Remembering Peterloo

Print, 'Manchester Heroes', by George Cruikshank, 1819 @ People's History Museum NMLH 2000 10 817

Manchester Heroes print, by George Cruikshank, 1819 @ People’s History Museum

Shirin Hirsch, Researcher at People’s History Museum, discusses Mike Leigh’s new film and introduces how you can discover the legacy of the Peterloo Massacre at PHM.

“Peterloo, lad! I know. I were theer as a young mon. We were howdin’ a meetin’ i’ Manchester – on Peter’s Field, – a meetin’ for eawr reets – for reets o’ mon, for liberty to vote, an’ speak, an’ write, an’ be eawrselves – honest, hard-workin’ folk. We wanted to live eawr own lives, an’ th’ upper classes wouldn’t let us…. Burns says as ‘Liberty’s a glorious feast.’ But th’ upper classes wouldn’t let us poor folk get a tast on it. When we cried… freedom o’ action they gav’ us t’ point of a sword. Never forget, lad! Let it sink i’ thi blood. Ston up an’ feight for t’ reets o’ mon – t’ reets o’ poor folk!”

So explained Joss Wrigley when asked what Peterloo was all about.  Wrigley was only 19 years of age when he escaped the Manchester massacre of 1819, but the memory of Peterloo would never leave him.  Wrigley remained throughout his life a poor handloom weaver.  As an old man Wrigley was the leader of a ‘poverty stricken group’ of weavers who worked together in a cellar, and when the looms were quiet they talked by candlelight discussing politics and sharing working class history.  We know all this because James Haslam, the son of one of these weavers, would sit and listen.  What rang in the ears of this young boy, as he listened to the collective murmurings of the weavers, was Peterloo.  He noted how, for Joss Wrigley, a survivor of the massacre, Peterloo had got into his blood “and he could not live it out.”  Continuous years of poverty, together with years of political injustice and vagaries “had helped to nurse his hatred, which he resolutely passed on to others”.  On the centenary of the Peterloo Massacre, the boy who had sat and listened to these conversations wrote down his memories of this group and they were published in The Manchester Guardian.  Haslam asked: “And who can say how much the working classes owe to men like Joss Wrigley – a poor handloom weaver who from his obscurity passed on their spirit and opinions to coming generations?”

Mike Leigh’s film Peterloo continues to pass on this spirit.  The film is a powerful cinematic intervention in bringing to life the mass organising, protest and repression of working class people in 1819.  The scene of the Peterloo Massacre feels only too real as we watch the yeomanry (government forces) cut down protestors in St Peter’s Field.  This is a history from below that Leigh’s film now brings vividly to our screens.  In the questions and answers following the premier of the film, Mike Leigh and Maxine Peake both noted that the history of the massacre was rarely taught in schools and, even for people growing up in Manchester and Salford, the memory of Peterloo was far from widespread.

The film is immersed in historical sources and literature, including research undertaken here at People’s History Museum.  We hope that this film will initiate a wider discussion and interest in the history of democracy and struggle – a springboard to PHM’s 2019 programme of exhibitions, events and learning sessions, marking the bicentenary of Peterloo, exploring the past present and future of protest.

Handkerchief, Peterloo 1819 @ People's History Museum

Handkerchief, Peterloo 1819 @ People’s History Museum

PHM’s collections tell the story of the Peterloo Massacre through visual materials and objects.  On the handkerchief above, on display in Main Gallery One, you can see a snapshot of the Peterloo Massacre.  The top of the handkerchief reads: ‘The Manchester Reform Meeting Dispersed by the Civil and Military Power’ and bordering the handkerchief are three demands ‘Universal Suffrage’, ‘Annual Parliament’ and ’Election by Ballot’.  In the background you can see many of the buildings that surrounded St Peter’s Field, including a large cotton mill, a monument to the economic power of the rapidly growing industrial town of Manchester.  Yet there was no Member of Parliament for the whole of Manchester at the turn of the 19th century.

There are estimates of 60,000 people congregating in St Peter’s Field at the moment the yeomanry attack on horseback.  You can see on the handkerchief many different banners held, often with the cap of liberty on the top of the stick, a symbol of the French revolution.  ‘Unite and be Free’ and ‘Taxation without representation is unjust and tyrannical’ are just some of the slogans shown.  The ‘hustings’, where the speakers stood on a platform are also depicted, with Henry Hunt as the main orator, alongside speakers including Mary Fildes, the President of the Manchester Female Reform Society.  On the handkerchief you can see one of the banners is inscribed with the words ‘Royton Female Union Society’, showing the large and organised section of women protestors emerging within the reform movement.

Despite the chaos shown in the picture, this was not an accidental massacre.  In the film we watch the discussions as the local magistrates give the order to disperse the crowds, and in the build up to the protest the yeomanry are seen sharpening their sabres (swords with a curved blade).  Two of these sabres are on display in Main Gallery One, passed down through generations and kept under a bed in Droylsden before being donated to the museum.

Two swords, Manchester & Salford Yeomanry, Peterloo 1819 @ People's Hist...

Two swords, Manchester & Salford Yeomanry, Peterloo 1819 @ People’s History Museum

There are wide ranging estimates of how many were killed at Peterloo.  It is hard to be exact with these statistics as there are huge debates as to who should be counted.  Do we only count people who died on the day?  Or people who died days, months or even years after, from lasting injuries?  It is also highly likely that some of those killed are not on the surviving casualty lists, which were compiled not long after the massacre.  Historian Michael Bush has carried out analysis of the casualty lists and estimates that 18 were killed at Peterloo, and other historians estimate around 700 were injured.

The handkerchief we have on display was just one way of keeping alive the memory of Peterloo.  The British government was keen to cover up the massacre, imprisoning the reform leaders and clamping down on those who spoke out against the government.  Many of the commemorative Peterloo objects on display in Main Gallery One were created to break through this repression as material ways of refusing to forget.  To mark the bicentenary of Peterloo, PHM will continue this memory, not simply as a history lesson, but reflecting on protest and dissent from 1819 until the present day, and looking to protest of the future.  Why not visit People’s History Museum and our Archive & Study Centre to continue the debate on the Peterloo Massacre and its impact today.

In our archive we hold newspapers from across the world reporting on the Peterloo Massacre.

Newspapers Peterloo 1819 Labour History Archive Study Centre @ People's...

Newspapers Peterloo 1819 Labour History Archive & Study Centre @ People’s History Museum

In the museum shop we have a wide range of books on the Peterloo Massacre including:

Mark Krantz, Rise Like Lions: The History of the Peterloo Massacre, £3
This pamphlet has recently been republished by Bookmarks publishers – an accessible and exciting way into this history.

Joyce Marlow, The Peterloo Massacre, £9.99
A real classic on the massacre, recently republished by Ebury Press.

Graham Phythian, Peterloo: Voices, Sabres and Silence, £16.99
A new book based almost entirely on eyewitness reports and contemporary documents.

Jacqueline Riding, The Story of the Manchester Massacre: Peterloo, £25
Riding was the historical advisor for the Peterloo film and this is a new book analysing the massacre.

Shop @ People's History Museum

Shop @ People’s History Museum

Shirin Hirsch is a historian based jointly at People’s History Museum and Manchester Metropolitan University.

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The Past, Present & Future of Protest 2019 open call for public events

2019 marks 200 years since the Peterloo Massacre, a major event in Manchester’s history, and a defining moment for Britain’s democracy.  To commemorate this monumental anniversary, the People’s History Museum (PHM) will explore the changing face of protest: past, present and future.

A year long programme of events and exhibitions will explore creative disobedience and its role in today’s ideas worth fighting for.  Kicking off in January 2019 with a brand new display of protest banners.

The museum’s headline exhibition Disrupt? Peterloo & Protest, opening spring 2019, forms part of the national bicentenary commemorations and will feature objects from the museum’s unique collection including original Peterloo artefacts.  At the heart of the exhibition will be a specially commissioned film that tells the story of protest and the road to democratic reform.

As part of this Family Friendly exhibition PHM will run a Protest Lab, opening up gallery space for individuals, communities and organisations as an experimental area where views and ideas can be shared and developed for collective action.

As part of our 2019 public events programme we are pleased to announce an open call for submissions from groups or individuals wishing to showcase or produce an event at the museum in 2019.  We are particularly interested in creatively disobedient events and activities, ranging from the fun to the formal, that relate to our year long theme of protest: past, present and future, or give voice to issues and ideas worth fighting for today.

Events are not limited to, but can take place within the Protest Lab space, and also on our Radical Lates, which are the second Thursday each month when the whole museum is open to explore until 8.00pm.

The 2019 public events programme will be selected by a panel of museum staff and volunteers.

To apply:

  •  Fill in an 2019 Expression of Interest Form (Events)
  • Remember to write in clear, accessible language.  Applications that exceed the word limits will not be considered
  • Attach a maximum of two A4 sheets of supporting visuals

Deadline for submissions: Monday 19 November 2018 at 5.00pm

Please send submissions for the attention of Michael Powell, Programme & Events Officer to the museum address or by email michael.powell@phm.org.uk.

If you have any questions please email michael.powell@phm.org.uk or phone 0161 838 9190.

Sound from the Stores – Darkest Hour

On 12 May 2016 we welcomed sound artists  Falk Morawitz & Guillaume Dujat to the museum as part of our Manchester After Hours Sound from the Stores commission. We are delighted to share a video of their performance, which was inspired by PHM’s collections.

 Program Note:

”Darkest Hour“ is a sound-centric multimedia piece based on materials located in the People’s History Museum’s Archive concerning the refugee situation during the First and Second World War. The performance mixes the materials of the archive with sound and audio snippets concerning the current refugee debate, illustrating the timelessness of the issue. In the light of repeating history, we hope to demonstrate the relevance of the archival material in present day.

Live: – Audio visual performance, ~13 minutes (premiered 12.05.2016 at the People’s History Museum Manchester). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zIzFJPzyPxw

Installation: – Fixed audio visual installation, 11.30 minutes. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S9_5gogeMVo

Fabric of Protest Session 4: Starting the banner!

Artist Helen Mather has been working with the Learning Team at PHM to run monthly textile workshops The Fabric of Protest where participants can create their own piece of protest art in response to the museum’s collections and learn new textile techniques. The group are currently looking at the Match Girls’ Strike of 1888 and working on a banner piece to commemorate the bravery of the young women and the start of unionism as we know it today.

You can read Helen’s latest blog post about the most recent session. You can follow the group’s journey on Helen’s tumblr blog.

We had a number of new participants this month working alongside our regulars doing some excellent stitching and creative collaborations.

We welcomed a group of lecturers in textiles and fashion from Huddersfield University, a London fashion student about to go on her travels around Europe and two women who were off to do some cycling activism (there’s definitely a banner in there somewhere!).

We discussed the project so far and the ideas behind the Match Girl banner before setting to work on the first job, stitching the words. We used a mixture of appliqué and trapunto quilting to raise the surface of the letters. It was a great start and its exciting to see something grow from everyone’s contributions.

One of our regulars, Tricia has been attending a broadcasting course at all FM in Levenshulme and was armed with a zoom recorder to interview participants, Lisa and myself about the work we have been doing together. She was pretty impressive behind the mic, a natural it seems! We look forward to hearing her piece once its been edited.

A lot of tea drinking and chatting whilst stitching, ideas and conversations flowing freely, exchanges of knowledge and skills passing effortlessly, what a great session! Thank you to all who attended, I hope you had as much fun as I did, though it really did go too fast…

The next Fabric of Protest workshop will be on Saturday 20 August. Future workshops are Thurs 15 September, Sat 22 Oct and Thurs 17 Nov

 

Political Leadership After Brexit – Have Your Say

A guest blog by Mark Krantz

29 April & Fri 27 May 2016, Have Your Say! @ People's History Museum

With Teresa May now Prime Minister, and Jeremy Corbyn facing a leadership challenge …

It’s Time For You To Have Your Say!

‘A week is a long time in politics’ said Harold Wilson.

In the ‘weeks’ since the Brexit vote, politics in Britain has seen much turmoil and change. Teresa May has become the new leader of the Conservative Party. We now have a new Prime Minister. Jeremy Corbyn contests an election for the leadership of the Labour Party. What will be the outcome? After an audio visual update on the current situation from tutor Mark Krantz, we will have a discussion in which you can have your say on what is happening in the political parties today.

We will also look at relevant material from the museum’s collections, including the Labour Pains: Intra-Party Tensions and Divisions, from Cole to Corbyn exhibition that is on show at the museum Mon 25 July – Thurs 1 September. This exhibition has been created with the University of Sheffield to examine past and present tensions within the Labour Party.

Join us to Have Your Say on Political Leadership After Brexit at PHM this Friday 29 July 1.00pm -3.00pm, booking required through Eventbrite: http://haveyoursayjuly.eventbrite.co.uk

**Please note– we will take a summer break from our monthly Have Your Say events in August and they will return in September, moving to the last Thursday of the month. The autumn dates will be Thurs 29 September, Thurs 27 October and Thurs 24 November. Topics for these dates are yet to be decided.

 

Stories to inspire us

A guest post by Matt Hill (Quiet Loner), our Songwriter-in-Residence. The residency’s aim is to interpret the museum’s collection through songs and in doing so increase public engagement with the collection. The project has been supported by a grant from Arts Council England.

4 June 2016, The Battle for the Ballot - the people's fight for the right to vote @ People's History Museum

For the past few months I’ve been immersed in the museum’s collections researching the history of the vote. I’ve been writing songs inspired by this and on June 4th I’ll present them for the first time in a new show as part of Manchester Histories Festival.

The idea of Universal Suffrage has it’s roots far back in history but I’ve started with the democratic awakening of the late 1700s and moved through the various Reform Acts of the 19th century. It’s a story that takes in appalling events like the Peterloo Massacre, popular movements like Chartism and culminates in the law breaking tactics of the Women’s Suffrage movement that finally led to Universal Suffrage in 1928.

In order to write the best songs I can, I’ve tried to read as much as I can about the people and events, especially drawing from first hand accounts of people who were there at the time. I’ve also sought out objects from the collections that might trigger ideas or inspiration. One item in the collection which fascinates me is the desk on which Thomas Paine wrote the Rights of Man. This was the starting point for a song exploring the ideas of Paine and his contemporary Mary Wollstonecraft. But it was the desk itself that provided the first lines of a song called “Nothing less than revolution”. “It’s been seven days now since I sat down at this desk The darkened oak is stained with sweat, my hands they seem possessed

as I write about the Rights of Man, how everyone has worth,

and the wrongs of handing power down through lines of noble birth”

I’ve also taken inspiration from the shiny sabres belonging to the Manchester Yeomanry at Peterloo, from prints of mass Chartist meetings, from satirical cartoons of the Hyde Park disturbances in 1867, from anti-Suffragette propaganda postcards and from the kitchen of suffragist Hannah Mitchell which is recreated in Gallery One. In each case something has triggered a line, phrase or image that has become the building block of a new song.

The fight for the right to vote is such an epic story with so many twists and turns and I’ve just an hour to tell it. But I hope that the stories within the songs will inspire people to come to the People’s History Museum and explore the collection themselves. There is so much worth seeking out.

The Battle for the Ballot premières as part of Manchester Histories festival on Sat 4 June. Reserve your place here.

 

 

Have Your Say on ‘Do we ‘really’ live in a democracy?’ on Friday 27 May

A guest post by Mark Krantz

29 April & Fri 27 May 2016, Have Your Say! @ People's History Museum
The battle to win the vote for all took over almost one hundred years. Today we have universal suffrage, election of representatives by ballot, and a referendum to decide on membership of the EU.

However, the question of how democratic is Britain is up for discussion.

Where as once there was the demand for ‘no taxation without representation’, today the Panama papers reveal that for the corporations and for some of the richest people in society, taxation is for other people to pay.

The Hillsborough inquest revealed that for years sections of the police conspired to avoid being accountable for their actions. Are they beyond democratic control and accountability?

Decision making over health has been devolved to an appointed interim mayor for Greater Manchester, despite an election that rejected an elected mayor for Manchester.

Opponents of this development believe that ‘Devo Manc’ is ‘undemocratic.’ There will though be an election next year for the post of Greater Manchester Mayor.

Come to the Have Your Say event at the People’s History Museum on Friday 27 May and discuss: Do we ‘really’ live in a democracy?

These monthly discussions will take on the last Friday of the month 1.00pm – 3.00pm, future dates are 24 June and 29 July 2016.  Have Your Say on June 24, will focus on ‘What next after the EU referendum results have been announced?’