The 1842 Strike, Part 1

In the summer of 1842 a great wave of strikes engulfed Lancashire and Yorkshire. The wave began in the Staffordshire coalfield in July when the miners went on strike for fewer hours and more pay. They also linked economic with political demands when a meeting passed a resolution stating that “nothing but the People’s Charter can give us a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work’.” Miners marched from pit to pit spreading the strike as far north as Stockport.

Cotton masters in Stalybridge and Ashton-under-Lyne gave notice that they intended to reduce wages by 25%. A mass meeting was held in Ashton on 26 July which was addressed by two Chartists and this was followed by other local meetings.

On Monday 8 August thousands of workers gathered at the Haigh in Stalybridge and brought out mills and factories in Ashton, Dukinfield and other villages. At 2pm thousands gathered in Ashton market square and then dispatched delegations to Oldham and Hyde to bring them out as well.

Tuesday 9 August

Perhaps 20,000 strikers gathered in Ashton and set off to Manchester along Ashton New Road, turning out mills and factories along the way. When they reached the junction of Pollard Street and Great Ancoats Street they were met by the magistrates, police and military. According to a letter later printed in the Manchester Guardian from Mr Daniel Maude, the chief magistrate, the procession “was led by large party of young women very decently dressed. Both they and the men who followed were arranged in regular file and nothing could be apparently more respectful and peaceable than their demeanour”.

Mr Maude refused to listen to the entreaties of the Chief Constable Sir Charles Shaw, who wanted to turn the police and military loose on the crowd, but instead placed himself at the head of the procession and led them to Granby Row Fields where they held an open air meeting which was joined by thousands from the neighbouring mills as they shut for dinner at noon. Richard Pilling stood on a cart and spoke of what had happened in Ashton and other towns. He told the crowd that they were determined not to return to work until the prices of 1840 were restored and they were seeking the co-operation of the people of Manchester for a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s labour. At 1.30pm the crowd gave three very loud cheers for the People’s Charter and then set off back to their homes.

During the afternoon the Manchester mills were visited and turned out as well. There was some trouble where mill managers refused. The lodge at the Oxford Road twist company was gutted but the mill was untouched. At Birley’s Mill in Chorlton-upon-Medlock the managers closed and barricaded the doors and turned hose–pipes on the crowd, which retaliated by hurling lumps of coal at the windows, smashing hundreds. The managers climbed onto the roof and hurled down stones and pieces of metal onto the crowd below, nearly killing a young woman. Eventually the police and military turned up and dispersed the crowd, arresting seven people.

There was an attempt to start the mill the following morning but many workers were stopped from going in by mass picketing. The streets were cleared and patrolled by armed soldiers. On Thursday the there was fierce battle between the police and strikers, who only retreated after being charged by riflemen with fixed bayonets. The company closed the works at the end of the week, stating that on Friday and Saturday “a large proportion of the hands did not come and we reluctantly closed our Mills… We lament the necessity for suspending the payment of weekly wages to large number of usually contented and well conducted individuals, on many of whom others depend for support. “

The mill remained shut until 2 September.

Wednesday 10 August

There was meeting of 5, 000 at 6am at Granby Row addressed by a number of Chartists, including Christopher Doyle, who advised the crowd to apply to the workhouse for subsistence and not to go to work until the wages are raised. He advised people to go peacefully and not to break the law. The strikers marched to Ancoats, turning out mills on the way, the numbers growing to 10,000. The police blocked the way to the Kennedy mills, and there was some trouble with the cavalry being sent for.

Some of the crowd crossed Victoria Bridge into Salford, turning out mills along Greengate. The Manchester Guardian reported that

“ In passing along Broughton Road, one or two boys went into the shop of James Faulkner, provision dealer, and asked for bread. He gave them a 4lb loaf which was instantly torn to pieces in the crowd. There seemed to be at first an inclination amongst the younger member of the crowd to enter the shop and see if they could not get more bread, but the main body of the rioters forced them away saying that it would ruin their cause should they begin to plunder. Having proceeded as far as Broughton Bridge they halted in front of Mr Williams’s silk mill, having heard that there were some hands at work, but on being assured that such was not the case, they passed along Silk Street, Hope Fields, Adelphi Street, across Broken Bank, into Oldfield Road, from which they announced of making their way to Granby Row, to attend the meeting which was to take place there as stated in the morning”

By 9am all the mills in the areas of Ancoats, London Road and Oxford Road had turned out their hands. Deputations went to the managers of the mills and warned them that if the mills did not stop, there might be disturbances. Mr Jones mill on Chester Street initially refused but gave way after a crowd gathered outside.

At Messrs Stirling & Beckton on Lower Mosley Street (where they had been trouble the previous evening) the mill was visited several times crowds who called on the hands to come out. When they refused the crowd began throwing stones at the mill and Mr Beckton’s house. The cavalry arrived and, drawing their swords, they dispersed the crowds who ran in all directions.

There was another meeting at lunchtime at Granby Row Fields attended by thousands and chaired by Daniel Donovan. The speakers urged people not to return to work until their demands had been met and also urged people not to go to the bread shops. The meeting was adjourned until the following morning. The crowd then went in procession to Little Ireland.

Round about noon a crowd of several hundred young men and women, many armed with sticks, came down from the direction of Newtown Silk Mill to the Union Bridge over the Irk at the bottom of Gould Street and called down to men working in the river cleaning the filters to stop work. They then moved on to attack the gas works but driven off by a small number of police They returned in greater numbers and began hurling stones at the offices and house, before leaving the area. (The gas works was later guarded by police, soldiers, and sixty Chelsea pensioners who had been sworn in as special constables)

The crowd now set about a small house on Roger Street being used as a police station, eventually breaking in and ransacking the building, throwing the furniture into the street and hurling the policeman’s clothes into the Irk. Sergeant Almon, the only man left in the building (the rest having fled) hid under the cellar steps and was not found. The Manchester Guardian reported that after the crowd had moved, “their places were filled by a great number of lads, women and even girls who appeared to take delight in taking the work of destruction even further. They tore the handles and locks from the doors, broke the doors inside the house to pieces, pulled down mantelpieces, and even tore the grates out of the brick-work. The iron shelves of the oven were thrown out of the window, and everything was done to destroy the property.” Eventually fifty police and several dragoons arrived and seized a girl aged 14, who had thrown many things out of the window, and took her to the New Bailey prison. With the coast now clear Sergeant Almon emerged from his hiding place, clutching a sword. Nothing remained of the house except the floor and walls.

At about 12.15 a crowd of several hundred went down Princess Street, some of whom entered a provisions shop belonging to Mr Howarth and demanded bread. Perhaps not surprisingly he handed over several 4lb loaves. When the police arrived within a short space they arrested seven men who were still in the shop and took them to the New Bailey prison.

Later that same afternoon a crowd of thirty or so knocked on all the doors of house of Cooper Street, demanding money or bread from the house-holders who complied. The police led by Inspector Green stepped in and arrested the leaders.

Between 3pm and 4pm another group, who had already taken bread from shops on Deansgate, attacked a number shops on Oldham Street, stealing bread and other provisions and money. They then went off for a drink on the proceeds to the Cross Keys public house, Cross Street, Swan Street, where they were found by the police who arrested five men. The Manchester Guardian reported that they had been assured that “these parties consisted for most part of young thieves and not at all of workmen.”

At half past three a meeting of mechanics on a piece of waste ground near Oxford Road was attacked by a party of dragoons with sabres and the Rifle Brigade and dispersed, but not before they had agreed to meet the following day at the Carpenters Hall.

On Wednesday evening a public notice was issued summoning Chelsea pensioners to the Town Hall. The following morning some three hundred reported for duty and were sworn in as special constables

That same evening a group of women gathered in Great Ancoats Street and marched through the streets , their numbers increasing as they went. Their object was to bring out more mills. They were successful on Mill Street where the workers came out and they then moved onto Kennedy’s Mill, demanding that the mill to be closed. When this was refused they attacked the mills with stones, broke open the door and were about to invade the mill when the police arrived and set about the crowd. The Northern Star reported that the police “charged the people, sparing neither age nor sex, but laying about them right and left with their bludgeons and cutlasses; many were knocked down and beaten until they were unable to rise from the ground.” The women fought back with volleys of stones and the police eventually ran off “amidst the curses and execrations of the immense assemblage”.

Major Warre , the Manchester military commander, wrote to the Home Secretary requesting more soldiers, explaining that “I have but a very inadequate force in this town under the altered and excited state of things from the state of organisation among the working classes…..I did not expect that the general turn-out of work would take place in the towns of Lancashire to the south of this place… and that they should venture to march in bodies into Manchester notwithstanding the police and garrison.”

Until they had more soldiers, the town authorities advised mill-owners not to attempt to start up their mills as they could not provide enough forces to protect the mills and workers.

[Continued in Part 2]

Article by Michael Herbert

Advertisements

The Clarion Movement

The Clarion newspaper was the most influential Socialist newspaper ever published in Britain, creating thousands of Socialists and inspiring a whole social movement. The movement was divided by the First World War and never recovered.

The first issue of The Clarion was published on 12 December 1891. The offices were in City Buildings, Corporation Street, Manchester, although the paper moved to Fleet Street in 1895. (The building still stands unoccupied and derelict opposite the Co-operative Bank). The Clarion was founded by Robert Blatchford.

Blatchford was born in Maidstone in 1851. He came from a theatrical family, his father John being a comedian and his mother Georgina an actress. He had little schooling and was largely self-educated, spending his time reading during regular bouts of childhood illness. The family eventually settled in Halifax where Robert was apprenticed as a brushmaker. He did not go into the trade, leaving the town in 1871 and joining the army where he rose to the rank of Sergeant Major.

After leaving the army he got a job as a storeman with the Weaver Navigation Company in Northwich and began writing short stories in his spare time. This led to him writing a column for a newspaper in Leeds and then into full-time journalism, first in London and then in Manchester where he worked for Edward Hulton, writing for the Sunday Chronicle under the pen-name Nunquam (Nunquam Dormio – I do not sleep.) His salary was now an astonishing £1,000 a year.

Increasingly he wrote about slum conditions in Manchester and was taken around some of the worst cellars in Hulme and Ancoats by a local Socialist, Joe Waddington. Blatchford finally became a Socialist after reading What is Socialism, written by Henry Hyndman and William Morris. Blatchford was not a theoretician but came to Socialism because he saw it as a practical solution to the poverty and misery he had personally witnessed. He later wrote:

“I have never read a page of Marx. I got the idea of collective ownership from H.M. Hyndman; the rest of my Socialism I thought out myself. English Socialism is not German: it is English. English Socialism is not Marxian; It is humanitarian. It does not depend upon any theory of “economic justice” but upon humanity and common sense.”

Hulton would not let him write about Socialism in the Morning Chronicle so Blatchford walked out of his job and set up The Clarion, along with his brother Montague, Alex Thompson, Edward Fay and Robert Suthers. It was a huge gamble but fortunately for them many of Blatchford’s readers followed him to the new venture and The Clarion soon became a welcome weekly visitor to thousands of households and attracted a fierce loyalty from its readers. The Clarion was never a dry-as-dust theoretical journal, but a jovial mix of news, comment, short stories, songs and poetry.

Blatchford and The Clarion made Socialists. As George R Taylor put it in his book Leaders Of Socialism, Past and Present, published in 1910,

“…..Robert Blatchford…..can manufacture Socialist more quickly then anyone else. Tipton Limited sells more tea than any other firm, Lever sells more soap; one factory makes more boots; another most chairs. Mr Blatchford and The Clarion make more Socialists than any rival establishment.”

Blatchford’s pamphlet Merrie England: a Series of Letters on the Labour Problem, based on articles originally published in The Clarion, appeared in 1893, priced at a shilling. The first run of 25,000 sold out and it was then reprinted, the price lowered at penny and sold by the hundreds of thousands. It was addressed to “John Smith of Oldham, a hard-headed workman fond of facts” and set out practical reasons why Socialism was necessary, ending by presenting readers with a stark choice:

“This question of Socialism is the most important and imperative question of the age. It will divide, is now dividing, society into two camps. In which camp will you elect to stand? On the one side there are individualism and competition –leading to a “great trade” and great miseries. On the other side is justice, without which can come no good, from which can come no evil. On the one hand are ranged all the sages, all the saints, all the martyrs, all the noble manhood and pure womanhood of the world; on the other hand are the tyrant, the robber, the manslayer, the libertine, the usurer, the slave-driver, the drunkard, and the sweater. Choose your party, then, my friend, and let us get to the fighting.”

The Clarion supported the three year strike in the slate mines at Bethesda in Wales by raising money for the strikers. Its readers now set up a social network of societies, including the Clarion Cycling Club (which is still going), Vocal Unions, Clarion Fellowship, Clarion Handicraft Clubs, Clarion Scouts, Rambling Clubs and Cinderella Clubs (which arranged events for children). In 1908 the Clarion Café was opened at 50a Market Street; this lasted until the 1930s.

The Clarion Cycling Club began one evening in February 1894 when Tom Groom and five others men held a meeting in the Labour Church in Birmingham and decided to set up a Socialist Cycling Club. Their first tour was at the Easter weekend and was later written up for The Clarion, in which Tom Groom described how they left Wolverhampton on a damp morning and cycled around Worcestershire, enjoying the pleasure of the countryside – and its pubs!

“Suddenly the first man rang his bell, and discounted, the others following suit. The first man spake not, but pointed with trembling delight to where they sold the Clarion…..We all marched in, in order, purchased our Clarions and then, as solemnly walked out, mounted our machines, and then proceeded on our way as men who had had glimpses of higher things.”

Tom concluded his report, “We had spent as grand a holiday as possible. Ah-h! It was glorious! Say no man lives until he has been on tour with the Clarion CC. Till then he but exists.”

His report inspired others to set up their own Clarion Cycling Clubs and in 1895 over one hundred cyclists met up at Easter in Ashbourne for the first annual meet, a tradition that still continues. There were rides out, songs and drinking in the George & Dragon. As the cycling clubs grew Clarion clubhouses were set up to allow the cyclists to get away for a cheap weekend in the country. The first was a caravan set up over the summer of 1895 at Tabley Brook, near Knutsford, by two Manchester CCC members Charlie Reekie and J S Sutcliffe. A permanent Clubhouse in an old house was opened in June 1897 at Bucklow Hill, leased from a farmer for 5 years. This was followed an old farmhouse in Handforth which ran from 1903 to 1936. Collin Coates later wrote:

“To be able to wheel out on a Saturday or Sunday after the week’s toil and moil in the dingy office, the stuffy warehouse, the reeking slum, the enervating mill, workshop or mine – to one’s own house…..which was the rendezvous of kindred soul bubbling over with the spirit of the newly–found fellowship, was indeed taste of the joys to be had in the ‘days-a-coming’.”

Other Clubhouses were set up in Wharfedale, Halewood, the Ribble Valley, the Midlands and Essex. One Clarion House survives near Nelson-on-Colne, opened in 1912 by Nelson ILP. It welcomes visitors, walkers and cyclists still.

The Clarion had a women’s column almost from the start, written firstly by Eleanor Keeling and then from October 1895 by Julia Dawson. In February 1896 Julia told her readers that she wanted to organise a Clarion Van tour over the summer. A horse-drawn van had already been offered and would be sent out on the road with two or three women on board, stopping in towns and villages to hold meetings and distribute Socialist literature. She appealed for women to come forward as speakers and for donations to fund the venture. These appeals were successful and in June the Van set off from Liverpool. The speakers on the first tour included Caroline Martyn, Ada Nield and Sarah Reddish. The Van toured Cheshire and Staffordshire and then went north, finishing up on Tyneside after fifteen weeks’ hard campaigning. On the way the women had addressed thousands of people. It was judged a great success and repeated in following years. By 1907 the number of Vans had risen to six.

The Clarion movement was fractured in 1914 when Robert Blatchford supported the war. He had already incensed many of readers in 1899 when he supported the Boer war. He had also supported calls for a stronger navy and army and had written articles in the Daily Mail about the “German Menace.” Now with war a reality he turned on his former comrades, some of whom were imprisoned for their conscientious objection to the slaughter.

Collin Coates later reflected that:

“We could not equate Socialism, as we had understood it, with the organised killing of others of our own class. This attitude aroused Blatchford to a pitch of patriotic fervour which caused him to abuse and vilify such of us as had failed to drop our Socialism for a narrow nationalism.”

The paper struggled on after the war but it was never the same. The Labour Party was now a growing force electorally, prepared to enter government on a pragmatic basis, whilst on its left the newly formed Communist party was attracting young idealists. The paper became monthly in 1927 and finally disappeared in 1934, its heyday long past. Blatchford himself died in 1943 and now slept.

Article by Michael Herbert.

Resources and further reading

Clarion House
Clarion Cycling Club

Clarion archives, pamphlets and books, Working Class Movement Library

Roger Brown and Stan Iveson, Clarion House, a monument to a Movement

Chris Clegg, “Nelson ILP Clarion House: a remarkable survivor”, North West Labour History Journal, No 30

Michael Nally, “The Dear Old Perisher: the Clarion Newspaper 1891-1935”, North West Labour History Journal, No 17

Richard Povall, “Pedal Power” text of his play about the National Clarion Cycling Club), North West Labour History Journal, No 29

Denis Pye , “Fellowship Is Life: the Bolton Clarion Cycling Club and the Clarion Movement 1896-1914”, North West Labour History Journal, No 10

Denis Pye, “Charlie Reekie’s Dream, the story of the Manchester Clarion Clubhouses 1897-1951”, North West Labour History Journal, No 17

Denis Pye, Socialism, Fellowship and Food, the Manchester Clarion Café 1908-1936, North West Labour History Journal, No 21

Denis Pye, Fellowship is Life: the story of the Clarion Cycling Club (1995) (still available from the author, 34 Temple Road, Halliwell, Bolton BL1 3LT. £4.95 p&p. Cheques payable to Clarion Publishing)

Nikki Salmon, “Bold Memories of ’84. Bolton Clarion’s ride round the Lancashire Pits, December 8th 1984”, North West Labour History Journal, No 11

Mary and Percy Higgins: Communists in Tameside

Mary and Percy Higgins, a couple from Tameside, were active politically on the left, first in the Labour Party and then in the Communist Party, from the early 1930s to the end of their respective lives.

Mary was born Mary Boardman on 22 August 1914 in Failsworth, of working-class parents. Her mother ran a hardware and china shop. Politics ran in the family: her parents were members of the Failsworth Secular Society and founders of the Independent Labour Party, whilst on her mother’s side her grandparents had been Chartists. Mary herself joined the Labour Party at the age of 16 and was elected to the executive the next year. She also became active in the Labour League of Youth (LLY, which in the 1930s had 30,000 members) and was elected as a delegate to the Manchester Federation.

She attended a national LLY conference in Leeds but came back disillusioned because, she felt, the young people attending were not allowed to discuss matters of real importance. As well as being active in Failsworth she also helped out at Mossley Labour Party (very likely because she had met Percy Higgins, her future husband, who lived in Mossley). By the late 1930s she was becoming disillusioned with the Labour Party and began reading the Daily Worker. Mary joined the Communist Party in Oldham in 1940, at first it seems as a paper member, because she carried on working in the Labour Party. After reading Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil and hearing Harry Pollitt (the national secretary of the Communist Party ) she made the final break with Labourism and become an active member of the CP in Oldham. She later said that: “I found that I could not reconcile pacifism with a belief that, should the time come for the working class to defend their rights, I would fight for those rights.”

Within months Mary had become the Party Secretary in Oldham. That same year she got married to Percy Higgins. At this time they were living on Dacres Estate, Greenfield.

Percy was born in Mossley on 3 January 1910, one of a large family, and attended St George’s Elementary School. “I learned very early in life what it means to be one of a big working class family in wartime and slump. There were nine of us in the family, but a sister died at the age of three and my father became estranged and separated from the family as a result of the 1914 war.” From a young age Percy had shown an aptitude for painting and drawing but with his father gone and family on the breadline Percy had to be sent to work in a mill at the age of 14 to earn money for the family, instead of going to art school, as both he and his mother had dreamed of. “I shall never forget the heartbreak it occasioned my mother, never shall I ever forget the way she wept when I went off on my first day to work in a cotton factory at the age of fourteen, instead of art school as she had always hoped for.”

Starting as a learner piecer at 10/- a week, Percy rose to become a big piecer by the age of 17, earning 25/- a week, enough for him to afford evening classes in art in Ashton-under-Lyne where he won prizes and improved his technique. Percy was thrown out of work in 1928 but after a few months got another job with a commercial firm in Rochdale.

Whilst unemployed, Percy heard a speaker on the Market Ground in Mossley proclaiming how Socialism could solve the problems of poverty and ignorance. “I thought it over and read some books.” These included the Socialist classic The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. As a result he almost immediately joined the local Labour Party in which he became very active, assisting with the election of Herbert Gibson as the Labour & Co-operative candidate for Mossley at the general election in 1929. “I decided to give all the time I could to working for Socialism.” He started a Labour League of Youth and helped set up the Manchester Federation of Labour League of Youth (which is probably where he met Mary). In 1932 Percy organised a large demonstration by thousands of young people in Mossley against the Means Test and also stood for Mossley Council, but was defeated by 65 votes.

Percy realised his life’s ambition when he set up business as a freelance commercial artist in 1934. Though now a small businessman he did not abandon his Socialism and was Secretary of the Mossley Labour Party from 1933 to 1939 as well as Propaganda Secretary for the Lancashire District Clarion Youth Committee. In 1935 he assisted workers at Mossley Woolcombing to fight and win a strike over pay and conditions. At the same time Percy was also elected Secretary of Mossley Smalltraders Association, organizing a shopping week that same year to mark Mossley’s 50 years as a borough. He was also active in Aid Spain during the Spanish Civil War and in the Left Book Club. He took the 12 month correspondence course for Labour Party election agents, but left the Labour Party and joined the Communist Party in 1940.

In 1941 he joined the RAF and during his time at Padgate camp led a successful deputation to protest at the inept training and the food. After a brief spell in the Shetlands (where he established a Communist Party branch in Lerwick along with Peter Jamieson), he was eventually posted to Allahabad in India in 1943. He remained politically active, organising a Daily Worker reading classes and making contact with the Indian Communist Party. He met Indian Nationalists, including the son of Gandhi. Percy also served in Burma. His activities led him being moved to Nagpur, though this did not dampen his fervour for he made contact with local Communist Party and organized a Daily Worker reading group. He was posted again to Burma where he organized a Forces parliament.

Percy was demobbed in 1946. According to biographical notes submitted for a CP National School in January 1946 the Higgins were living back in Greenfield and Mary was working as a short-hand typist at R Radcliffe in Mossley. In 1947 they moved to Wales, where Percy worked as a full-time organiser and election agent for Harry Pollitt who stood as Communist Party candidate in the Rhondda East constituency several times, though was not elected. They lived in Penygraig, near Tonypandy, at this time.

Percy attended a National CP School in May 1950. The assessment of him noted that that he was very co-operative and ready to tackle problems and contributed well to group and class discussions, “though he has rather a tendency to leap into discussion without sufficiently thinking out his points.”

By the early 1950s Mary and Percy were back in Lancashire. Percy was now organising sales of the Daily Worker in Lancashire, quite successfully, according to a report in the CP archives. Mary worked as a medical secretary at Manchester Royal Infirmary.

They were very active members of CND formed in 1958, and took part in the Aldermaston marches and also marches to Holy Loch where nuclear submarines were based. Mary was involved with the Women’s Peace Caravan which crossed Europe to Moscow. In their spare time (what there was of it) they enjoyed walking in the Pennines and Lake District and also spent time at Dent in the Yorkshire Dales. Percy painted landscapes of their beloved lakes.

Percy died on 7 November 1977 and Mary died on 20 March 1995. The Working Class Movement Library has a tape of Mary taking about her life and politics.

Article by Michael Herbert

The Anti-Irish Riot in Ashton-under-Lyne, May 1868

In the 1860s a number of anti-Irish riots occurred in the Midlands and the North of England, provoked by William Murphy who gave virulently anti-Catholic lectures. The worst local riot took place in Ashton-under-Lyne in May 1868.

According to his own account William Murphy was born a Catholic in Limerick in 1834 but his family converted to Protestantism whilst he was still a child and his father, after being sacked from his teaching post, assumed a new post as head of a Protestant school in Mayo. By the 1860s Murphy was touring England lecturing for the Protestant Evangelical Mission & Electoral Union, using a platform style which combined violent rhetoric with lurid “revelations” of the alleged sexual exploitation of female Catholics by their priests. He would begin by declaring “My name is Murphy and a red hot one it is. I am for war with the knife, war with revolver if you like, war with the bayonet if you like” and then declare to his audience that “your wives and daughters are exposed to debauchery in the confessional, and are betrayed and kidnapped into convent prisons, and there kept the dupes or slaves of priestly lust.”

A flier advertising one of Murphy’s meetings in Lancashire read: “Protestants! Come and Hear the Questions Put to the Married and the Unmarried in the Confessional”. The main feature of Murphy’s show was a simulation of a confessional in which Murphy and an assistant played the roles of priest and confessor. Those whose taste for sexual saliciousness had not been completely sated by the evening’s events could afterwards purchase pamphlets entitled Maria Monk and The Confessional Unmasked, describing in graphic detail the variety of sexual practices that Catholic theologians had defined as mortal sins.

Many Catholics were deeply offended by Murphy’s attack on their religion and his lecture tours frequently caused uproar. Some local authorities refused to let him halls while others allowed him to speak, relying on the police to keep the peace. In February 1867 he caused considerable disorder in Wolverhampton and magistrates were forced to summon troops and cavalry from neighbouring towns. In June, Murphy began a week of meetings in Birmingham, using a specially built wooden “tabernacle” after the mayor had refused him use of the Town Hall. On the first afternoon Murphy offered to take on “any Popish priest, from Bishop Ullathorne to the biggest ragamuffin in the lot; and if there was ever a rag and bone gatherer in the universe it was the Pope himself”. The local Irish then began attacking the hall and the police were summoned to clear the area. The following day a huge crowd gathered and there was more rioting during which the mayor read the Riot Act and had to call out the troops. After the third lecture Murphy’s supporters attacked the Irish area and ransacked a local chapel. Troops eventually restored order and the rest of the week passed off largely without incident.

The following year Murphy headed north to the textile districts where his meetings were accompanied by riots and attacks on the Irish at Ashton, Oldham, Rochdale, Bury, Stalybridge and other towns. The worst riot was in Ashton in early May 1868 where the Orange Order had strong support (even today there is a pub near the station called The Prince of Orange). Murphy himself was not present but on Saturday 9th May the Protestant Electoral Union sponsored a tea-party for a thousand people in the Town Hall at which they gave away Orange emblems that were then worn around the town by Orangemen and supporters of Murphy. Almost inevitably this was followed by skirmishes in the streets between Irish and English.

On Sunday afternoon the Irish assembled in Bentinck Street and Old Street wearing green ribbons and led by John Flynn. The Orange crowd held Henry Square. During the fighting which soon broke out both sides threw stones, while the Irish freely used their revolvers, forcing the Orangemen to retreat. The police intervened, persuading the Irish to pull back and arresting a man named McHugh for drunkenness. The Irish then made another charge, firing many shots at the Orangemen in Old Street who retaliated by attacking Irish houses in Peter Street and Cavendish Street, Flag Alley, breaking the windows with stones and hatchets and, as in the riot in Stockport, dragging the furniture into the street where it was smashed or burned by the crowd which numbered several thousand by now. At least 100 people were left homeless. The Orange crowd then moved on to attack St Ann’s Roman Catholic chapel. They were held off for a while by shots fired by its defenders but eventually broke in and ransacked the place, smashing windows and pews and destroying the statues. They also damaged the house of the priest and local Catholic schools.

At about ten o’clock in the evening a large Orange crowd attacked St Mary’s Roman Catholic chapel in Charlestown, which was defended by men from the congregation armed with revolvers, including a number of Fenians it was later rumoured in the parish. One of the attackers, a man named William Ibbetson, was wounded in the stomach. While this was happening the Irish attacked houses in Blatford Street. Finally, around midnight, the magistrates read the Riot Act and the violence finally died out. The police arrested John Flynn. There was one fatality, a woman named Mary Bradby who died in Lower Bentinck Street. Initially it was reported that she had been trampled by the Orange crowd whilst watching what was going on but, after hearing evidence that she bore no trace of any injuries and had a bad condition of the heart, the inquest held a few days later decided that she had died of fright.

Next morning trouble started again between the hours of nine and ten in the morning when the Orange crowd resumed its attack on St Mary’s and pillaged some Irish houses in Hill Street. When special constables intervened the crowd set off for Stalybridge singing “Rule Britannia”. The police tried to bar the way but the crowd found another path and went to the Irish area in Henry Street where they started smashing windows until the police caught up with them and drove the rioters into the River Tame.

In the course of Monday a man called Houston (described in the press as “the anti-Popery lecturer”) delivered a lecture to sixty people or so in the Old Mill, Charlestown, blaming the disturbances on Roman Catholics, but there was no trouble afterwards. Some of the “peaceably disposed” Irish spent Monday night on Ashton Moss, fearing to return to their houses. The Mayor of Ashton opened a subscription list for the benefit of those who has lost their homes, while some English families offered to take in homeless Irish women and children. Seven Irishmen and fifteen Englishmen subsequently appeared before the magistrates, charged with various offences in connection with the rioting. The Pall Mall Gazette’s comments on the events in Ashton could equally have applied to Murphy’s whole career, pointing to a deep-rooted anti-Catholicism as an explanation:

Such an insignificant creature as Murphy could never have lighted such a fire as this if there had not been a vast mass of fuel ready to his hand. The ease with which he stirred up the feelings of the people both at Birmingham and in the North shows how powerful and widely spread those feelings… The overwhelming majority of Englishmen of all ranks of life do from their very hearts, and in a great variety of ways, utterly detest superstition and priestcraft…

Article by Michael Herbert

Rioting between the Orange Order and the Irish in Manchester

In the early 19th century Manchester was a major stronghold of the Orange order. There were occasional riots between the Catholic Irish and the Orange order in the first half of the century.

In the first decades of the nineteenth century Manchester was the principal centre for Orangeism in Great Britain. The colour Orange had been adopted by Irish Protestant patriots in memory and honour of the Protestant William of Orange, who seized the throne from Catholic James II in 1688 and defeated him in a series of battles in Ireland, most notably at the Boyne and Aughrim.

Inconveniently for subsequent Protestant Loyalist mythology William was actually backed by the Pope for complicated reasons of European diplomacy and his final victory celebrated with a Te Deum in Rome. It is the myths of history, however, that often turn out to be more potent and long-lasting than the prosaic facts and so it has proved with the Williamite victories which are still commemorated every 12th July in the North of Ireland by Protestants.

In the early 1790s there were clashes in Ulster between Catholics organised in groups known the Defenders and the Ribbonmen and Protestants organised in groups such as the Peep O’Day Boys, who had taken to raiding Catholic homes and farms for arms. In 1793 James Wilson, a Presbyterian farmer in County Tyrone, established the Orange Boys, whose members swore oaths to defend Protestantism and the constitution. On 21st September 1795 there was clash between Catholics and Protestants near Loughgall in County Armagh, in which several dozen Catholic Defenders were killed in an attack on Dan Winter’s Inn and which subsequently became known as the Battle of the Diamond. This led directly to the establishment of the Orange Order, which followed the example of the Freemasons by admitting members after the taking of oaths and organising itself through lodges. The order received the tacit support of Protestant magistrates and gentry and the first Orange parades were held on 12th July 1796. By the following year, faced with the threat from the United Irishmen, the British government was happy and willing to use the Orange Order as a useful ally in its struggle to reimpose its authority across Ireland.

British regiments and militias from Lancashire were sent to in Ireland at this time and a number of soldiers took the oath whilst serving, bringing back Orange warrants to England. In November 1799 Colonel Stanley’s regiment, the First Lancashire Militia, returned to Manchester with warrant number 320. The Manchester & Salford Rifle Volunteers (raised and financed by Colonel Taylor of Moston and commanded by Colonel Sylvester) returned with warrant number 1128. Discharged soldiers seem to have started civilian lodges which spread from Manchester to neighbouring towns such as Oldham, where Orange lodges held a 12th July march as early as 1803.

The first Orange riot in Manchester occurred on 13th July 1807 when Orangemen, carrying banners and marching to Orange tunes, joined a number of English friendly societies in a parade to the Collegiate Church. On leaving the church there was a confrontation with Catholics in Church Street and High Street. The location is significant, being very close to the Catholic meeting place in Roman Entry. The Deputy Chief Constable Nadin had to call for troops to restore order. The Manchester Gazette afterwards claimed that “No Popery” signs had been chalked on walls before the march and that local regiments had been playing Orange tunes when recruiting in the town. It seems that tensions were high even before the Orange march took place.

Local Orangemen Ralph Nixon later claimed that Irish Catholics had attacked the march. In a letter to the British Volunteer newspaper on 25th July he stated that “Orange principles are imperfectly known in England and those who attacked them were misled by an erroneous opinion that our views are hostile and directed against papists. Orangemen are zealously attached to the king and admire our matchless constitution”. Nixon’s letter points to the motivation of the English Orangemen as veering more towards maintenance of the political status quo in Britain than a direct association with the politics of Ireland, although the two were connected. Like the Church and King Clubs of the 1790s the Orange Order was a useful organisation for local magistrates and gentry (often the same people) to deploy against their enemies, the radicals and reformers.

Nixon wrote to Ireland for authority to found a Grand Lodge in Britain and approached Colonel Taylor and Colonel Fletcher of Bolton to act as Grand Masters. Fletcher was particularly assiduous in opposing any hint of radicalism in his home town and had routinely employed spies to infiltrate radical organisations. In May 1808 a meeting at the Star Hotel on Deansgate, where lodges had already been accustomed to meet, established the English Grand Lodge with Taylor as Grand Master, Fletcher as Deputy Grand Master and Nixon as Grand Secretary. The original Irish warrants were now cancelled and henceforth the English lodges obtained their credentials from the new Grand Lodge. By 1811 there were some 68 lodges in the Manchester region – according to The Orange Miscellany and Orange Man’s Guide published in 1815 – and 77 in Lancashire in 1830. Ralph Nixon made an abrupt and permanent exit from the organisation in 1821 when he was sentenced to seven years transportation after being charged with burglary.

There was further trouble in Manchester in 1830. A group of Irishmen, apparently employed at Parker’s factory, attacked a number of public houses where the Orange lodges were meeting to celebrate the 12th July and had hung banners out of the windows. At the Boars Head on Withy Grove they stormed upstairs, seized the flag, tore it to pieces and trampled it in the street. There were similar scenes at the Queen Anne on Long Millgate and at the Union Tavern on Garratt Street. Town constables finally arrived and seized some of the stragglers as the Irishmen were returning home along Bank Top and lodged them in the Market House. When the rest of the party realised what had happened they promptly returned and released the prisoners by smashing open the gates. (These same Irish weavers were involved in a strike at Parker’s in March 1831 when they demanded an increase in the price they received for weaving shirtings and calicos).

In 1834 Manchester Orange lodges celebrated in the usual manner with banquets on the 12th July . On the following day, which was a Sunday, several hundred Orangemen assembled in St Ann’s Square and marched to St George’s Church, Hulme to attend divine service. On the way back they were attacked in Cateaton Street by several hundred Catholics armed with sticks and stones. The fighting was finally stopped by the 5th Dragoons, summoned by the town authorities. There was more trouble later that evening outside the Windmill public house on St George’s Road, which was a meeting place for an Orange lodge. Police arrived and forestalled an attack on the pub. There was further disturbance the following day near the Briton’s Protection public house on Oldham Road when the whole police force had to turn out to stop the sexton of St George’s Church on St George’s Road from being killed. Daniel Hearne subsequently confiscated weapons and appeared in court to speak on behalf of the rioters.

In 1835 the Orangemen assembled in Jackson’s Row and paraded to St James Church. The procession itself passed off with only minor incidents and two arrests, one of them an Orangemen named Solomon Johnson Mackintosh, who claimed in court that he always carried a loaded revolver for self-defence. The Manchester lodge dined the following evening at the Hare and Hounds, Water Street without disturbance. There was trouble the next night, however, when a crowd gathered in the brickfields on St George’s Road and smashed the windows of a house which had recently put up a figure of William of Orange above the door.

That same year the Orange Order in England was investigated by a Commons Select Committee after rumours that its Grand Master, the Duke of Cumberland (a reactionary even by the standards of his own class), intended to use the order to stage a coup and replace the king on the throne. The report condemned the order for provoking trouble between Protestants and Catholics and in response the Cumberland formally dissolved the organisation. It soon reappeared, however, in two forms – the Orange Institution and the Orange Association – which eventually united in 1874. In the wake of the Irish Famine and the huge Irish emigration into Lancashire the heartland of the movement moved to Liverpool, although there continued to be branches in Manchester and nearby towns.

The last riot in Manchester in connection with an Orange procession occurred in 1888. On Sunday 8th July members of Orange lodges gathered at Portland Street and proceeded across Great Ancoats Street and down the Irish area of Canal Street , heading for St Mark’s Church on Holland Street. The Orange marchers claimed that in Canal Street they were subject to a premeditated attack by a hundred youths brandishing hatchets and knives during which two men – Joseph Walmsley and Daniel Ritchie – received serious head wounds and 40 police officers who had been summoned by telephone took a half hour to suppress. A letter in the Manchester Guardian a few days later (whose author gave only the initials J.P.) disputed this version of events and claimed that it had began after a boy had thrown a stone at the march and been followed by a prominent member of the Orange procession. “No-one will sympathise with persons who insult any body of men passing peacefully along the street, but I maintain that …..the organisers of such processions, whether of Orangemen or any other party, are often morally blameable in marching their forces through the midst of a population entirely antagonistic to them.”

Article by Michael Herbert

Free Trade Hall Meeting 13 October 1905: the beginning of the militant campaign for Votes for Women

The Women’s Social and Political Union was formed by women members of the Independent Labour Party on 10 October 1903 to campaign for women’s suffrage. Two years later the organisation hit the headlines when two of its leading members, Annie Kenney and Christabel Pankhurst, were arrested after disrupting a meeting in the Free Trade Hall. It was the beginning of the militant campaign for Votes for Women.

The Pankhurst name was already known in Manchester before the militant campaign for Votes for Women, started in October 1905, made Emmeline, Christabel and Sylvia Pankhurst household names.

Richard Pankhurst (1834-1898) was a barrister in Manchester and active member of the Liberal Party, who worked tirelessly in support of many progressive causes such as parliamentary reform, republicanism, Home Rule for Ireland, secular education and women’s suffrage. In 1879 he married Emmeline Goulden, twenty years his junior, and they had five children. In 1883 he stood unsuccessfully for parliament in a by-election in Manchester. Recalling her father, his daughter Sylvia wrote

“Without, he breasted the storm and stress of political turmoil: at home he poured forth for us a wealth of enthusiastic affection, in the precious hours torn for us from the fabric of his vast activity, revealing to us in a fascinating and never-ending variety of the brilliant facets of his thought and knowledge. His struggle was the background of our lives, and his influence, enduring long after his death was their strongest determining factor.”

Living for a time in London in Russell Square, their house was a meeting point for radicals of all persuasions: Socialist, Fabians, Freethinkers, Anarchists, Communards. There were endless meetings and musical evenings. In 1889 the Pankhursts, along with other prominent campaigners, formed the Women’s Franchise League which campaigned not just on suffrage but on the rights of women in areas such as custody of children and divorce. The secretary was Ursula Bright.

Returning to Manchester, where they lived in Victoria Park, the family often attended the meetings of the Ancoats Brotherhood organised by Charles Rowley on music, art and science. Dr Pankhurst himself gave a series of lectures on citizenship. Disillusioned with the Liberal party both Richard and Emmeline joined the Independent Labour Party, formed in 1893. Its leading figures, such as Carolyn Martyn, Enid Stacey, Pete Curran, Tom Mann, Bruce Glasier, Katherine St John Conway and Keir Hardie, were frequent visitors to the Victoria Park house when lecturing in Manchester.

In December 1894 Emmeline took her first step onto the political stage when she was elected to the Chorlton Board of Guardians for the Openshaw district. During that winter there was high unemployment in Manchester. A Relief Committee was established with Dr Pankhurst as Secretary and another local socialist, Dr Martin, as Treasurer, whilst Emmeline went every day to collect food from the markets for the daily distribution of food from the offices on Deansgate. They were soon feeding 2,000 people each day.

In 1895 Richard stood for the ILP in the Gorton constituency in the general election but he was unsuccessful, despite working very hard on the campaign. The following year both Richard and Emmeline took part in a battle for the rights of Socialists to speak in the open air on Sundays at Boggart Hole Clough. From 1892 the North Manchester Fabian Society, and on its formation the ILP, had been holding outdoor meetings without hindrance as the Clough was private property. Things changed, however, after Manchester City Council purchased the estate. In May and June 1896 the Council issued summonses against ILP speakers such as Leonard Hall, John Harker and Fred Brocklehurst, who were fined and imprisoned when they refused to pay. This attracted a good deal of public interest and on 14 June 10,000 people attended the outdoor meeting. On 20th June Emmeline spoke to a crowd of 20,000, whilst her daughters Sylvia and Christabel collected donations. Mrs Pankhurst was also summonsed but her case was repeatedly adjourned and never came to court. On 29 June a protest was held on New Cross against the Council’s actions. and on 3 July Keir Hardie spoke at a meeting in Stevenson Square, attended by over a thousand people.

Keir Hardie was also summonsed and when he appeared before the bench on 14 July he announced that he intended to call 421 witnesses. The case was adjourned by the magistrates after the twentieth had appeared! In August the Council passed a new by-law prohibiting meetings in parks but the Home Secretary, no doubt mindful of the controversy created so far, refused to sanction it. Eventually a new by-law was passed, drafted by the Home Secretary, which promised not to refuse any reasonable request for the use of parks. Outstanding summonses were dropped. The ILP had been victorious.

Dr Pankhurst died suddenly on 5 July 1898 from gastric ulcers. He left no will and many debts. Keir Hardie and Ramsay MacDonald acted as fundraisers to raise money to build a hall in his memory which eventually opened in November 1900 as the Pankhurst Memorial Hall on St James Road, Hightown, Salford. Keir Hardie gave the first memorial lecture there on 25 November 1900.

Devastated by their loss, the grieving family sold many of their goods and moved from Victoria Park to 62 Nelson Street, Chorlton-on-Medlock. With family finances in a parlous state, Emmeline took a job as a Registrar of Births & Deaths, acting as such from 8 November 1898 to 25 February 1907. Her daughter Christabel acted as her deputy from 4 November 1903 to 5 September 1906. The registrations took place at the family home, the public attending at advertised hours.

The family kept up their political activity, opposing the Boer War and thereby attracting much public hostility and some violence. In November 1900 Mrs Pankhurst was elected as a Socialist candidate on the Manchester School Board.

But by 1903 Emmeline and Christabell had become increasingly disillusioned by the lack of interest shown by the ILP whose leaders were, with the exception of Keir Hardie, either lukewarm on the issue of votes for women or in the case of Philip Snowden actively hostile. Thus on 10th October 1903 Emmeline called a meeting of like-minded ILP women at her house and they formed a new organisation – the Women’s Social & Political Union.

Initially the WSPU’s efforts were directed solely toward getting motions passed at ILP branches urging the leadership to take action. Keir Hardie gave his support, while Emmeline toured the branches and was elected onto the ILP Executive at its conference at Easter 1904. At the Easter conference in Manchester in 1905 the Pankhursts held a reception for delegates in their home.

After much lobbying they managed to get a Private Members Bill before the Commons, sponsored by the Liberal MP John Bamford Slack. On 12 May 1905 women packed the lobby of the Commons in support of the bill but it was talked out, being at the bottom of the order paper.

In the summer of 1905 Annie Kenney (1879-1953) a mill worker living in Lees, Oldham, who was a member of the local ILP and its choir, heard Emmeline and Christabel speak on women’s suffrage and immediately offered her services. She was soon fully involved as a public speaker. At her urging the Pankhursts set up stalls at wakes fairs in Stalybridge, Mossley and other Lancashire towns. Another recruit to the cause was Theresa Billington, a Socialist who had been brought up Catholic but become an agnostic. She was a teacher in Manchester who was a founder of the Manchester Teachers Equal Pay League. She became a paid organiser for the WSPU in June 1905.

With a general election in the offing (which many expected the Liberals to win), on 13 October 1905 Sir Edward Grey, a leading member of the Liberal Party (he was to become Foreign Secretary) came to speak in Manchester at the Free Trade Hall. The WSPU wrote to him, asking him to receive a deputation, but he did not reply. Christabel and Annie Kenny joined the audience, intending to heckle and with luck be arrested and imprisoned. This is Sylvia’s account from her book, The Suffragette Movement.

“Sir Edward Grey was making his appeal for the return of a Liberal government when a little white “Votes for Women” banner shot up. “Labour Representation” was the cry of the hour. Christabel thrust Annie Kenney forward, as one of the organized textile workers, and a member of a trade union committee, to ask. “Will the Liberal Government give women the vote?” Other questions were answered; that question was ignored. When it was persisted in, Annie Kenney was dragged down by the men sitting near her, and one of the stewards put a hat over her face. Christabel repeated the question. The hall was filled with conflicting cries; “Be quiet” “Let the lady speak” In the midst of the hubbub the Chief Constable of Manchester, William Peacock, came to the women and told them that if they would put the question in writing, he would take it himself to Sir Edward grey; but it went the round of chairman and speakers, and non of the vouchsafed a reply. When Sir Edward Grey rose to acknowledge a vote of thanks, Annie stood on a chair to ask again, whilst Christabel strove to prevent her removal; but Liberal stewards and policemen in plain clothes soon dragged them both from the hall. Determined to secure imprisonment, Christabel fought against ejection. When detectives thrust her into an ante-room she cried to her captors: ”I shall assault you!”; she retorted, when they pinioned her; “I shall spit at you!”. Her threat was not carried out in a very realistic manner, but she made as though to accomplish it, and she also managed to get a blow at the inspector as she and Annie Kenney were flung out of the building. Yet still she was not arrested. Outside in South Street she declared that they must hold a meeting , and when they attempted to address the crowd now flocking out of the hall, her desire was attained; they were now arrested and taken to the town hall.”

The women appeared in court the following day. Annie Kenney, speaking in her own defence, said that a large crowd had assembled, and, she admitted, blocked the street; but so long as they were to receive such treatment she, as representing thousands of factory women who had no votes, would be compelled to make the same kind of protest. They were fined but refused to pay and hence Christabel was sentenced to seven days imprisonment and Annie to three days. They were placed in the Third Division, wearing prison dress and eating prison food. According to Sylvia, Winston Churchill (then a prospective Liberal candidate for a Manchester seat) went to Strangeways prison to pay the fines but the governor refused to accept the money. Keir Hardie telegraphed his support. “The thing is a dastardly outrage, but do not worry, it will do immense good to the cause. Can I do anything?”

On their release a great crowd greeted them and Eva Gore-Booth and Esther Roper presented them with flowers. On 20th October both women addressed a crowded meeting in the very hall from which they had been ejected a week earlier. Keir Hardie also spoke. It was the beginning of the militant campaign for Votes for Women which over the next nine years would involve thousands of women and shake British society to the core.

Article by Michael Herbert

Women at the Peterloo Massacre

The Peterloo massacre took place on 16 August 1819. A crowd of tens of thousands of working men and women and some children, which had gathered on St Peter’s Field on the edge of Manchester to demand political reform, was attacked without warning by armed yeomanry and soldiers with drawn swords. The crowd was brutally dispersed in a few minutes. Hundreds were injured and at least 18 people killed. It was one of the most traumatic political events in Manchester’s history, whose echoes can still be heard today. The role of women both in the events leading up to the meeting and on the day itself has often been overlooked.

Local radicals had called the open-air meeting to demand political reform of parliament as a remedy for economic distress. As a result of the Industrial Revolution, Manchester had grown from a small market town to a large industrial city, but it still had no member of parliament. No working man had the vote. The people were excluded from formal political life.

The reform movement had been in existence in one form or another since the 1790s, inspired by the American and French Revolutions and the writings of Thomas Paine. It had been driven underground by government repression during the wars against France but re-emerged after 1815. The movement attracted a new energetic audience amongst the working people of the expanding towns of the north created by the industrial revolution.

The movement included women who organised Female Reform societies in Manchester, Blackburn, Oldham and Royton.

In Blackburn, Alice Kitchen of the Blackburn Female Reform Society said that “our homes which once ample testimony of our industry and cleanliness…are now alas! robbed of all their ornaments… behold our innocent children… how appalling are their cries for bread.”

On 10 July 1819 the radical newspaper the Manchester Observer printed an address from the Blackburn Society which called on every man in England to join reform societies and fight for annual parliaments, universal suffrage and election by ballot “which alone can save us from lingering misery and premature death.” They also referred to the importance that women attached to their position as mothers and educating their children in democratic ideas. “We have already come forward with the avowed determination, of instilling into the minds of our offspring a deep-rotted abhorrance of tyranny.”

The women in the Stockport Society explained in their Articles of Association that it had been founded “for the purpose of co-operating with their male associates:”

“We who form and constitute the Stockport Female Union Society, having reviewed for a considerable time past the apathy, and frequent insult of our oppressed countrymen, by those sordid and all-devouring fiends, the Borough-mongering Aristocracy, and in order to accelerate the emancipation of this suffering nation, we, do declare, that we will assist the Male Union formed in this town, with all the might and energy that we possess, and that we will adhere to the principles, etc., of the Male Union…and assist our Male friends to obtain legally, the long-lost Rights and Liberties of our country.”

The Manchester Female Reform Society was also formed in July 1819 and issued an address entitled “Dear Sisters of the Earth”. It was an appeal directed at other women “to the wives, mothers, sisters and daughters of the higher and middling classes of society”:

“It is with a spirit of peaceful consideration and due respect that we are induced to address you, upon the causes of that have compelled us to associate together in aid of our suffering children, our dying parents, and the miserable partners of our woes. Bereft, not only of that support, the calls of nature require for existence; but the balm of sweet repose hath long been a stranger to us. Our minds are filled with a horror and despair, fearful on each returning morn, the light of heaven should present to us the corpse of some of our famished off spring , or nearest kindred, which the more kind hand of death had released from the oppressor…Every succeeding nights bring with it new terror, so that we are sick of life and weary of a world, where poverty , wretchedness, tyranny and injustice, have so long been permitted to reign…”

Like their sisters in other societies they blamed the aristocracy and land-owners for their plight . “The lazy boroughmongering eagles of destruction” who have “nearly picked bare the bones of those who labour” will “chase you to misery and death until the middle and useful class of society is swept by their relentless hands from the face of creation.”

The address also condemned the recent war against France and the carnage at Waterloo as having imposed upon them a burden of taxation, ended once-flourishing trade and commerce, and left thousands of widows and orphans destitute and unprotected. The only beneficiaries had been landowning MPs whose property had risen in value. They declared that could no longer “bear the ponderous weight of our chains any longer”, leaving them with no choice “but to tear them asunder and dash them in the face of our remorseless oppressor.” The address was signed by Susannah Saxton as Secretary of the Society

The Society drew up a further address to Henry Hunt, one of the principle speakers at the Peterloo meeting, which they had intended to present to him at the meeting on along with the Society’s banner, which showed a woman holding the scales of justice and treading the serpent of corruption underfoot. The meeting was dispersed before this the presentation could take place and so the address was printed in the Manchester Observer.

In these addresses the women, whilst expressing solidarity with men and asserting their right to comment publicly on political questions, made no claim for political rights for themselves, at least publicly. Their private thoughts are more difficult to discern as, unlike the men, none of the women later published political memoirs.

The description of the bloody attack on the meeting by Samuel Bamford, a leading Radical, in his book Passages in the Life of a Radical (1844) is well-known and almost invariably quoted in any account of Peterloo. Less well-known is the equally vivid account by his wife Jemima in the same book:

“I was determined to go to the meeting, and should have followed, even if my husband had refused his consent to my going with the procession. From what I, in common with others, had heard the week previous, ‘that if the country people went with their caps of liberty, and their banners, and music, the soldiers would be brought to them,’ I was uneasy, and felt persuaded, in my own mind, that something would be the matter, and I had best go with my husband, and be near him; and if I only saw him I should be more content than in staying at home. I accordingly, he having consented after much persuasion, gave my little girl something to please her, and promising more on my return, I left her with a careful neighbour woman, and joined some other married females at the head of the procession. Every time I went aside to look at my husband, and that was often, an ominous impression smote my heart. He looked very serious, I thought, and I felt a foreboding of something evil to befall us that day.
I was dressed plainly as a countrywoman in my second best attire. My companions were also neatly dressed as the wives of working men; I had seen Mr Hunt before that time; they had not, and some of them were quite eager to obtain good places, that they might see and hear one of whom so much had been reported.
In going down Mosley Street, I lost sight of my husband. Mrs Yates, who had hold of my arm, would keep hurrying forward to get a good place, and when the crowd opened for the Middleton procession, Mrs Yates and myself, and some others of the women, went close to the hustings, quite glad that we had obtained such a situation for seeing an hearing all. My husband got on the stage, but when afterwards I saw him leap down, and lost sight of him, I began to be unhappy. The crowd seemed to have increased very much, for we became insufferably pressed. We were surrounded by men who were strangers; we were almost suffocated, and to me the heat was quite sickening; but Mrs. Yates, being taller than myself, supported it better. I felt I could not bear this long, and I became alarmed. I reflected that if there was any more pressure, I must faint, and then what would become of me? I begged of the men to open a way and let me go out, but they would not move. Every moment I became worse, and I told some other men, who stood in a row, that I was sick, and begged they would let me pass them, and they immediately made a way, and I went down a long passage betwixt two ranks of these men, many of them saying, ‘make way, she’s sick, she’s sick, let her go out,’ and I passed quite out of the crowd and, turning to my right, I got on some high ground, on which stood a row of houses – this was Windmill Street.
I thought if I could get to stand at the door of one of those houses, I should have a good view of the meeting, and should perhaps see my husband again; and I kept going further down the row, until I saw a door open, and I stepped within it, the people of the house making no objections. By this time Mr Hunt was on the hustings, addressing the people. In a minute or two some soldiers came riding up. The good folks of the house, and some who seemed to be visitors, said, ‘the soldiers were only come to keep order; they would not meddle with the people;’ but I was alarmed. The people shouted, and then the soldiers shouted, waving their swords. Then they rode amongst the people, and there was a great outcry, and a moment after, a man passed without hat, and wiping the blood of his head with his hand, and it ran down his arm in a great stream.
The meeting was all in a tumult; there were dreadful cries; the soldiers kept riding amongst the people, and striking with their swords. I became faint, and turning from the door, I went unobserved down some steps into a cellared passage; and hoping to escape from the horrid noise, and to be concealed, I crept into a vault, and sat down, faint and terrified, on some fire wood. The cries of the multitude outside, still continued, and the people of the house, up stairs, kept bewailing most pitifully. They could see all the dreadful work through the window, and their exclamations were so distressing, that I put my fingers in my ears to prevent my hearing more; and on removing them, I understood that a young man had just been brought past, wounded. The front door of the passage before mentioned, soon after opened, and a number of men entered, carrying the body of a decent, middle aged woman, who had been killed. I thought they were going to put her beside me, and was about to scream, but they took her forward, and deposited her in some premises at the back of the house.”

According to recent research by historian Michael Bush for his book The Casualties of Peterloo, at least 18 people were killed , of whom four were women. These were named as:
Margaret Downes, Manchester – sabred
Mary Heys, Chorlton Row – trampled by cavalry
Sarah Jones, Manchester – truncheoned
Martha Partington, Barton – crushed in a cellar

At least 654 people were recorded as being injured of whom 168 were women.

Some of the crowd fought back. Samuel Bamford recorded the following anonymous fighter:

“A heroine, a young married woman of our party, with her face all bloody, her hair streaming about her, her bonnet hanging by the string, and her apron weighed with stones, kept her assailant at bay until she fell backwards and was near being taken; but she got way covered with severe bruises.”

The Manchester Female Reform Society continued in existence after Peterloo. Another address was made to William Cobbett in November 1819. Cobbet had returned from the USA with Thomas Paine’s bones, disinterred by William Benbow, but had been prevented from entering Manchester with them by the authorities. A third address was made to WG Lewis from Coventry when he chaired a meeting in Manchester in April 1820 to raise funds for political prisoners.

Article by Michael Herbert