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Peterloo The English Uprising: The demonstration that turned into a massacre | Books | Entertainment

Big industrial cities like Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester did not have a single MP between them whereas “rotten boroughs” such as Dunwich in Suffolk (which had a population of 32 in 1831) were still sending two MPs to Westminster. It was a situation that could not continue.

Henry Hunt – a gentleman farmer known popularly as Orator Hunt – travelled the country giving speeches. He came to Manchester on August 16, 1819, to talk to the crowd of around 50,000 men, women and children.

In the days before public address systems, Hunt was one of the few men “whose lungs were powerful enough to reach the fringes of a large outdoor meeting”.

To the working people, Hunt was a heroic figure.

To the ruling classes, he was a menace.

Local magistrates feared “insurrection” was in the air.

Hunt told the crowd to come unarmed – he wanted a peaceful day.

The magistrates decided to block democracy by issuing a warrant for Hunt’s arrest.

The warrant was given to Joseph Nadin.

Nadin was known as Manchester’s “thief taker general” and was paid the astonishing sum of £350 a year, which he added to with the profits from several pubs he ran plus bribes and protection money.

Nadin was 6ft 1in, solidly built, “his language coarse and illiterate and his manner rude and overbearing”. 

Arriving at St Peter’s Field, Nadin realised there was no way the warrant could be executed alone so he asked for help.

In a nearby street waited the Manchester Yeomanry, some of whom had taken drink while they waited not knowing if they were to be called into action.

The Yeomanry charged into the crowd, their swords drawn to cut a path for Nadin to arrest Hunt.

The Yeomanry then became caught up in the melee and the 15th Hussars were sent in to rescue them.

A peaceful day about democracy had become a bloody massacre leaving 18 dead and 700 injured. One man had his nose cut off and another lost an ear, which he took home in his pocket.

It was the bloodiest political event in England in the Nineteenth Century.

Robert Poole gives a comprehensive overview of the country at the time. His description of the massacre is vivid and enthralling.

It’s an event that must never be forgotten and this book is a fitting encomium.

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