Peterloo Massacre - Assembly - Meeting

Meeting

The crowd that gathered in St Peter's Field arrived in disciplined and organised contingents. Each village or chapelry was given a time and a place to meet, from where its members were to proceed to assembly points in the larger towns or townships, and from there on to Manchester. Contingents were sent from all around the region, the largest and "best dressed" of which was a group of 10,000 who had travelled from Oldham Green, comprising people from Oldham, Royton (which included a sizable female section), Crompton, Lees, Saddleworth and Mossley. Other sizable contingents marched from Middleton and Rochdale (6,000 strong) and Stockport (1,500–5,000 strong). Reports of the size of the crowd at the meeting vary substantially. Contemporaries estimated it from 30,000 to as many as 150,000; modern estimates are 60,000–80,000. Scholar Joyce Marlow describes the event as "The most numerous meeting that ever took place in Great Britain" and elaborates that the generally accepted figure of 60,000 would have been 6% of the population of Lancashire, or half the population of the immediate area around Manchester.

The assembly was intended by its organisers and participants to be a peaceful meeting; Henry Hunt had exhorted everyone attending to come "armed with no other weapon but that of a self-approving conscience", and many were wearing their "Sunday best" clothes. Samuel Bamford recounts the following incident, which occurred as the Middleton contingent reached the outskirts of Manchester:

On the bank of an open field on our left I perceived a gentleman observing us attentively. He beckoned me, and I went to him. He was one of my late employers. He took my hand, and rather concernedly, but kindly, said he hoped no harm was intended by all those people who were coming in. I said "I would pledge my life for their entire peaceableness." I asked him to notice them, "did they look like persons wishing to outrage the law? were they not, on the contrary, evidently heads of decent working families? or members of such families?" "No, no," I said, "my dear sir, and old respected master, if any wrong or violence take place, they will be committed by men of a different stamp from these." He said he was very glad to hear me say so; he was happy he had seen me, and gratified by the manner in which I had expressed myself. I asked, did he think we should be interrupted at the meeting? he said he did not believe we should; "then," I replied, "all will be well"; and shaking hands, with mutual good wishes, I left him, and took my station as before.

Although some observers, like the Rev. W. R. Hay, chairman of the Salford Quarter Sessions, claimed that "The active part of the meeting may be said to have come in wholly from the country", others such as John Shuttleworth, a local cotton manufacturer, estimated that most were from Manchester, a view that would subsequently be supported by the casualty lists. Of the casualties whose residence was recorded, 61% lived within a three-mile radius of the centre of Manchester. Some groups carried banners with texts like "No Corn Laws", "Annual Parliaments", "Universal suffrage" and "Vote By Ballot". The only banner known to have survived is in Middleton Public Library. It was carried by Thomas Redford, who was injured by a yeomanry sabre. Made of green silk embossed with gold lettering, one side of the banner is inscribed "Liberty and Fraternity" and the other "Unity and Strength".

At about noon, several hundred special constables were led onto the field. They formed two lines in the crowd a few yards apart, in an attempt to form a corridor through the crowd between the house where the magistrates were watching and the hustings, two waggons lashed together. Believing that this might be intended as the route by which the magistrates would later send their representatives to arrest the speakers, some members of the crowd pushed the waggons away from the constables, and pressed around the hustings to form a human barrier.

Hunt's carriage arrived at the meeting shortly after 1:00 pm, and he made his way to the hustings. Alongside Hunt on the speakers' stand were John Knight, a cotton manufacturer and reformer, Joseph Johnson, the organiser of the meeting, John Thacker Saxton, managing editor of the Manchester Observer, the publisher Richard Carlile, and George Swift, reformer and shoemaker. There were also a number of reporters, including John Tyas of The Times, John Smith of the Liverpool Echo and Edward Baines Jr, the son of the editor of the Leeds Mercury. By this time St Peter's Field, an area of 14,000 square yards (11,706 m2), was packed with tens of thousands of men, women and children. The crowd around the speakers was so dense that "their hats seemed to touch"; large groups of curious spectators gathered on the outskirts of the crowd. The rest of Manchester was like a ghost town, the streets and shops were empty.

Read more about this topic:  Peterloo Massacre, Assembly

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