Rise Like Lions After Slumber In Unvanquishable Number

The quick-fire despatch of their demigod Hunt and other former heroes to prison was received with remarkable equanimity by the mass of the people. There were protests of course. The scathing parallels were drawn. If you ordered the murder of innocent people the reward was the rectorship of Rochdale, while if you fought for the rights of your fellow human beings the sentence was two years in llchester gaol. But for most people King Hunt and his entourage if not dead were the next best thing, out of sight, so long live… the Queen and her affairs.

The Queen was Caroline, the Prince Regent’s wife. Between these two sordid, immoral, selfish human beings there was little to choose. But the Prince Regent equalled the Government, Tory despotism and repression, so when he finally decided to divorce Caroline she equalled liberalism, radicalism, the rights of man, liberty, equality and fraternity. In short, any anti-Government, pro-populace cause you cared to mention. It was with no great enthusiasm that the Government undertook the divorce action on the Prince Regent’s behalf, They first offered Caroline, who had been out of England for years, £50,000 if she never set foot in the country again, and foreswore her title to Queen. But Caroline’s blood was up. She wanted to be Queen of England and she saw the chance of larger prize money. Encouraged by the Whigs, she landed in England on June 4th, 1820. She was greeted with the hysterical enthusiasm that had been bestowed on Henry Hunt in the previous year.

In July, Sidmouth introduced the Bill of Pains and Penalties to deprive Caroline of her royal title and dissolve the marriage. Six noisy weeks elapsed before her trial opened in Westminster Hall. If fixed bayonets had been necessary when the Corn Bill was passed, an army was required to keep the people at bay during Caroline’s trial. Witnesses were brought from Italy, Switzerland and Germany, to give the lurid details of Caroline’s love affairs with foreign persons ‘in her service in menial capacity’, of the orgies in which she had danced half naked. Everybody had a splendid, salacious, titillating time, revelling in the public washing of the royal dirty linen. What a wash it was and what dirt it produced. Nothing like it had ever been heard before, and is never likely to be heard again.

Eventually, the Divorce Bill was carried by twenty-eight votes, dropping to nine votes in the Lords. But it was then abandoned as it could not be taken to the Commons with so narrow a majority, Parliament was prorogued amidst scenes of wild disorder. For three nights London was illuminated by thousands of bonfires in which effigies of anti-Caroline witnesses were burned. Members of the Government were attacked. Sidmouth’s house was stoned, and he and Castlereagh had missiles hurled at their coach. With nice irony, for once, Sidmouth observed, ‘Here we go, the two most popular men in England.’ To which Castlereagh replied, ‘Yes, through a grateful and admiring multitude.’ With his insensitivity and certainty of judgment, Sidmouth sailed through such unpopularity, but the strain was taking its toll upon Castlereagh.

At the end of 1820 it looked as though the Government might fall, but they again displayed their powers of survival Six months later Caroline was dead, to nobody’s sorrow. For by this time, with her stupidity, her rapaciousness, her vulgarity, her inability to accept anybody’s terms, she had become as much an embarrassment to her supporters as to the Government.

What the ‘Queen’s Scandal’ showed was how unstable the country still was, how quickly the working-class tiger could be re-roused and how lost was the Radical cause. Agreed most of its leaders were securely in prison, and its press muzzled. But Cobbett was at large (if up to his ears in debt), and the Queen’s affair could have been utilized to further the grand Radical design The Political Register was filled for months on end with Caroline’s business. But Cobbett, ever personifying, the common man, exhibited the English veneration for, and devotion to, the conception of monarchy. Genuinely, with sad lack of judgment, he believed in the Queen as an illused person and his columns were written from a personal angle The chance to marshal the re-roused passions to useful Radical purpose was dissipated.

It was the last chance. By 1821 the working-class Radical movement was dead One by one the Union Societies collapsed through lack of funds, Stockport, the vanguard, being the last to go under. There was a Union resurgence based-‘on Harrison’s formula which became Hunt’s Great Northern Political Union. This lasted until 1824 and then formed another, basis for the trade unions. But these were off-shoots, not part of the old framework. In mid-1821 the Manchester Observer, with Wroe in prison and bankrupted by fines, ceased publication It was revived, merging with Wooler’s British Gazette, which survived a further year, but things were not what they had been. Even the first anniversary of Peterloo roused little enthusiasm. Saxton organized a memorial meeting on Saint Peter’s Field but only about a thousand people turned up. In Oldham an intended grand procession to the grave of John Lees produced but a handful of spectators.

However, there was one final direct legal consequence of Peter-la. Despite all pressures the Government resolutely refused to hold an enquiry into the conduct of the magistrates, or the behaviour of the myc. So in 1822 Thomas Redford, who had carried Middleton’s green banner and had had his shoulder split open by an MYC sabre, brought a personal action for assault against Hugh Hornby Birley and three other yeomanry cavalrymen, including Meagher the trumpeter. It was personal to the extent that Redford fought for, and brought, the action in his own name, but it was a test case such as the unfortunate inquest on John Lees had been, and was backed morally and financially by Whigs and Radicals. For example, Scarlett, the chief prosecuting counsel, wrote just before the verdict at York was given: ‘If there is a conviction it will not touch the case against the Magistrates or the Yeomanry. The nature of the charges did not involve the propriety of their conduct, which will be still open to inquiry and in my opinion will call for an inquiry as much as ever if all the defendants are found guilty’ Scarlett was a Whig.

The action opened at Lancaster in April 1822 and lasted five days. The defendants’ plea was that the assault had been properly-committed in the dispersal of an unlawful assembly. The Radicals produced scores of witnesses, including such respectable, politically uncompromised figures as the Reverend Stanley, who stated that the assembly had been peaceful; while the defence produced only eight uncompromised witnesses, none of them of any standing. The burden of the defence was borne by such biased witnesses as Hay, Ethelston, Tatton, Nadin, Constables Moore and Andrew and Francis Philips. They made much of the state of Radically induced terror that had held Manchester’s respectable citizens within its grip, and therefore justified the dispersal. But not one of Manchester’s terrified, respectable citizens appeared to support their claim. However, the jury accepted the plea and the defendants went triumphantly home, all expenses paid by the Government. To celebrate the happy occasion the MYC presented Hugh Hornby Birley with an inscribed sword ‘in testimony of their esteem for him as a soldier and a Gentleman’.

If Peterloo represented the high water mark of Radicalism, after which its tide went out with alarming rapidity, if the movement was never the same afterwards, neither was any other party. The effect of Peterloo was not that of an earthquake, it did not move political mountains. But it did prove to be a watershed. A nice, neat little massacre occurring within a quarter of an hour. No long-drawn out horror to numb the sensibilities. Not too many casualties, but sufficiently occasioned, with sabres slashing, chilren screaming and horses trampling, to shock. (It is to the credit of maligned English tolerance and sense of justice that people were outraged by Peterloo and called it a ‘massacre’.) As we have already seen, the day galvanized the middle-class Radicals, prodded the Whigs and stiffened the Government into action.

The middle-class Radicals continued relentlessly with their attacks on the antique structure of Manchester’s government. Although it was not until 1838, twenty years later, that the town was incorporated. It is interesting to note that in the final agitation for its reform Richard Cobden recalled Peter-loo: ‘Peterloo could never have happened if the Borough had been incorporated. Why? Because the magistrates of Lancashire and Cheshire5 who entered the town and sat at the Star Inn to take command of the police, and order the soldiers to cut down and trample upon unarmed crowds, would have had no more jurisdiction over Manchester than Constantinople.’ Peterloo was also responsible for the foundation of one of the world’s most renowned newspapers, the Manchester Guardian. In 1821 the middle-class Radicals decided they needed a mouthpiece to consolidate their new position in local government and further the cause of rational reform. The great effect exercised by the Manchester Observer in the old working-class Radical cause had not escaped their attention. John Edward Taylor was the guiding spirit behind this venture, and with financial and moral support from a growing number of middle-class Radicals, in May 1821, he launched the first edition of the Manchester Guardian. The dying Manchester Observer nobly urged its readers to transfer their support to the Guardian.

The Whigs continued to move with extreme caution. Slowly what Grey had hoped came to pass. The masses did slip away from the Radical grasp, and the Whigs, revivified by Peterloo, were able to attract them and to a small extent heal the breach between ‘the upper and lower classes’. It was, of course, Grey who introduced the Reform Bill in 1832. Again a long time elapsed, and the Bill fell far short of the Radical aspirations. For example, Lancashire, the home of the agitation, the most densely populated area in England, received only ten more members, making the still meagre total of twenty-six. But 1832 was the first major reform of Parliament, and Peterloo was a spur that set the horse if not exactly galloping at least trotting.

Manchester itself obtained representation before the Reform Bill. In 1820 first the Grampound then the Penryn seats were transferred to the town. An immediate result of Peterloo? Did the pressure of the day make the Government in one instance act fast? No, it did not. It was the Pirates led by Hugh Hornby Birley who played a large part in the transfers. They made it clear that business interest rather-than Parliamentary reform was their spur. It was hardly necessary for Birley to clarify his beliefs. They were obvious from his position on August 16th, 1819. But indirectly Peterloo had an effect even on this transaction. For many of the businessmen who signed the Declaration and Protest were behind the agitation for Manchester’s representation. If their interest in things Radical died quickly, and their interest in things cotton was the impulse, the interest was stimulated by Peterloo. Previously they had shown little but apathy. Now, for whatever motives, they took action.

Peterloo was as much a watershed for the Tories as anybody else. It was not apparent for several years that, the repressive Six Acts were the death rattle of the old rigid, reactionary, uphold-the-status-quo Tory guard. But they proved to be just that. It has been suggested that Lord Liverpool himself was responsible for and paved the way for the new ‘Liberal Toryism that in a short-while was to turn into the Conservative party This author has no great belief in Liverpool’s inherent Liberalism But he remained in office until 1827, and significantly before that year the Combination Acts and the Test and’ Corporation Acts were repealed. The wind of reform was blowing hard and Liverpool had the political sense to bow before it, but that is not to say that he instigated it. It should also be remembered that it was the working-class Radicals, however great their defects and dubious some of methods, who fanned the gale. Nobody surrenders power willingly, though occasionally politicians arise who accept a gale force considerably earlier than did Lord Liverpool And without the working-class Radical agitation the much needed reforms, including’ Catholic Emancipation in 1829, the Reform Bill in 1832 and the Abolition of Slavery in 1833, could have been delayed, several more decades.

The first anniversary of Peterloo may have attracted meagre support, but for the rest of the nineteenth century, whenever there was reforming agitation in Lancashire, the memory of the day, was brandished. In 1829 the Duke of Wellington was greeted by hostile Mancunian crowds with placards bearing’ the words REMEMBER PETERLOO. After the passage of the Reform Bill, when its terms proved so unsatisfactory for the working classes, at the first great Chartist meeting in Manchester, Peterloo banners were carried in procession Throughout the Chartist agitation, it was said that nothing excited the Lancashire crowds more than the word Peterloo. In 1874 the Liberals were still using the name in their election pamphlets: ‘[Peterloo] was Tory justice, and is what they -would repeat should they ever come to power again’.

What became of the leading and supporting characters in the day’s drama? -How did their lives turn after the 16th August, 1819?

For Hunt, as for the Radical movement, Peterloo was the high water mark. He served his two and a half years’ sentence in fichester- gaol, being released on October 29th, 1822. Sir Charles Wolseley met him on release and provided the surety money for his good behaviour. While in prison Hunt wrote his ill-advised Memoirs which he dedicated to Radical Reformers everywhere, but particularly those in Lancashire. He also composed weekly letters to Radical Reformers which were headed thus—Ilchester Bastille, 1st day, 3rd month, 2nd year of the Manchester Massacre without retribution or justice. (Or whatever the appropriate date was.) The reference to Ilchester Bastille was not without justification. Hunt’s treatment in prison provoked questions in the House of Commons, though nothing came of the discussions. After his release he continued the good fight, though he never regained his former power or following. In 1826, he contested Somerset as a Radical and lost, but in 1830 Lancashire proved faithful, the citizens of Preston electing him; As an MP Hunt was a disaster. His vain, arrogant, quarrelsome temperament made him unable to accept the vital political art of compromise, and he was constantly voting the way he felt, not the way that would have furthered the cause he was supposed to be supporting. Consequently in 1833 the electorate of Preston kicked him out, and he retired from active politics. But he was to the end consistent. By 1832 he was the only champion of the working classes, every- other major Radical having- agreed to the compromise of the Reform Bill. He remained a champion of women’s rights, introducing the first Parliamentary motion for female suffrage in 1830. Early in 1835 he died, aged sixty-two. He was -buried in the family vault of his mistress, Mrs Vince.

Bamford had a much pleasanter time in Lincoln gaol. His wife came for week-end visits. He was allowed out, and apart from not being able to go home, the only serious annoyance was Healey, with whom he initially shared a cell. Bamford soon found that at close quarters Healey’s personal habits left a great deal to be desired. Eventually, they had a fierce quarrel, Healey came at him with a poker which ended another lovely friendship. Soon after his release, after giving hearty thanks to the governor for his kindness, Bamford began to see the error of some of his ways. During the Chartist agitation, which had the identical aim of working-class Parliamentary reform, for which he had gone to prison, he actually became a special constable. It cannot be said that he ever turned Tory, the radical instinct was too strong for that, but during the 1830s and 1840s he was taken up by local, wealthy citizens He enjoyed hob-nobbing with the rich and influential, and he enjoyed their creature comforts. It was during this period that he wrote his two most lasting books, Early Days and Passages in the Life of a Radical. The former gives an invaluable picture of rural Lancashire before the deluge. The latter presents the best, most readable first-hand account of working-class Radicalism. However, the ambiguity of. Bamford’s position at the time of writing is apparent. Some modern writers have accepted Passages in the Life of a Radical as the Peterloo gospel, but it should be remembered that it is the long view, that it was written thirty years after the event by a man who had changed. In his last years Bamford reverted to earlier type. He became a local character, striding around Middleton and Manchester with a-flowing beard, and thick grey hair falling on his shoulders. He was the recognized authority on working-class politics; Liberal admirers gave him a small pension and local Middletonians considered him ‘work-shy’. He had, after all, done nothing to earn a living for years, except write. He died in 1872, aged eighty-four years.

On his release from prison Healey withdrew from public life, though he took an interest in a local Radical society, He died in 1830, and on his tombstone were written the simple words: ‘Died at Bent Grange, Joseph Healy of that place, a very-eminent doctor, aged 50’. Johnson, whose young wife died while he was in Lincoln gaol, and whose funeral the governor (nice, as he may have been to Bamford) refused to let him attend, remained semi-active in politics for a while. He played a minor part in the agitation for the Reform Bill, but gradually drifted away from his former beliefs, and when he died, in the same year as Bamford, his obituary notice said he had become ‘a Tory sui generis’. John Knight worked as tirelessly as ever in the Radical cause until his death, aged sixty-five, in 1838. Saxton and Harrison also continued the good fight. Harrison played a prominent part in the agitation for the repeal of the Combination Laws, as might be imagined, and a less prominent one in the Chartist agitation. Both had slipped from the public eye by- the time of their deaths. Major Cartwright battled on to the end, dying in 1824 at the ripe old age of eighty-four. Sir Charles Wolseley remained active for several years, and the Radicals indisputably owed a great deal to his generous financial aid. From 1826 he gradually withdrew from the political arena, and in 1834 he found a new faith, becoming a Roman Catholic, which it is to be hoped gave him solace until he died in 1846, aged seventy-five.

That contentious man, William Cobbett, also battled on to the end, up to his ears in debt, libel suits and trials for seditious publication. He stood as a Radical candidate for Coventry in 1820, and came bottom of the poll. In, 1826 he contested Preston which he also lost. But in 1832 he was returned as the member for Oldham to the reformed Parliament. Before he died in 1835, battling against the new Poor Law, he managed to open a seed farm in Kensington, write the classic Rural Rides among many other books, besides fighting the libel suits, conducting his own defence in the sedition trials, trying to keep the Political Register solvent and raise the money for Tom Paine’s mausoleum. The Times obituary said he was ‘a more extraordinary Englishman than any other of his time’. It also said he was ‘an episode’ because he did not fit into any pattern, which was true, at least the bit about the pattern was. Cobbett was a prophet of the Old Testament who accepted the role of an apostle of the New.

On the other side of the fence, by 1821 the wind of change had blown Sidmouth from the Home Office. However, he remained in the cabinet, without a post, until 1824 He resigned over Canning’s intention to recognize the South American countries that had broken away from Spain, and call the new world into existence to redress the balance of the old. ‘The resignation caused little interest. Sidmouth’s visits to the House became less and less frequent, only such matters as Catholic Emancipation and the Reform Bill making him attend. He voted against both, of course, and to Grey he said: ‘I hope God will forgive you on account of this bill; I don’t think I can.’ He lived forgotten in retirement until he died in 1844, aged seventy-seven, a political dodo.

Liverpool remained in office until February 1827 when he suffered a severe stroke. He lingered until December 1828, seldom regaining consciousness, being fifty-eight at the time of his death. The unfortunate Castlereagh committed suicide, slitting his throat with a penknife in 1822. The verdict was suicide while insane, so that he could be buried in hallowed ground. Even in death popular hatred followed him. Byron composed a wicket epitaph:

Posterity will ne’er survey

A nobler grave than this,

Here lie the bones of Castlereagh,

Stop, traveller, and—.

Of the magistrates, Hay remained comfortably as vicar of Rochdale for many years, though he gave up his chairmanship of the Salford Quarter Sessions in 1823. He died in 1839 aged seventy-eight. Norris and Ethelston soldiered bravely on as magistrates, the former dying in 1838 aged about sixty-four, the latter in 1830 aged sixty-three. But Peterloo proved altogether too much for Boroughreeve Clayton who withdrew from public life with what would now be called a nervous breakdown. Hulton also suffered from pangs of conscience. When in 1820 it was suggested that he stand for Parliament in one of the safe Tory county seats, as a mark of esteem ‘intended to counteract the hostile deportment of his opponents’, he did not accept the offer. Finally, in 1831, when remarks were made in Parliament about the unjustifiable loss of life at Peterloo he resigned from public office, pathetically claiming that only two people had been killed. He died in 1864 aged seventy-seven. Hugh Hornby Birley and Nadin both survived remarkably well. Birley became the first President of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, and later worked with Sir Robert Peel to introduce the Saturday half-holiday. He died in 1845 aged sixty-seven. Nadin retired from his post as Deputy Constable in 1823. He had by-this time amassed a nice fortune. With it he bought a house and land in Cheshire where he lived in some style until his death in 1848, aged eighty-three.

On both sides of the fence the Peterloo veterans were, by and large, long-lived. So were the two men on the opposing fringes, Sir John Byng and Sir Francis Burdett, who followed opposing courses. Byng crossed from his cool Establishment position to become a Whig MP in 1831, and thus was one of the few generals who voted for the Reform Bill. He was created Earl of Stafford in 1847, and died in 1872 aged ninety-two. Sir Francis Burdett ceased to be a Radical after the Reform Bill, and ended up as a Tory MP for North Wiltshire He died in 1844, aged seventy-four.

The middle-class Radicals achieved more of their aims than life normally averages, underlining their strength, dedication and intelligence. Before his death in 1844, aged fifty-four, John Edward Taylor had made the Manchester Guardian into a leading and influential provincial newspaper. Archibald Prentice successively edited the Manchester Gazette and the Manchester Times, both to the left of the Guardian in Radical vigour. He was prominent in the agitation for the Reform Bill, and in 1838 he helped found the Anti-Corn Law-League. On his retirement he wrote Historical Sketches and Personal Recollections of Manchester Intended to Illustrate the Progress of Public Opinion from 1792 to 1831 which, if it suffers from slight moral indigestion, is most readable, and gives an invaluable account of the middle-class Radical activity of the period. Prentice died in 1857 aged sixty-five. Richard Potter became the first MP for Wigan in the reformed Parliament and spread the middle-class Radical word nationally. His brother Thomas helped reorganize Manchester Grammar School, became the first mayor of incorporated Manchester, and was later knighted. Shuttleworth played a major part in the Reform Bill agitation. He and Richard Potter also played a vital part in getting the Bill passed. During the last dramatic phase, when it seemed as though the Lords were about to throw out the Bill, Shuttleworth organized a meeting in Manchester at which a petition was drawn up urging the Commons to refuse supplies until the Bill was passed. He and Potter led the deputation which took the petition to London. Shuttleworth later became one of Manchester’s first aldermen. Potter died in 1842, aged fifty-four, Shuttleworth in 1864 aged sixty-eight.

What of the anonymous thousands who formed the -backbone of Peterloo? They never bestowed quite the same enthusiasm or solidarity upon any other movement as they had upon the Radicals. But they emerged battling throughout the nineteenth century, in support of Chartism, in the anti-Corn Law agitation, in support of Lincoln and the Northern states during the American Civil War, and during the recurring cotton slumps. – The spinners remained militant and Lancashire, as we have seen, was a cockpit of trade unionism. The weavers, alas, grew more and more depressed. In an era of industrial suffering theirs was the greatest and most prolonged. Well past the middle of the nineteenth century the hand-loom -weavers were still struggling to scratch an existence, still refusing with that blind obstinacy that is the despair of reformers and is yet part of the human spirit, to accept the industrial facts. In the long run both spinners and weavers benefited from the division of attitudes and interests, evident in 1819, between the magistrates/landowning class and the new-style manufacturers. The, more socially conscious of the manufacturers had no desire to be called slave drivers and inhuman monsters by the industrially disinterested landowners. Helped by the efforts of the reformers and philanthropists, then of the sensible and socially conscious, conditions and wages improved. But it was, to misquote the Duke of Wellington, a damned long run thing.