The Battle Of Manchester Is Over

If Saint Peter’s Field was virtually empty by 2 o’clock, the dispersal was still very much in hand. In this the Cheshire Yeomanry, the 88th and 31st Foot, the other troops of the MYC and the 15th Hussars also participated—the Cheshire Yeomanry displaying some of the malign enthusiasm of their brethren in the MYC. Thousands of people, men carrying their wounded comrades, women with their terrified children, blood streaming down beaten and gashed faces, poured through the gaps into the adjacent streets. There they were further hacked and harried. Edward Meagher, the trumpeter, of whom it was simply said he spent the quarter of an hour murdering his fellow creatures, led a personal charge in Lloyd Street, two streets away from Saint Peter’s Field, and filled with fleeing men, women and children.

As the human streams pushed their way from the centre of Manchester the main pursuit ceased. Once clear of the narrow streets the pace of the flights, north, south, east and west, accelerated. At a turnpike half a mile from the city centre, hundreds of people gave the keeper shillings and half-crowns, though the price was only a penny, and without -waiting for their change dashed through the turnstile. Archibald Prentice, who had earlier left Mount Street to return to his home, heard ‘a wailing sound … and rushing out I saw people running in the direction of Pendleton, their faces pale as death, and some with blood trickling down their cheeks. It was with difficulty I could get anybody to stop and tell me what had happened.’ Many of the crowd continued their headlong flight, as if pursued by the Furies, until they reached the safety of the homes they had left with such solemn hopeful purpose only a few hours before. L’Estrange called off his troops once the orders had been completed and the mob dispersed, but the MYC continued to roam the streets and outlying districts, so the fear of the Furies was not misjudged.

Certain numbers of the contingents continued to show discipline, rallying at their half-way points into some semblance of order. About a thousand of the originally 6,000 strong Middleton and Rochdale contingent re-formed at Harpurhey. Led by Bamford, they wearily but defiantly marched home, with one saved banner, the blue one, fluttering limply, and the odd fife and bugle sounding forlornly, at their head. The Staleybridge band managed to keep together and save their big drum. They were on the last long haul upwards out of Stockport when they espied a group of marauding yeomanry, whereupon they scrambled over a hedge for safety. The big drum was thrown over first and, enter the never distant element of farce, one of the men landed right in the middle of it. But for most of the thousands, many of them wounded, who struggled home, five, ten, fifteen, twenty painful miles, the elements of shock, anger and tragedy were stronger.

None was more tragically wounded than John Lees. The crown of his hat had been cut off by a sabre slash, his shirt and coat were in ribbons. Underneath the visible signs of his encounter with the MYC there was a deep cut on his elbow which in fact had separated the elbow bone. There was a sabre gash on his left shoulder. The skin was off his right hip in two places, one foot was partially crushed, and the whole of his shoulders, back and loins were covered with bruises from the battering of the constable’s truncheon and the weight of the horse’s hooves. Somehow despite these injuries he struggled off Saint Peter’s Field. His stepbrother Thomas helped him, although Thomas’s shoes had been ripped off by horses’ hooves and his feet were badly bruised. With other friends helping them the two young men walked the eight miles home to Oldham. They stopped at Newton Heath for a drink, which John must have desperately needed, but how long it took them to walk those long uphill miles is not recorded. John’s stepmother saw him standing exhausted by the garden gate and, realizing that he had been injured, helped him into the house, gave him a warm drink and sent him up to bed.

In the meantime, Hunt and the others arrested had been dragged to Mr Buxton’s house. In the mêlée both Hunt and Saxton could have lost their lives. Hunt himself said that one of the constables pulled off his white hat and made to strike at his bare head with a heavy truncheon, which would have split his skull, but Nadin (of all people) saved him from serious injury or possible death. Hunt’s own testimony is always to be taken with a pinch of salt, but it was supported by that of John Tyas, The Times reporter. Tyas said Hunt was treated by the constables in a manner which was justifiable neither by law nor humanity. Saxton was attacked in the confusion round the hustings by two privates of the MYC. One shouted, ‘There is that villain, Saxton, do you run him through?’, to which the other replied, ‘I had rather ‘not. I leave him to you.’ Thereupon the first private made a lunge with his sabre which Saxton just managed to avoid, receiving only a cut in his coat and waistcoat.

When Saint Peter’s Field had been cleared of humanity, the prisoners were dragged out again. The magistrates intended to send them to the New Bailey by carriage, but finally decided to make them walk. When this became known to the special constables and loyalists surrounding the house there were shouts of approbation. As they emerged the prisoners were again badly treated, having to run a gauntlet of hissing, booing and beating. This behaviour caused the Reverend Hay some anxiety, and he urged the constables not to ill-treat the prisoners. They were then given into the custody of L’Estrange, and with two constables flanking each of them were marched to the New Bailey. Two staves, all that was left of some town’s proud banners, were carried in mockery at the head of the procession.

Among those incarcerated within the New Bailey, thirty-five people in all, were Hunt himself, Johnson, Saxton, Knight, Moorhouse, Messrs Wild and Swift, a man called Jones, about whom little is known except that he was on the hustings, the heavily pregnant Mrs Elizabeth Gaunt who had been hauled from the barouche, a Mrs Hargreaves and John Tyas of The Times. As Hunt said: ‘This circumstance I shall ever consider most fortunate. Mr Tyas is a gentleman of a most respectable family and connection… and as he was totally unconnected with any of those who called the meeting, he was capable of giving and he did give, the most unprejudiced evidence upon the subject.’ In a day full of blundering, panic-stricken actions the arrest of Tyas was certainly a major blunder on the magistrates’ part.

When John Edward Taylor and Archibald Prentice heard that Tyas had been arrested, ‘fearing that no relation of events would reach London, except what might be sent by directions of the magistracy, and coloured to justify their conduct’, both sat down and wrote accounts of the day’s proceedings. Taylor – sent his copy to The Times, Prentice his to another London paper. Both stated firmly that the crowd had done nothing to justify dispersal and that the magistrates had panicked. Thus the first accounts to reach the capital of what had happened on Saint Peter’s Field were sober, straightforward and untouched by loyalist justifications. For if Taylor and Prentice were radicals, they were not Radicals, and their byword was integrity. The Times itself, which could not be accused of being either radical or Radical, did not take kindly to having one of its reporters arrested. With Mr Tyas, a gentleman who was ‘as far as we can judge from preceding conduct towards this journal, about as much a Jacobin, or friend of the Jacobins as is Lord Liverpool himself’, in prison, the august newspaper felt justified in querying ‘the manner in which those who acted for the magistrates thought fit to exercise the power and to discharge the functions assigned to them’. When released from prison, the highly respectable, un-Jacobin Mr Tyas not only confirmed Taylor’s and Prentice’s accounts of what had occurred but asked other questions embarrassing to the magistrates.

On the evening of August 16th, the weight of The Times disapproval had not yet fallen on the magistrates. They had Hunt and most of the leading Radicals securely in gaol, but they were worried about the temper of Manchester’s unruly inhabitants. Not because they considered they had taken any improper action on Saint Peter’s Field, but because Manchester’s populace was generally unruly and might take advantage of the afternoon’s trouble to become more so. Consequently, they asked L’Estrange to supply strong pickets to support the few regular night constables and the special constables who were willingly remaining on duty. The strongest picket, consisting of two troops of the 15th Hussars and two companies of the 88th Foot, was posted in the – New Cross area. As the long, stiflingly hot summer day turned into dusk the whole of Manchester was seething with stories and rumours, and there were those who were ‘athirst for revenge’. Sure enough, as the twilight deepened, a crowd started to gather in New Cross. Whether reacting to the presence of the troops, or a thirst for revenge, its numbers increased with the gathering night. Just before 9 o’clock missiles were thrown at the soldiers, then more missiles, and the, Riot Act was read. Finally the officer commanding the 88th Foot ordered his men to open fire. The firing, lasted about three minutes at the end of which the crowd had dispersed, one man was dead, and several people lay on the ground injured.

Major Dyneley was writing his report on the day’s earlier proceedings when the New Cross disturbance started. In the report he noted that ‘the first action of the Battle of Manchester is over, and I am happy to say has ended in the complete discomfiture of the Enemy; that he had been ‘very much assured to see the way in which the Volunteer Cavalry knocked the people about during the whole time we remained on the ground; the instant they saw ten or a dozen Mobbites together, they rode at them and leathered them properly’; and that both they and the Cheshire Volunteer Cavalry ‘behaved uncommonly well, and a troop from Stockport cut their way through in form’. On receiving the news of further trouble he and his guns turned out immediately. But to his disappointment they arrived at New Cross as the crowd was dispersing, though he was glad to be able to report that ‘the sight of us put them to the rout properly.

While Major Dyneley was hastily penning his report—’I hope you will be able to read what I have written but I am sure you would excuse it all, could you see the hurried way in which I am writing’—the Reverend Hay began to write his report of the day’s proceedings to Lord Sidmouth. He wrote because Norris, poor thing, was much fatigued by its harassing events. As the New Cross crowds dispersed, just before 11 o’clock, Hay finished his letter. The report began with the reasons why the magistrates had seen fit to arrest Hunt: no legitimate purpose, aspect of insurrection, terrifying all loyal subjects, town in danger, loyalists signing affidavits; and then went on to the dispersal of the crowd, marked defiance by the mob-and attacking of yeomanry. He admitted that the dispersal had not been achieved without ‘very serious and lamentable effects’ which the magistrates deeply regretted, and ‘that four women appear to have lost- their lives by being pressed by the crowd’. But overshadowing these regrets were the death of a special constable named Ashworth, and the MYC man named Holme who had been struck by the missile and unhorsed, thus fracturing his skull, and for whose hopes of recovery there were none. (Ashworth was indeed a Peterloo victim, being crushed to death in the chaos round the hustings he was guarding. But Holme recovered so quickly that not even the MYC made’ great claims about his injury.) This emphasis on the men who had fallen in the execution of their noble duty, in the Government’s service, detracted from the crowd’s injuries. The impression that the meeting had grown completely out of hand on the Radical side, ‘that the illegality had not commenced until after the crowd had assembled, that their magistrates had used their judicious prudence on the spot (as advised by the Home Office), and that the whole town of Manchester was grateful for the magistrates’ firm, prompt, decisive actions was the one Sidmouth gained on returning from his holiday in Broadstairs.

Before discussing how implicit a reliance Sidmouth should have placed on the magistrates’ version, there is a vital question to be asked: What were the casualties at Peterloo? How many people were killed and injured It is a question that cannot now be answered with absolute certainty. The names and causes of death vary more alarmingly than the estimates of numbers present on Saint Peter’s Field. Unlike the crowd estimate no casualty figure was ever commonly accepted. Working on the premise that if a person’s name appeared several times from differing sources he or she died as a result of Peterloo, the list of killed is as follows:

Thomas Ashworth

Bulls Head, Manchester. Sabred and trampled. He was the special constable.

John Ashton

Cowhill, near Oldham. Sabred and trampled on by the crowd.

Thomas Buckley

Baretrees, Chadderton. Sabred and stabbed.

James Crompton

Barton. Trampled on by the cavalry.

William Fildes

Kennedy Street, Manchester. Rode over by the cavalry. This was the two-year-old boy.

Mary Heys

Rawlinson’s-buildings, Oxford Road, Manchester. Rode over by the cavalry.

Sarah Jones

Silk Street, Manchester. No cause given.

John Lees

Oldham. Sabred.

Arthur O’Neill

Pigeon Street, Manchester. Inwardly crushed.

Martha Partington

Eccles. Thrown into a cellar and killed on the spot.

John Rhodes Pits, Hopwood. Like John Lees he died several weeks later, and his body was dissected on the magistrates’
orders to try and prove that death was not a result of injuries sustained on August 16th.
Joseph Ashworth Shot. At New Cross.
William Bradshaw Lilly-hill, near Bury. No cause given
William Dawson Saddleworth. According to one or two sources, sabred, crushed and killed on the spot.
Edmund Dawson Also from Saddleworth. According to more definite sources died of sabre wounds in the Royal Infirmary.

Two Dawsons from Saddleworth may have died, but it seems more likely it was the same man. At the very most fifteen deaths. An anti-climax? Hardly much of a massacre! Yes and no. The definition of a massacre is general slaughter or carnage which was what occurred on Saint Peter’s Field. It was by good luck, not the magistrates’ or MYC’s good management, that the slaughter was hot greater. And as the Peterloo or Manchester Massacre the day certainly rang through the country. The numbers of injured make the term more viable. These again were contested but are more ascertainable: Once the storm broke various relief committees were set up. The main one, the Metropolitan Relief Committee, gave the numbers of injured as 420, and its account book is extant in the John Rylands Library in Manchester. A few extracts from the account book illustrate the seriousness of the injuries:

John Baker, 3 Pump Street. This poor man was beat by the constables but his principal injury was overstrain by carrying Wm Taylor of Boardmans Lane off the field who was wounded and lost so much blood.
40s final. £2 more.

Margaret Goodwin, 8 Bury Street, Salford. Trampled on by the horses. Her.eye sight is much injured. Cut at by Shelmerdine. A widow with one child. Is much distressed.

20s final. 40s more.

Catherine Coleman, 40 Primrose Street. 3 ribs displaced in the right side and trampled on. 3 weeks totally disabled. Widow with 3 children.

20s. £2 more.

Mary Jervis, 17 Longworth Street. Trampled on and crushed dreadfully. The calf of the leg has been taken off. In consequence the Doctor’s Bill is 4 guineas.

40s. £5 more.

William Butterworth, Stake Hill, Nr Middleton. A dreadful sabre cut on the right arm between the shoulder which was first false healed for want of proper medical aid but is still in bad state.

45s. £2 more.

William Leigh, 23 Queen Street, Deansgate. The boy who was so severely cut on the head. His mother a poor widow with 4 children living in a cellar whose husband does not live with her.

40s final.

James Mason, 22 Ledger Street, Blackley. Much trampled on and looks extremely ill. Has not been able to work since.

40s. £2 more.

The Radicals themselves produced a list of 500 injured. Hay’s comment was that it contained ‘some pretty notorious names’. It probably did. Almost certainly some scroungers who had not been injured at Peterloo obtained relief. But equally certainly, many people were too frightened ever to seek medical attention. The later report of the Metropolitan Relief Committee commented: ‘The extent of the terror that pervaded the district for many weeks after the outrage was considerable … that if their names and descriptions had been published during the heat of the irritation and alarm they apprehended they would have been dismissed from their situations by their employers and thereby thrown out of bread’. Therefore upwards of 400 injured seems a reliable figure. And to be seriously injured in the days of limited medical knowledge and facilities, with no form of official unemployment benefit, meant great suffering and hardship and in many cases premature death.

When Hay wrote his report in the late evening of August 16th, the extent of the casualties was genuinely not so apparent to him, although he did admit towards the tail-end of the letter that Norris had just returned from the Royal Infirmary and there might be a few more casualties than he had earlier intimated. However, to the end of the furore created by Peterloo, indeed to the end of their days, the magistrates and the MYC refused to accept the casualty figures. Five, possibly six, deaths was the number admitted by the magistrates, and five by the MYC—although their list of names did not tally. The MYC refused to admit ‘the instance of Fildes as it was clearly unconnected with the dispersal of the meeting’. A few score wounded was the most either allowed. The MYC said fifty-eight people were admitted to the Royal Infirmary; the magistrates that twenty-eight were admitted and forty treated as out-patients.