North West LABOUR HISTORY journal
No 43, 2018 - 189
The grim events of the Peterloo Massacre on the 16th August 1819 will be commemorated in its bicentennial year. Often seen as an aberration - the excessive use of State force against its citizens - this edition looks beyond Peterloo and suggests that the potential for numerous ‘Peterloos’ was always present throughout the 19th century and through to our own time.
As Chris Clayton’s article shows, when William Cobbett proposed to visit Manchester only three months after Peterloo ‘the special constables were called out and the military were under arms’. Cobbett ‘deemed it prudent to return to Warrington’. Alice Lock’s reflections on the fate of the Blanketeers march in 1817 suggest, the authorities had no reservations about clamping down on it from the start.
The development of the rural police service by the 1840s, although distrusted by the subject of Jack Peter’s article, Reginald John Richardson, was no doubt a factor in preventing a great loss of life at the great Chartist meeting at Kersal Moor in September 1838. No doubt it would have been different if the Manchester Yeomanry were still dealing ‘with law and order’. Although the absence of another ‘Peterloo’ during the confrontation between police and strikers in Manchester in August 1842 was, according to the evidence of the Manchester Police Chief Charles Shaw, due to the failure of the magistrates to act resolutely rather than the police who were prepared to confront the strikers. As David Hargreaves and Chris Clayton in their study of the General Strike of 1842 note, the potential for wholesale massacre was always present in the disturbances in Staffordshire, Greater Manchester and Preston where the military was employed.
More tranquilly we mark the centenary of the TUC which was celebrated at Belle Vue in 1968 with a selection of photographs from what now seems a bygone age. We are grateful to Terry Wyke for the first of a two part article on Emmeline Pankhurst which, apart from her political activities, reveals the challenges she faced in earning a living. Alan Fowler recalls another remarkable woman, Alice Foley, who fought against poverty and prejudice to play an important role in trade unionism. Yvonne Eckesley’s important article on ‘Wigan’s Doughty Henchwomen’ provides a further reminder of the challenges women faced at work and in local politics.
The victims of Peterloo still await a permanent and prominent memorial on the site of their deaths. Let us hope, two hundred years on, they will be finally and properly remembered.