The Antiquarians column with Sue Clough: Roger Frost’s lecture on the Peterloo Massacre and uprisings in Burnley

Tribute: A permanent memorial to the Peterloo massacre by Turner Prize winner Jeremy Delle.
Tribute: A permanent memorial to the Peterloo massacre by Turner Prize winner Jeremy Delle.

Roger Frost, eminent Burnley historian, made a welcome return to Todmorden Antiquarian’s to present ‘Burnley’s Peterloo’.

He commenced by describing the background of economic distress after the Napoleonic Wars with high bread prices following the Corn Laws, and preventing working men’s meetings which led to the Peterloo massacre of workers in 1819 Manchester.

The 200th anniversary of Peterloo Massacre was commemorated on 16th August 2019.

The background was one of economic and political frustration with English aristocrats, reluctant to accept democratic principles spreading from the French Revolution.

Peterloo symbolised public protest and the struggle against repression.

Workers and their families from Rochdale and surrounding areas marched to Manchester for a public meeting 200 years ago.

Speakers called for the needs of economic, social and political reforms for ordinary working people.

The crowd of 60,000 men, women and children at St Peter’s Field, Manchester, had expected a peaceful meeting regarding their rights.

Panic erupted as 170 Yeoman Cavalry charged through the crowd to arrest the main speaker, Henry Hunt, slashing with swords and creating confusion.

Around 300 were injured and 15 killed – violence had been unleashed.

A permanent public memorial to Peterloo was designed for the bi-centenary.

The monument was created by artist Jeremy Deller, made from concentric stepped marble circles.

Roger continued that events after the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester led to uprisings in Burnley. These occurred in Autumn 1819 at a meeting of several thousand people campaigning for suffrage. The Burnley Radicals’ meeting was held at Gannow Lane End, a field now under the M65. Crowds assembled at Gannow Lane spurred on by their dissatisfaction with poor living conditions and low wages. There were appeals not to take any weapons and the incident ended with no bloodshed, thankfully. The soldiers present were mostly sons of small business men or shop owners in Burnley town.

Roger added that Thomas Dunham Whittaker, aristocrat living at The Holme in Cliviger, condemned working people for wanting to share with the ‘better classes’! Antiquarians were shown many slides of old Burnley buildings and industries, heavy canal traffic with barges loading by mills together with historic maps putting the ‘Burnley Peterloo’ incident into context.

The next Todmorden Antiquarian open meeting will be on Tuesday, January 7, 2020, when Stephen Caunce will present ‘Highlights of the Rural Year 1890-1925’.

Visitors are most welcome, £3 at the door.