Commemorating the Peterloo Massacre

I joined the Lord Mayor, Councillor Glynn Evans, this morning to mark not only one of the most tragic episodes in Manchester's fascinating history but one of the most important, not just for our city but for the advancement of democracy in this country.

The Lord Mayor unveiled a new plaque on the Radisson Hotel, formerly the Free Trade Hall, which marks the boundary of the site where the Peterloo Massacre took place on 16 August 1819.

On that day at least 11 people - including one woman and one child - were killed and hundreds more injured when the yeomanry attacked pro-democracy campaigners. It was an incident which shocked the nation, and is said to have had a huge influence in giving ordinary people the vote.

But until now the plaque commemorating the tragedy had been strangely euphemistic. It talked about a crowd of 60,000 gathering to listen to radical orator Henry Hunt adding that "their subsequent dispersal by the military is remembered as Peterloo."

Here at the City Council we certainly don't think we have the monopoly on wisdom so when I was approached by children from Moorside High School in Swinton calling for a more fitting memorial I recognised that they had a very good point.

I was pleased that pupils from the school were able to join the Lord Mayor and I as the new, more appropriately worded, plaque was unveiled.

The new plaque does not mince words. It says: "On 16th August 1819 a peaceful rally of 60,000 pro-democracy reformers, men, women and children, was attacked by armed cavalry resulting in 15 deaths and over 600 injuries."

And this isn't the end of the matter. The young people from Salford and the Peterloo Memorial Campaign have rightly pointed out that such a significant event in British history ought to have a significant monument to commemorate it. That's something I hope we can do by this time next year.

Manchester has long played a prominent role in the nation's political life. Something that happened 188 years ago might seem like ancient history but if we're to appreciate the freedoms we have today we need to understand how hard won they were.

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