Friday 16 August 2019 marked the 200th anniversary of The Peterloo Massacre – a watershed moment in history when a 60,000-strong crowd of peaceful protestors for parliamentary reform came together in what was St Peter’s Fields in Manchester, yet were brutally handled by government forces: with at least 18 people killed and more than 700 injured.

200 years since that fateful day in 1819, thousands of people re-gathered in Manchester last Friday at the original site of the massacre – including over 250 artists, performers, poets, singers and musicians – to remember, reflect and raise their voices in support of the spirit of the peaceful protestors. 


Throughout the day, the area around Windmill Street (outside Manchester Central Convention Centre and where St Peter’s Fields used to be) was filled with words, music and song that embraced contemporary voices of community groups and campaigners to unite the Manchester of 1819 with the Manchester of 2019. It was an emotive and powerful event with people of all ages and backgrounds coming together in unity, co-produced by Manchester Histories, Walk the Plank and Brighter Sound. It was supported by Manchester City Council and the National Lottery through Arts Council England.

The concept of Manchester as a radical city of the people and a place of progress was upheld during the unitive artistry of the day, with three immersive performances of From The Crowd taking place. From The Crowd was a special performance directed by Evie Manning (Common Wealth) which brought together a range of voices from local community groups who still uphold the importance of protest, creativity and reform today. These groups included These Walls Must Fall, Greater Manchester Coalition for Disabled People and Young Identity – their voices coming together with the words and accounts of what happened two hundred years ago. In the spirit of solidarity, a public audience also joined in, along with a powerful musical accompaniment composed by Robin Richards (Dutch Uncles), as well as visuals referring to contemporary issues and movements, including the climate emergency and Extinction Rebellion.

Each of the three performances of From The Crowd, which took place at intervals throughout the day, underlined that Manchester still is a place of solidarity, strength and significant engagement with the issues of our times. This unity and drive has also been seen in various Peterloo commemorative exhibits and installations throughout the city this year, including a Protest Lab at The People’s History Museum, an exhibition at The John Rylands Library and a summer programme of events led by Manchester Histories. 2019 has also seen a cohort of Peterloo Ambassadors, specially trained to help share the Peterloo story.

Karen Shannon, CEO of Manchester Histories, reflects:

“The Peterloo 2019 Anniversary Event was a poignant and powerful remembrance of events 200 years ago and a reflection of Manchester today.  It was a reminder that Manchester goes on in championing progress, but never without forgetting those who have led the way.”

Peterloo 2019 Image

In addition, a particularly poignant part of the commemoration took place at 1:30pm, when the names of  those who died as a result of a massacre were read out from ‘The Hustings’ – reflecting the moment 200 years ago when the troops were sent in to break up the peaceful protestors. Eight year old Monty Speed, descendant of mill worker George Hurst, read out the name of William Fildes; the latter being the first and one of the youngest victims of the massacre, killed aged just two years old when he was ripped from his mother’s arms. 95 year old Sheila Lemoine Abrams, a descendant of Charles Barnish, one of those who walked alongside Sam Bamford to join the protest, read the name of Sarah Jones, whose injuries were so severe that she died three months later.

As well as space for reflection, the format of the event crucially incorporated opportunities to recognise and engage with ongoing examples of how the spirit of reform is being taken forward; with the names of those who have played a part in carrying forward the legacy of Peterloo also read out. These names included Mike Leigh, director of Peterloo, Professor Robert Poole, who has written extensively about Peterloo, Paul Fitzgerald, one of the founders of the Peterloo Memorial Group (Poole and Fitzgerald also were involved in putting together a Peterloo graphic novel, along with Eva Schlunke), film director Danny Boyle, Manchester Tour Guide Elizabeth Sibbering and spoken word poet Jardel Rodrigues, who has been writing about protest themes of today.

Peterloo 2019 Image

For further information on how the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre is being marked across Greater Manchester as part of Peterloo 2019 visit – as a number of exhibitions, displays and projects are ongoing.  For example, the disruptive force of ArtActivistBarbie is exhibiting at Manchester Central Library until 6 September,  Misshaping Peterloo takes place at Manchester Craft & Design Centre until Saturday 7 September featuring the work of illustrator and ceramicist Alex Sickling and Get Together and Get Things Done is at the Manchester Art Gallery until Sunday 29 September.

For photographic artwork, tableaux created by internationally acclaimed artist Red Saunders (for the Hidden Project) will be on display in Manchester Central Library until 28 September, whilst in terms of film: the artist family, Grace Surman and Gary Winters and their children Hope and Merrick have uncovered what was happening Dunham Massey and Quarry Bank at the time of Peterloo. Working with National Trust volunteers and historian Michala Hulme (Associate Lecturer and Research Associate in History at Manchester Metropolitan University, also a member of the Manchester Centre for Public History and Heritage) to uncover what was happening in the lives of those at the time, these discoveries have been woven into two distinctly different films, titled Glorious Phantoms, showing at each individual location as part of the visitor experience until Sunday 29 September. Michala Hulme (follow her on Twitter at @unearththepast) also recently appeared on ITV News (read the full story here), talking about her work tracing the descendants of the Peterloo Massacre. Michala not only traced the descendants of a group of Peterloo veterans, but also recreated a photograph of their ancestors from 1884!

In addition, recent reports have featured a new Greater Manchester Arts commission - designed to be an arts project reflecting the ongoing legacy of the Peterloo Massacre across all ten Greater Manchester boroughs. Award-winning artist Joshua Sofaer will aim to create the project with engagement from the community, before touring Greater Manchester in 2020.