THE PETERLOO MASSACRE of 1819 is being forgotten in Manchester and beyond, claims one historical pressure group.

Paul Fitzgerald, chair of the Peterloo Massacre Memorial Campaign, believes that there is much to be done ahead of the event’s anniversary celebrations in 2018 and 2019.

Fitzgerald replaces an “incorrect” Peterloo Commemorative Plaque, 2007

He said:

“The memory of Peterloo has been forgotten for hundreds of years, if not deliberately suppressed.

“We’ve been working for ten years to get people to acknowledge it as a a world-changing event – especially in an era where people are feeling more and more disillusioned with democracy and wondering whether their vote counts.”

For those unfamiliar with the event, the Peterloo Massacre saw 18 civilians – including a child – slain and hundreds brutally maimed by members of the cavalry, all whilst they attempted to stage a peaceful protest for voting reform.

The attack involved over 60,000 protesters from all over the country and took place in St. Peter’s Fields – just down the street from what we now know as St. Peter’s Square.

The original protest was organised by speaker Henry Hunt, a pioneer of working class radicalism and advocate of votes for all.

But Peterloo wasn’t just about Manchester – according to Fitzgerald, it had a vital role to play in the fight for democracy itself.

“One of the interesting things about Peterloo is that its not just about Manchester city – it was a region-wide event, marchers came in that day from places like Middleton, Stockport, Salford.

A more fitting tribute: the new plaque after its unveiling in 2007

“Most of the people who were there, out of the 60,000, weren’t actually from the city…it really was one of the key turning points in the history of democracy.”

Fitzgerald went on to explain what his group – along with many others – are doing to ensure the momentous event is remembered in the coming months.

“We’ve got lots and lots of events planned (in 2018 and 2019).” He explained.

“We have commemoration events every year, where we read out the names of those who died.

“We’re also hoping to stage debates that centre around the democratic legacy that we inherited as a result of these people’s sacrifice, as well as re-staging the attack itself in costume.”

The group are also planning an artistic collaboration with photographer Red Saunders, with hopes to create an accurate depiction of the massacre in form of a photographic scene – they have also triumphed a mural located in a nearby pub.

There are already a number of small tributes across the city to commemorate the event – such as a large painting that resides in the former Free Trade hall, which has since been converted into a luxury hotel.

But, as an artist and writer, Fitzgerald believes that far more fitting tributes can be made.

“The event really has been whitewashed, in a way.” He states.

Gesturing towards the hotel mural, he explains further:

“If you looked at that, you would never have guessed that it was the police that had attacked the crowd.

“I’m currently working on a graphic novel that attempts to combat representations like this – Peterloo is a really challenging memory that asks us, are we doing enough to defend and nurture democracy?

“Or is that something that we are also going to forget?”

More details of the commemorative events programme, launching in 2018 and continuing into 2019, are yet to be released.

If you want to hear our interview with Paul Fitzgerald in full, check out the soundcloud link below:



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