16 August 1819: Militia massacres protesters at ‘Peterloo’

Dominic Sandbrook explores this big day in history

As many as 15 people may have been killed, and a further 500 badly injured, during the 1819 riot in Manchester that came to be known as the 'Peterloo' Massacre. (Rischgitz/Getty Images)

When the people of Manchester awoke on Monday, 16 August 1819, it was already shaping up to be a fine, hot day. By mid-morning thousands of people were streaming past the mills and chimneys towards St Peter’s Field in the town centre. To the watching townsfolk they presented an extraordinary spectacle. Each local village had sent its own contingent, but far from being the disorderly rabble of press hysteria, they seemed remarkably well turned out. Many were women, dressed all in white. And everywhere were flags and banners, woven in bright silk. “No Corn Laws”, they read, “Annual Parliaments”, “Universal Suffrage”, “Vote by Ballot”. The only banner that survives today was carried by Thomas Redford of Middleton. “Liberty and Fraternity” read the message on one side, picked out in gold letters. “Unity and Strength” it read on the other.

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