On 16 August 1819 an estimated 80,000 people gathered at St Peter’s Fields, on the site of the present Free Trade Hall, to attend a meeting in favour of parliamentary reform. It was a peaceful gathering, but nonetheless local magistrates feared a riot and sent mounted troops wielding sabres to disperse the masses. This they did in a matter of minutes, leaving eleven people dead and over four hundred wounded. The Peterloo Massacre, as the incident quickly became known, remains one of the most scandalous incidents in Manchester’s history.
The Library has a wealth of printed and manuscript material on the massacre. Much of this was collected by the Reverend W.R. Hay (1761-1839), who was one of the magistrates responsible for the massacre. Hay’s collection consists of over four hundred broadsides, commonplace books and other items, many of which relate to Peterloo. The scrapbooks were given to the Library by local historian F.R. Raines.
Hunt’s Genuine Beer
This defamatory notice was intended to tarnish the reputation of Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt, a leading Reformer, who was to address the crowds at St Peter’s Fields on 16 August 1819.
The autobiography of James Weatherley, (1794?-1860), a bookseller of Manchester, contains an unpublished eye-witness account of Peterloo. In contrast to the official accounts, Weatherley saw the massacre in personal terms, attributing the main fault to the yeoman trumpeter Meager, who according to Weatherley first began the assault. He records that Meager ‘could never get rest in Manchester after this affair he was annoyed in every place and company in which he went he mostly carried a loaded pistol with him he would as soon shoot a man as a dog…’ Weatherley’s autobiography was acquired by Chetham’s at the sale of James Crossley’s library.
A ballad from the Central Library Collection, temporarily housed here at Chetham’s