Peterloo: the story continues.
Here’s one of the strangest stories in Manchester history. At the end of November 1819 the great radical writer William Cobbett returned from America bearing the very bones of Thomas Paine, an even greater radical writer. Paine had written the most influential political book in English history, The Rights of Man, in 1791. It was so hot nearly every publisher refused to touch it. Paine was a leading figure in three revolutions: the French (still too early to say if it worked), the American (it replaced the monarchy with figures like Nixon and Trump) and the English (it failed).
In Manchester late 1819 All Cobbett wanted to do was put the bones on the table in front of him while he spoke at a public meeting about the horrors of Peterloo a few months earlier. It never happened. The feds boarded his coach at Irlam and gave Cobbett an ultimatum: transport to Manchester for you, yes, but not those bones. He chose not to speak without the remarkable prop and didn’t return until 1831.
We commemorate that bizarre event and look at other momentous political events in the wake of Peterloo 200.
* Sunday 1 December 2019, 11.30am.
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16 August 1819: troops charged 60,000 Mancunians at a rally called to lower the price of bread and demand the vote. More than a dozen people died and some 650 were injured. The event, the most violent episode in English political history, became known as the Peterloo Massacre.
The tour has been devised by Ed Glinert, political commentator with 30 years’ experience for various leading newspapers, magazines and publishers, who worked with Paul Foot on Private Eye.
Glinert goes into extraordinary detail, explaining not just the momentous events of the day itself, 16 August 1819, but bringing in associated topics and characters such as the birth of the Manchester Guardian, the Cato Street Conspiracy, the remarkable story of the bones of the period’s leading radical, Tom Paine, the Government’s draconian Six Acts – even Anthony Burgess.
The first few decades of the 19th century, despite being enshrined in public imagination as the elegant age of the Regency, were a time of severe political repression in England. The Conservative government of Lord Liverpool was fearful of the kind of revolutionary activity recently witnessed in France and so decided to stamp out all dissent and free speech.
The government was at war with France which saw Wellington triumph over Napoleon’s forces at Waterloo in 1815.
But as Paul Foot once wrote, the British government also waged war against its own people.
Ed Glinert, who has researched the story for decades, brings his unique touch to this chilling story.