Peterloo and its aftermath

Posted by Helen Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Tory Historian sometimes finds it difficult to take the “martyrs” of the British labour or revolutionary movement seriously. There seems to be so few of them and so many potentially difficult situations are resolved peacefully in this country. Long may that continue.

Take the Tolpuddle Martyrs, for instance. Six of them and all came back after being deported. All that oppression during the French wars, real though it was, pales into insignificance when compared to what was going on in France at the same time. Think of how many people were killed in the suppression of La Vendée and in Lyons.

The one event that does merit sorrowful attention is the Peterloo Massacre of August 16, 1819, a clear example of panic and disorganization that resulted in 11 dead, one of them a woman, another a child carried by another woman and 400 injured. Still not on the La Vendée scale or the various massacres in Russia, let alone the Soviet Union, but something to talk about.

The most interesting part of it, however, is the outcome. The original meeting was called to advocate parliamentary reform, to widen the franchise. The horror of the Peterloo Massacre made those discussions more urgent, though it was not till 1832 that the Great Reform Act was passed, instituting a succession of constitutional reforms that would, in 1928 finally result in full and equal voting rights for all adults in the country.

Possibly a more important development was the move to establish civilian police forces in Britain, the most important of which was the Metropolitan Police Force, signed into existence on September 29, 1829. The Home Secretary, Sir Robert Peel, is said to have been greatly influenced by the events on St Peter’s Field, in August of 1819.


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