On August 16, 1819, some 60,000 protestors gathered at St. Peter’s Field in Manchester, England to demand rights for residents of the increasingly industrial towns of Great Britain to have the right to vote for their own members of Parliament. At the time, due largely to property requirements, only a small percentage of residents of the country (about 2%) could vote. British authorities, however, did not take kindly to such a large-scale demonstration given that they had only just finished fighting a huge war against Napoleon who came to power through the populist beginnings of the French Revolution. As such, a military unit of approximately 1,000 troops was deployed and were ordered to disperse the crowd. The resulting chaos caused by advancing troops with sabres drawn caused a stampede that led to 15 people dying and about 500 being injured and was quickly called the Peterloo Massacre by the Manchester press: the name meant to refer back to the infamous Battle of Waterloo and to contrast the tragedy of Peterloo against the heroism of Waterloo, despite using the same troops.
This event is often described as Britain’s Tienanmen Square and led to some massive changes occurring in British society. In particular, the modern Guardian news organization was founded directly out of the events in Manchester. A more moderate protestor at the event, John Edward Taylor, and some colleagues decided that such protests would not affect the changes they wanted. Instead, they founded a newspaper dedicated to furthering the rights of common citizens. The paper they founded is the direct predecessor to the Guardian.
Featured Image. “Peterloo Massacre.” By Richard Carlile (1790–1843) – Manchester Library Services, Public Domain.
Sources: Wainwright, Martin. “Battle for the memory of Peterloo: Campaigners demand fitting tribute.” The Guardian. 13 August 2007.