, a party of Radical reformers again assembled, some of them furnished with blankets slung round their shoulders – thence called blanketeers, with the intention of marching to Manchester, and thence to London, to lay their grievances before the Prince Regent and Parliament. The special constables and foot soldiers, with a party of the 13th Light Horse, which had arrived from Huddersfield, were on duty, but as the crowd proceeded to Manchester the civil and military powers abstained from interference. At Manchester, the meeting was dispersed by cavalry, and twenty-nine persons were taken prisoners. Some hundreds of blanketeers set out on their way to London. At Stockport they were pursued by constables and yeomanry and again dispersed, some receiving sabre wounds – a looker-on being shot. They passed through Macclesfield, Leek, and Ashbourn. A few got as far as Derby. These foolish men were equipped for the journey with blankets and coats slung on their backs like knapsacks, and some had petitions in their hands to present when they got to London. Bamford threw cold water on the whole affair, though it turned out to have had the permission of gentlemen high in authority in the Radical movement. From what I can gather from people who knew some of these men from Oldham, they appear to have been ignorant and simple-minded people, who supposed they could gain all they wanted, and liquidate the national debt in no time. Bamford disclaims any connection with the blanketeers, and his account is from what others told him of it. On the 11th March, 1817, Bamford tells of a man named Samuel Priestly coming to Middleton to his house on important business. Bamford looked up Healy, and the three adjourned to the Trumpeter public-house, where they were informed by Priestley that a scheme was laid for making a Moscow of Manchester in revenge for what had been done to the blanketeers. Bamford was too sensible a man to be taken in by such a device. The man was told that he was the dupe of designing villains. Ministers were solemnly informed that a plot was being hatched for destroying Manchester, as the signal for a general insurrection. The Habeas Corpus Act being suspended, several arrests were made – Bamford and Healey among the rest – but the charges against them were so ridiculous that many of those arrested were not brought to trial. The Leeds Mercury exposed some of the secret information given to the Government. Lord Eldon and Lord Sidmouth were greatly blamed for the part they took in this matter. Roebuck says:- “It was the period of Lord Eldon’s ascendancy which bears the mark of his uncultivated intellect; his narrow sympathies, his restless jealousy, his fierce prejudices, his general ignorance of the causes on which the welfare of the empire depended, and his indifference to that welfare, even in the cases by which he could understand the means by which it might have been promoted.” Lord Sidmouth was held to be a humane man, but Mr. Brougham says of him that he was the recorded dupe of the informer, guilty of a cheat in fact, and of a murder; in anticipation, the victim of one who went about to ensnare that he might betray, and to corrupt that he might destroy."

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