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


The year 1819 began on a Friday, wich was a very fine warm day, but a little misty. As for Christmas chear, there was little to be seen, and poor people scarsely left off working. Trade is very brisk, but wages low, and all the necessaries of life so very dear.

Trade brisk, and yet the people too poor to observe Christmas! This shows what a toil it was to live – poor people’s money being required to buy food and clothing withal.

January 4th -
A numerous meeting was held at Bent Green, Oldham, to take into consideration the propriety of petitioning parlyament for a reform.

January 18th -
A very numerous and respectable meeting took place at Manchester (the celebrated Henry Hunt, Esquire, in the chair), when it was resolved to petition Parliament for a repeal of the Corn Laws. The business was conducted with every propriety and in the most peasable manner.

Bamford speaks of this meeting with evident pleasure – his admiration for Hunt bursting forth in verse. About this time Hunt had attended the theatre, and for some reason had been insulted by some of the military.

Trade of all sorts brisk, but wages not high. Hatting as been very brisk, but is of late rather flatter.

June 7th -
Was held a meeting of the friends of the people for parliament reform in a large room, Bent, Oldham. When several resolutions where agreed to.

This room, I am told, was an upper storey in what was known as Spite Hall, approached by steps or stairs from the outside. Bamford says in his “Life of a Radical”:- “Among the best and truest supporters of persecuted Radicals and the Radical cause was a small but firm band of patriots at Oldham. Their like never, to my recollection, existed previously in Lancashire, nor has it existed since. Some of the best have long been called to the reward of the good and faithful servant. Some still remain, but battered and bowed by the storms of life.”

July 24th -
Stockport, last night, William Birch, constable, arived here with his prisoner, Parson Harrison, whom he aprehended at London on a charge of sedition, when he was malisciously shot. The ball could not be extracted, and he is dangerously wounded.

The shooting of Constable Birch was a great cause of alarm, and was supposed to be a serious reflection on what the reformers were prepared to do to gain their ends. He had landed his prisoner, and the house where he and his prisoner were, which I am told was a farmhouse, was surrounded by an angry mob. Birch, who was supposed to be a popular constable, ventured out of the house, and made his way through the mob. In doing so he received a shot from behind. It is said that an Irishman fired this shot, who was tried for the offence at Chester. Birch lived many years after, and at his death a post-mortem examination was made, and the bullet was found in one of his ribs.

Meetings for reform have been held in the following places:- London, Birmingham, Manchester, Stockport, Macclesfield, Ashton-under-Line, Oldham, Blackburn, Rochdale, Leeds, Huddersfield, &c. Bills of indictment have been found against some of the principal speakers; several have been aprehended, and have got bailed. Mr. Wm. Fitton, of Royton, is one of the number.

E. Butterworth says:

"Mr. William Fitton, surgeon, of Royton, a practical and comprehensive advocate of Parliamentary Reform, delivered his first public address at the county meeting held at Preston, February, 1817, for the purpose of voting an address to the Prince. Regent on the atrocious attempt which had just previously been made on the Royal person. In August, 1819, Mr. Fitton was indicted for taking part in an alleged sedition meeting held at Blackburn (probably the one mentioned in this annal), but it does not appear that he was imprisoned for the offence. This popular speaker was the chief adviser of the small but firm band of Radical reformers at Oldham, who proved themselves the truest supporters of the cause of Radical reform in any part of the country. These individuals ultimately became the leaders of one of the principal political parties in the borough, adopting as the basis of their views the opinions of Mr. Wm. Cobbett. On the introduction of the Reform Bill in the House of Commons in 1831 Mr. Fitton was mainly instrumental in taking such measures as ultimately secured the inclusions of the three townships of Royton, Crompton, and Chadderton within the borough of Oldham. Mr. Fitton died November 15th, 1840.”

August 2nd -
Proclamations where stuck up in most parts of the country, signed by the magistrates of Cheshire and Lancashire, warning the public not to attend reform meetings; and one signed by the Prince Regent, warning the country against meetings and exaarsizeing, &c.

August 16th -
Manchester public meeting praying for universal sufferage and annual parliaments was holden this day. An emence number of people attended from all the neighbouring parts, and several parties had elegant flags with different mottos there on, particularly from Stockport, Ashton, Oldham Royton, Saddleworth, and all the neighbouring towns. The meeting, which consisted of upwards of seventy thousand, was conducted in the most peaceable and orderly manner, but when the celebrated Mr. Hunt had taken the chair, a large number of constables with the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry Cavalary, and the 15th Hussars and 31st Regement of Foot made a tremendous dash at the hustings, took the speakers into custody, took and destroyed all the collors and flags, one from Middleton excepted. The cavallarry and the constables made sad havoc uppon the poor defencless people. The constables, wi’ there trunchion and the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry Cavalry, with there sabres; a number where killed on the spot, and report says upwards of 300 wounded, and some very dangerously. To the honour of the regular soldiers they shewed the greatest forebearance, and shewed a deal of humanity. The following are amongst the killed:- Mr. Ashworth, of Bull’s Head, Market-place, Manchester; Mr. Parkinson from Eccles; John Ashton, from Cowhill, near Oldham; William Fildes, an infant of Manchester; Joseph Whitworth, from Hide. An emence number where wounded, and a great number severely wounded, and some dangerously. Mr. Hunt, the chairman, and the different speakers where torn off the hustings, and conveyed to the New Bayley, where part were committed to Lancaster and part-bailed; their charge was misdemeanour.

Among all the past years of the present century none stands out from the rest in such ghastly prominence as the year of Peterloo. It comes up before the mental vision like the imaginary ghost of one who has been murdered. Judging by these annals, 1819 was a year of agricultural plenty.

Rowbottom almost outvies himself in describing the “favours of heaven this year in the shape of abundant crops. Trade was brisk and wages good, and yet the people were not content. There was a cry for reform. People had set their hearts on it, and they must have it ... Reform! Thundered out the great industrial centres of Lancashire. Reform! echoed the great cities and towns, east, west, north, and south. Reform! again re-echoed the Oldham weaver at his loom and the Oldham spinner at his wheel. We will have it! We will fight for it! We will die for it! And surely if there was ever need for reform it was then. The Government itself had created the need by passing an abominable corn law. ...

Died at Oldham, John Lees, son of Robert Lees, of Bent Oldham, of the wounds received at Manchester at the meeting on the memorable 16th day of August. A jury assembled on the 8th, but adjourned to the 10th, when it was adjourned to the 24th, on account of the coroner being at Lancaster Assizes. A great number of witnesses attended from Manchester to have been examined as concerning his being wounded at St. Peter’s Manchester.

This was a commonly known as the great “Oldham Inquest.” It was first held at the Duke of York, and then at the “Angel,” and such importance attached to it as to cause the London newsapers to send special reporters down. The coroner expelled these reporters and poor Bamford was only allowed to remain in the room on explaining that he was preparing for his trial at York. The liberty of the press in those days was very circumscribed. Bamford began his career as a correspondent for the Press at this inquest.

October 7th -
An inquest on Lees was adjourned to the Star Inn, Deansgate, Manchester, to sit on the 8th. A great ferment arose in consequence of the sexton opening the grave of John Lees. Various are the opinions on this subject. It was opened in the dead of night, and caused great fermentation. On the 13th the coroner adjourned the further proceedings of the inquest on John Lees until the 1st of December, then to meet again at the Star Inn.

From Dowling, a London shorthand writer, I learn that, “In the night between the 6th and 7th Sept. John Lees, a young man about 22 years of age, died at the house of his father, a cotton manufacturer at Oldham, and Mr. Earnshaw, the surgeon who had attended the deceased, having certified that his death was occasioned by violence, several householders were served with summonses on the night of the 7th September to attend at the sign of the Duke of York at Oldham (in York-street) the next morning at half past ten o’clock for the purpose of inquring into the cause of death of the said John Lees. The names of the jury were: John Jackson, Thomas Wolfenden, James Coates, George Dixon, John Kaye, George Booth, Joseph Dixon, Thomas Jackson, John Newton, and John Ogden. Jonathan Mellor was constable of Oldham at that time. The inquest was first held at the Duke of York, then afterwards adjourned to the Star Hotel, Manchester. The jury were dismissed without giving in a verdict. For full particulars of the inquest I must refer my readers to the full report by Dowling.

November 28th
Was intered, at Middleton, John Rhodes, of Three Pits, within Hopwood. He was one that was wounded at Manchester on the 16th of August, and is supposed to have died of his wounds. A great number attended him to his grave – 1300 with drab hats and crape, besides a number with cloaks. It is supposed that 10,000 people assembled on the ocation, and all departed in peace.

Bamford mentions John Rhodes, of Three Pitts, as having received a sabre cut at Peterloo. He also says that Rhodes was in a weakly state of health when he attended the meeting. He never looked up after, and died in the course of some weeks. His death was said to have been caused by the injuries he received, but coroner’s inquest negatived that, if verdicts of inquests at that time might be considered satisfactory.

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