In this section are collected brief biographical details of some of  the people whose names are associated with Peterloo.


In addition, there are included, some lesser-known names and some whose connection is more tenuous, but nonetheless considered important enough to be included here.





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Samuel Bamford  February 28th 1788 - 13th April 1872

For author Samuel Bamford, this compelling work was a direct attack on the intractable political forces of the British government, which were never more oppressive than in the early-19th century. His claim to literary fame was writing poetry and prose in support of the common man, and works like "Passages" found an eager, passionate readership among British textile workers.


A man of lively and independent spirit, Bamford was a natural opponent of the political and industrial interests of the British government throughout his long and unusual life. Though never a fire-and-brimstone radical, Bamford was nevertheless a much-loved character commanding respect among his literary peers as well as the working classes. He deserves to be remembered not only for the saltiness of his writing, but also for his effective political voice against the forces of governmental tyranny.


PASSAGES IN THE LIFE OF A RADICAL - Samuel Bamford. 1843 Published by Cosimo Inc. 2005  1-59605-287-2

SAMUEL BAMFORD (1788-1872) was an English weaver, poet, and social reformer. Jailed by the British government in 1819 for his part in the "Battle of Peterloo," Bamford was well known for his compassionate view of the working classes and for his revulsion toward the Britain's landed gentry. Additional works include: Early Days (1849).

Samuel Bamford was born on February 28th 1788 in Middleton, near Manchester.

He was destined to become one of the leading figures in the movement for the reform of Parliament, and he has gained a secure place for himself in the history of the working class in England.

When Bamford's books (and Early Days and Passages in the Life of a Radical ) they were titled 'The autobiography of Samuel Bamford'.

I do not think he originally conceived them as such. By writing this book I hope to bring Bamford to the notice of many for whom he may just be a name in a textbook.


Morris Garrett June 1992, Middleton.

SAMUEL BAMFORD, PORTRAIT OF A RADICAL - Morris Garrett 1992 George Kelsall, Publisher 0946571201

Samuel Bamford's "Passages in the Life of a Radical" (1842) and "Early Days" (1848) are among the most important sources for the social history of the early industrial revolution and the radical movement.


What is less well known is that he left behind an extensive, varied and readable collection of other writings. The diaries were written towards the end of his life (1858-1861) and include letters and journalism, both by and about Bamford, closely linked to the diary material.


There is frequent reference to and argument about the early 19th-century radical movement and the Peterloo massacre, and among Bamford's contacts and correspondents were the MPs Richard Cobden and James Kay-Shuttleworth, the pioneer dialect writers Edwin Waugh and Ben Brierley, and mid-Victorian political reformers. Beyond this, the volume provides a combination of diary, letterbook and commonplace book, so that Bamford can be seen in both public and private, as he saw himself, as he wished to be seen, and as others saw him.

THE DIARIES OF SAM BAMFORD, Poole (Ed) 2000  Sutton Publishing Ltd. 13: 978-0750917353


Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt   6 November 1773 – 15 February 1835


Henry Hunt was a British radical speaker and agitator remembered as a pioneer of working-class radicalism 

and an important influence on the later Chartist movement. He advocated parliamentary reform and the repeal

of the Corn Laws.He was first drawn into radical politics during the Napoleonic Wars, becoming a supporter of Francis Burdett.


His talent for public speaking became noted in the electoral politics of Bristol, where he denounced the complacency

of both the Whigs and the Tories, and proclaimed himself a supporter of democratic radicalism.

Because of his rousing speeches at mass meetings held in Spa Fields in London in 1816–17 he became known as

the 'Orator', a term of disparagement accorded by his enemies. He embraced a programme that included

annual parliaments and universal suffrage. The tactic he most favoured was that of 'mass pressure', which he felt,

if given enough weight, could achieve reform without insurrection. His capacity as an orator soon won him a large

personal following throughout the country.


He first came into contact with Lancashire Radicalism though the Hampden Club Movement, and was was invited by

the Patriotic Union Society, formed by the Manchester Observer, to be one of the scheduled speakers at the rally

originally scheduled for August 9th 1819 in Manchester


The debacle at Peterloo added greatly to his prestige. Moral force was not sufficient in itself, and physical force  entailed too great a risk. Although urged to do so after Peterloo, Hunt refused to give his approval to schemes for a full-scale insurrection.


Hunt was tried, and found guilty of ‘seditious assembly’ He was sentenced to two and a half years imprisonment. While in prison for his part in Peterloo, Hunt turned to writing, to putting his message across through a variety of forms, including an autobiography.


Business interests notwithstanding, he still found time for practical politics, fighting battles over a whole range of issues, and always pushing for reform and accountability. In 1830 he became a Member of Parliament for Preston defeating the future British Prime Minister Edward Stanley, but was defeated when standing for re-election in 1833. As a consistent champion of the working classes, he opposed the Whigs, both old and new, and the Reform Act 1832, which he believed did not go far enough in the extension of the franchise. He gave speeches addressed to the "Working Classes and no other", urging them to press for full equal rights. In 1832 he presented the first petition in support of women's suffrage to Parliament.


In his opposition to the Reform Bill Orator Hunt revived the Great Northern Union, a pressure group he set up some years before, intended to unite the northern industrial workers behind a platform of full democratic reform; and it is in this specifically that the germs of Chartism can be detected. Worn out by his struggles he died in 1835.





MAJOR JOHN CARTWRIGHT    17 September 1740 – 23 September 1824


                                                                 John Cartwright was the elder brother of Edmund Cartwright, inventor of the power loom.

                                                                 He is probably best known as the person who, in 1812, established Hampden Clubs, named after John Hampden,

                                                                 an English Civil War Parliamentary leader, aiming to bring together middle class moderates and lower class  Radicals

                                                                 in the reform cause. To promote the idea, he toured northwest England.


                              In 1813 he was arrested in Huddersfield and in 1815 he recruited John Knight who went on to found Hampden Clubs                                  across South Lancashire. Samuel Bamford became secretary of the Middleton Hampden Club, which gave members                                  the opportunity to debate political issues and campaign for reform.  Cartwright  was present at the launch of the                                          Middleton Hampden Club.


                                                                 In 1818, Knight, John Saxton and James Wroe formed the reformist and popularist newspaper the Manchester                                                                               Observer. In 1819, the same team formed the Patriotic Union Society, which invited Henry "Orator" Hunt and Major                                                                     Cartwright to speak at a reformist public rally in Manchester, but the elderly Cartwright was unable to attend what                                                                         became the Peterloo Massacre.


Later in 1819, Cartwright was arrested for speaking at a reform meeting in Birmingham, indicted for conspiracy and was condemned to pay a fine of £100.

Cartwright then wrote The English Constitution, which outlined his ideas including Government By The People and Legal Equality which he considered could only be achieved by Universal Suffrage, the Secret Ballot and Equal Electoral Districts. He became the main patron of the Radical publisher Thomas Jonathan Wooler, best known for his satirical journal The Black Dwarf, who actively supported Cartwright's campaigning.







John Knight was a Yorkshireman, who moved to Lancashire and became a handloom weaver in Saddleworth. He was much influenced by ‘The Rights of Man’ and other writings by Tom Paine and was an active political speaker, suffering arrest and imprisonment on one occasion following a speech he gave in Royton.


In 1812 he organised a meeting of like-minded weavers in Manchester. Knowing Knight’s dislike for mechanisation Joseph Nadin – Manchester’s Deputy Chief Constable – burst into the meeting with an armed posse and, without a warrant arrested Knight and 37 others supposedly for "administering oaths to weavers pledging them to destroy steam looms" The charges were unproved and the men were all acquitted at their trial.


Knight must have acquired an education because he then turned away from weaving and became a schoolmaster in Oldham. He established the first Hampden Club in Lancashire in the model of those set up by Major John Cartwright.

It was Knight’s idea to invite Cartwright to speak at St. Peter’s Field but, Cartwright declined, due to failing health and , on the invitation of Joseph Johnson, Henry ‘Orator Hunt was chosen to replace him on the hustings.

Knight led the Oldham contingent at Peterloo and stood beside Hunt on the hustings, where he was one of the four men named by magistrate Hulton as those who were to be arrested.


John Knight was acquitted of the charge laid against him after Peterloo but found guilty and received two years imprisonment for his attendance at a meeting in Burnley some three months later. On his release from prison Knight tuned more to trade union activities and was much less active publicly. His last position, before his death in 1838 was as treasurer of the Oldham Poor Relief Fund.







WILLIAM COBBETT   9 March 1763 – 18 June 1835

William Cobbett was an English pamphleteer, farmer, journalist and member of parliament, who was born

in Farnham, Surrey. He believed that reforming Parliament and abolishing the rotten boroughs would help

to end the poverty of farm labourers, and he attacked the borough-mongers, sinecurists and "tax-eaters"

relentlessly. He was also against the Corn Laws, a tax on imported grain.


Early in his career, he was a loyalist supporter of King and Country, but later he joined and successfully publicised

the Radical movement, which led to his being elected in 1832 as one of the two MPs for the newly enfranchised

borough of Oldham. Although he was not a Catholic, he became a forceful advocate of Catholic Emancipation in

Britain. Through the seeming contradictions in Cobbett's life, his opposition to authority stayed constant.

He published a book, in 1830, Rural Rides, which is still in print today.


By 1815 the tax on newspapers had reached 4d. per copy. As few people could afford a daily newspaper, the tax restricted the circulation of most of these journals to people with fairly high incomes. Cobbett was able to sell only just over a thousand copies a week. The following year Cobbett began publishing the Political Register as a pamphlet for only 2d. It soon had a circulation of 40,000. Critics called it "two-penny trash", a label Cobbett adopted. Cobbett's journal was the main newspaper read by the working class. This made Cobbett a dangerous man, and in 1817 he learned that the government was planning to arrest him for sedition. He fled to America.


Cobbett had been an opponent of the Radical writer Tom Paine but later became a fervent supporter

Ten years after Paine died, penniless and almost forgotten, Cobbett arrived in New York and, under the cover of darkness, dug up his hero's bones and brought them back to England. He believed that their talismanic presence in the Old Country would rouse it up against the injustices against which he, Cobbett, raged. On approaching Manchester he was asked to explain what he was carrying and, on revealing that it was the bones of Tom Paine he was told that he could not enter the town. He chose to abandon the bones and their final resting place is now unknown.  Another story claims that Cobbet’s manservant mistook the bones for kitchen scraps and threw them out, although quite what he thought they had been eating is not stated.


Soon after the Peterloo Massacre, Cobbett joined with other Radicals in his attacks on the government and three times during the next couple of years was charged with libel.


Cobbett still wanted to be elected to the House of Commons. He was defeated in Preston in 1826 and Manchester in 1832 but after the passing of the 1832 Reform Act Cobbett was able to win the parliamentary seat of Oldham. In Parliament, Cobbett concentrated his energies on attacking corruption in government and the 1834 Poor Law. In his later life, however, Macaulay, a fellow MP, remarked that Cobbett's faculties were impaired by age; indeed that his paranoia had developed to the point of insanity. From 1831 until his death, he farmed at Ash, Normandy, a village in Surrey a few miles from his birthplace at Farnham. Cobbett died there after a short illness in June 1835 and was buried in the churchyard of St Andrew's Parish Church, Farnham.





JOHN BRIGHT   16 November 1811 – 27 March 1889

                                                           John Bright was a British Radical and Liberal statesman and a promoter of free trade policies. Born in Rochdale in 1811,                                                               He received a Quaker education at schools in Lancashire and Yorkshire, an education that helped develop a passionate                                                                 commitment to ideas of political and religious equality and human rights.


                                                          He was a forceful and popular public speaker, and though he never held major political office he was one of the most                                                                      influential politicians of the Victorian era. He is perhaps most famous for his part in helping to abolish the Corn Laws in                                                              1846. He sat in the House of Commons from 1843 to 1889 where he promoted free trade, electoral reform and religious                                                                freedom. During his life he served as President of the Board of Trade and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Bright                                                                  opposed slavery on moral grounds and was a fearless supporter of Abraham Lincoln and encouraged the boycott of                                                                        Southern cotton during the American Civil War.


                                                          Bright wrestled with the dilemma that the thriving Lancashire economy was one of the principal reasons why slavery was                                                            able to flourish in the USA and elsewhere. If Lancashire cotton mills, including his own family’s mills in Rochdale, did                                                                  not rely on American cotton, then one of the pillars supporting the slavery economy would have been removed.  He                                                                        argued strongly to develop alternative supplies of cotton, encouraging its cultivation by free labour in other countries


Bright’s relationship with Manchester was a stormy one, and in 1857 he failed to be re-elected as its MP because of his strong condemnation of the country’s participation in the Crimean War. He was however respected by many for following his religious principles and his forthrightness in expressing his moral position.


By the 1870s Manchester’s attitude towards him had changed to such an extent that he received the extraordinary honour of having a statue of himself placed in Manchester’s new town hall whilst he was still alive. Following his death in 1889, Manchester took the step of commissioning a second public statue. This marble statue was placed in Albert Square in front of the town hall, where it was unveiled in 1891. The sculptor was Albert Bruce Joy who also carved a statue of Bright for Birmingham, the constituency that he represented from 1857 until his death. These were not the only public monuments. Rochdale honoured Bright with a posthumous statue in 1893. There is also a statue of Bright at Birmingham University





RICHARD COBDEN    3 June 1804 – 2 April 1865

Richard Cobden was an English manufacturer and Radical and Liberal statesman, associated with two major 

free trade campaigns, the Anti-Corn Law League and the Cobden–Chevalier Treaty.

Cobden was born in Sussex, the fourth of eleven children born to William Cobden and his wife Millicent (née Amber).

His family had been resident in that neighbourhood for many generations. Cobden attended school in Teesdale

County Durham. When fifteen years of age he went to London to the warehouse business of his uncle Richard Ware Cole

where he became a commercial traveller in muslin and calico in which proved successful. Later became co-owner of a

highly profitable calico printing factory in Manchester. However, he soon found himself more engaged in politics,

and his travels convinced him of the virtues of free trade (anti-protection) as the key to better international relations.

In 1828, Cobden set up his own business and with a calico printing facility in Sabden. In 1832 he settled in Manchester,

beginning a long association with the city. He lived in a house on Quay Street, which is now called Cobden House.

A plaque commemorates his residency. The success of the enterprise was decisive and rapid, and the "Cobden prints"

soon became well known for their quality. His earnings in the business were typically £8,000 to £10,000 a year.

In 1835 he published his first pamphlet, entitled England, Ireland and America, by a Manchester Manufacturer.

Cobden advocated the principles of peace, non-intervention, retrenchment and free trade to which he continued faithful.


Cobden soon became a conspicuous figure in Manchester political and intellectual life. He championed the foundation of the Manchester Athenaeum and delivered its inaugural address. He was a member of the chamber of commerce and was part of the campaign for the incorporation of the city, being elected one of its first aldermen. He began also to take a warm interest in the cause of popular education. Some of his first attempts in public speaking were at meetings which he convened at Manchester, SalfordBoltonRochdale and other adjacent towns, to advocate the establishment of British schools. It was while on a mission for this purpose to Rochdale that he first formed the acquaintance of John Bright. In 1837 Cobden was candidate for Stockport in the General Election, but was narrowly defeated.

The Corn Laws imposed steep import duties on grain, making it too expensive for anyone to import any from other countries, even when food supplies were short. The laws were supported by Conservative landowners and opposed by Whig industrialists and workers. The Anti-Corn Law League was responsible for turning public and ruling-class opinion against the laws. It was a large, nationwide, middle-class moral crusade with a utopian vision and Richard Cobden was its leading advocate. In 1838, the Anti-Corn Law League was formed in Manchester; on Cobden's suggestion, it became a national association. During the league's seven years, Cobden was its chief spokesman and animating spirit. In the 1841 general election Cobden was successfully returned as the new member for Stockport.

On 17 February 1843 Cobden launched an attack on Peel, holding him responsible for the miserable state of the nation's workers. Peel did not respond in the debate, however, later in the evening, Peel referred in excited and agitated tones to the remark, as an incitement to violence against his person. Peel's party, catching at this hint, threw themselves into a frantic state of excitement, and when Cobden attempted to explain that he meant official, not personal responsibility, he was drowned out. Peel reversed his position and in 1846 called for the repeal of the Corn Laws. This change of direction created a rift in Peel’s party, and resulted in his resignation. In his final speech he credited Cobden, more than anyone else, with the repeal of the Corn Laws.

An article entitled 'Cobden in Manchester' taken from Manchester Region History Review Volume 17 Number 1 - 2006 can be found 



                                                                    James Wroe was born in Bradford, West Yorkshire. After moving to Manchester he became involved in local politics.


                                                                    In 1818 Wroe, John Knight, Joseph Johnson and John Saxton formed the Manchester Observer. With Wroe as its                                                                           editor, it pioneered radicalist popularist articles, and within twelve months was selling 4,000 copies per week to its                                                                        local audience. By late 1819 it was being sold in most of the booming industrialised cities – BirminghamLeeds,                                                                              London, Salford – that were calling for non-conformist reform of the Houses of Parliament. One of his opponents                                                                          described him as the ‘Printer Devil to the Radical Reformers.’


                                                                     At the start of 1819, Wroe, Knight, and Johnson formed the Patriotic Union Society (PUS). All the leading radicals                                                                          and reformists in Manchester joined the organisation, including members of the Little Circle. At its first meeting,                                                                            Johnson was appointed secretary, and Wroe treasurer. Their  objective  was to obtain parliamentary reform.                   

                                                                     PUS decided to invite Henry "Orator" Hunt and Major John Cartwright to speak at a public meeting in Manchester,                                                                      about the national agenda of Parliamentary reform, and the local aim of electing two members of parliament for                                                                              Manchester and one for Salford

Following the massacre, Wroe as editor of the Observer was the first journalist to describe the incident as the Peterloo massacre, taking his headline from the Battle of Waterloo that had taken place only four years before. Wroe subsequently wrote pamphlets entitled "The Peterloo Massacre: A Faithful Narrative of the Events". Priced at 2d each, they sold out each print run for 14 weeks, having a large national circulation. The government instigated repeated prosecutions of the Manchester Observer and those associated with it. Wroe, his wife and his two brothers and even vendors of the newspaper were prosecuted for seditious libel, a total of fifteen charges being brought. 

At his trial, James Wroe was found guilty on two specimen charges, while all the other charges against him, his wife, and his brothers were allowed to lie undetermined, provided the publication of libels ceased. On one charge he was sentenced to six months imprisonment and fined £100; on the other he was given a further six months and bound over to keep the peace for two years, to give a surety of £200, and to find two other sureties of £50 each. The sentences were said to have been reduced because of the distressed state of the Wroes. In June 1821, Wroe's successor, T. J. Evans, was convicted on one charge of seditious libel printed in the Observer and another of libel on a private individual By then, the Manchester Observer had ceased publication, its final editorial recommending its readers to read the recently founded Manchester Guardian.

Wroe became a bookseller in Great Ancoats Street, where he sold radical books and newspapers. He served on the police committee of Manchester (the predecessor of the town council) In 1834 he was presented with a piece of silver plate for his unceasing efforts on behalf of rate-payers. His politics remained Radical.

In 1837, Wroe objected to the Manchester, South Junction and Altrincham Railway crossing the town by a viaduct passing close to Castlefield, which was a venue for public meetings: if there was a tyrannical government and the people of Manchester held a public meeting. Mindful of what had happened at Peterloo eighteen years earlier Wroe stated "all that the military would have to do was to put their cannon on top of the railway and fire on the people."

Wroe was prominent in the opposition to the incorporation of Manchester, and in 1838 he was chosen as one of Manchester's delegates to the first Chartist National Convention.

Wroe died in August 1844., his widow being "left in very embarrassed pecuniary circumstances of distress".






Rev Ethelston was born in Manchester in 1767

He lived in a house called Smedley Hill, on Smedley Lane, just below the large and impressive Beech Hill

(where resided Rev John Chippendall who later became the first rector of St Luke’s Cheetham Hill Road).

Rev C.W. Ethelston was the first minister at the church of St. Mark’s Cheetham which was built largely at

the expense of his father Rev. E. Ethelston as a Chapel of Ease to serve the large population living between

the ancient Parish Churches of Manchester and Prestwich.

At the time of its construction it was regarded as the third most prominent church in the parish of Manchester

after the Collegiate Church and St Ann’s. He took up his position at St Mark’s at the age of 27, remaining until

his death on September 14th 1830 aged 63.

T. Swindells tells us;

“This chapel, was built amongst the cotton merchants' houses  which formed that desirable hamlet.”


Ethelston is, perhaps better known, however, for his role in the Peterloo Massacre than for his work as a minister at St. Mark’s.


There is a great deal of confusion about the reading of the Riot Act at Peterloo. Some say it was read by Parson Hey, of Rochdale, others state that no-one read it at all.


Suffice it to say, Ethelston’s presence is undisputed, and there is strong evidence to suggest that it was he who read the fateful words. Whether or not anyone in the vast crowd was aware of the reading is a discussion which will continue, perhaps, for another 200 years.



WILLIAM HULTON    23 October 1787 – 30 March 1864

William Hulton was an English landowner and magistrate who lived at Hulton Park, in the historic county of Lancashire, England. The Hultons owned the estate from the late-12th century.

William Hulton was the son of William Hulton and Jane (née Brooke). He was educated at Brasenose College, Oxford. In 1808 he married his cousin Maria Ford with whom he had 13 children, 10 of whom survived to maturity.


In 1811 he was appointed High Sheriff of Lancashire. In this capacity he ordered the arrest of 12 men, Luddites, for arson at Westhoughton Mill in Westhoughton town centre. Four of the offenders were hanged outside Lancaster Castle, including a boy aged 12. Hulton gained a reputation as being tough on crime and political dissent and in 1819 was made chairman of the Lancashire and Cheshire Magistrates, a body set up for dealing with the civil unrest endemic in the area. He was also Constable of Lancaster Castle.

In 1819 in his role as The chairman of the Special Committee of Lancashire and Cheshire Magistrates it was he who summoned the local Yeomanry to deal with the large crowd attending the meeting in Manchester. From his vantage point (an upstairs window in a house on Mount Street) William Hulton perceived the unfolding events as an assault on the yeomanry, and on L'Estrange's arrival at 1:50 pm, at the head of his hussars, he ordered them into the field to disperse the crowd with the words:

"Good God, Sir, don't you see they are attacking the Yeomanry; disperse the meeting!"

Hulton was vilified by the local population and was never able to live down the incident in the eyes of working people. He had to turn down a safe parliamentary seat in 1820, and even in 1841, while campaigning for the Tory candidate in Bolton, he was attacked and had to be rescued by party workers as his assailants chanted ‘Peterloo’

He, on the other hand, continued to believe he had done nothing wrong and described August 16th 1819 as ‘the proudest day of my life.’ It was not his only questionable action. Seven years before, at the age of 25, having inherited his father’s post as High Sheriff, he arrested twelve Luddites accused of torching a Westhoughton woollen mill. Four of them, one a boy of only 12, were hanged.

He died on the 30th of March 1864 at Leamington Priors, Warwickshire & was buried on the 5th of April 1864 at Deane, Lancashire.


JOSEPH NADIN    1765– 4th March 1848

Joseph Nadin was born in Derbyshire in 1765. He worked as a spinner but he later became a thief-catcher.

During the time that the cotton operatives were making raids on cotton mills in Lancashire and elsewhere,

for the purpose of destroying machinery, Nadin made himself conspicuous in detecting the plotters and

bringing them to justice.


Paid by results, he gained a reputation for arresting innocent people. Nadin received £2 and a Tyburn ticket

for every person convicted of a felony. A Tyburn ticket exempted the holder from any public office in the town

of residence. It is claimed that Nadin received over £10 for these Tyburn tickets and his activities as a

thief-catcher made him a wealthy man.

In 1803, impressed by his success as a thief-catcher, the Manchester authorities made Nadin their Deputy-Constable.

He thereby became chief executive officer to the governing body of the town, which was then under the court-leet

of the manor.


Nadin soon developed a reputation for corruption, for example, he received money from most of the owners of brothels  IManchester. As well as arresting criminals, Nadin was given responsibility of dealing with the growing social unrest in Manchester. In 1812 Nadin arrested thirty-eight weavers for political offences. Nadin was much hated by local radicals and they claimed that for twenty years he was the "real ruler of Manchester".

On 16th August 1819 William Hulton instructed Joseph Nadin to arrest Henry Hunt and the other leaders of the demonstration. Nadin replied that this could not be done without the help of the military.

Nadin retired from his post as Deputy Constable in 1823. He had amassed considerable property, and on his retirement he went to live on an estate which he possessed at Cheadle, in Cheshire. He died there on 4 March 1848, aged 83, and was buried in St. James's Church, Manchester. He had married Mary Rowlinson in 1792, and left several children.


HUGH HORNBY BIRLEY   10 March 1778 - 31 July 1845


Hugh Hornby Birley, was born in BlackburnLancashire. He owned a large textile factory in Oxford Road, Manchester. He developed a reputation an industrialist with reactionary political opinions. Birley was a captain in the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry Calvary.[3] The Yeomanry was made up of local businessmen, and were used to deal with social unrest.


During an industrial dispute at his factory in 1818, Birley was involved in a violent confrontation with his workers. This involved a group of men attacking the factory with stones. According to local liberals such as Archibald Prentice and John Edward Taylor, Birley and the Manchester & Salford Yeomanry had a deep hatred of reformers.

When William Hulton heard about the planned meeting at St. Peter's Field on 16th August, 1819, he asked Thomas Trafford, commander of the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry, to bring his 120 men to help maintain order. Hulton and his fellow magistrates were based at a house in Mount Street overlooked St. Peter's Field. At about 12.30 Hulton came to the conclusion that "the town was in great danger". Hulton then wrote two letters and sent them to Lieutenant Colonel L'Estrange, the commander of the military forces in Manchester and Major Trafford.

Major Thomas Trafford, who was positioned only a few yards away at Pickford's Yard, was the first to receive the order to arrest the men. Trafford chose Captain Hugh Birley, his second-in-command, to carry out the order. Local eyewitnesses claimed that most of the sixty men who Birley led into St. Peter's Field were drunk. Birley later insisted that the troop's erratic behaviour was caused by the horses being afraid of the crowd.

Journalists such as John TyasArchibald Prentice and John Edward Taylor argued that Birley used unnecessary force in his attempts to arrest the leaders of the meeting and had been responsible for the deaths of several people killed in the crowd. It was claimed that Birley's men tried to kill John Saxton and Mary Fildes on the platform and several well-known radicals in the crowd. Afterwards, Birley was one of the main people blamed for the Peterloo Massacre.

When the government refused to hold a public inquiry, Thomas Redford, who had been badly wounded by a member of the Manchester & Salford Yeomanry, brought a personal action for assault against Hugh Birley, and three other members of his troop. The court case took place at Lancaster in April 1822. Thomas Redford produced several witnesses that gave damaging evidence against Birley and his men.

However, after five days, the jury decided to accept Birley's defence that the assault on Redford had "been properly committed in the dispersal of an unlawful assembly."

Birley continued to live in Manchester after the Peterloo Massacre. Although deeply hated by the reformers, Birley was held in high esteem by conservatives and eventually became Manchester's first President of the Chamber of Commerce. In the early 1820s Birley went into partnership with Charles Macintosh, who patented the idea of water-proofing.


JOSEPH BROTHERTON   22 May 1783 – 7 January 1857

Joseph Brotherton was a reforming British politician, Nonconformist minister and pioneering vegetarian.

He was born in Whittington, near Chesterfield, Derbyshire, and was the son of John Brotherton, an excise

collector, and his wife Mary. In 1789 the family moved to Salford, Lancashire, where John established a cotton

and silk mill.

Joseph received no formal education, instead joining the family firm, of which he became a partner in 1802.

On the death of his father in 1809 he went into partnership with his cousin William Harvey. In 1806 he married

his business partner's sister, Martha.

In 1805 he joined the Salford Swedenborgian Church. The church, led by William Cowherd, was renamed the

Bible Christian Church in 1809. In 1816 Cowherd died, and Brotherton became a minister. The church required

abstention from the eating of meat and drinking of alcohol. In 1812 Martha Brotherton was the author of

Vegetable Cookery, the first vegetarian cookbook.

In 1819, aged only thirty-six, Brotherton retired from the family business in order to devote his energy to his ministry. He used his position to actively improve the conditions of workers and campaign for reforms. Among his achievements were the building of schools, the opening of a lending library and the establishment of a fund to support the victims of the Peterloo Massacre. He was also an overseer of the poor and a justice of the peace.

Brotherton was a member of a group called The Little Circle group, which led a campaign for parliamentary reform. This called for the better proportional representation in the Houses of Parliament from the rotten boroughs towards the fast-growing industrialised towns of Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester and Salford. After the petition raised on behalf of the group by Absalom Watkin, Parliament passed the Reform Act 1832.

The group's aims were achieved with the passing of the Reform Act 1832. Brotherton was elected as Salford's first Member Of Parliament at the ensuing general election. He was  re-elected five times, unopposed on two occasions. In parliament he campaigned against the death penalty, for the abolition of slavery and for free non-denominational education. He actively supported the Municipal Corporations Bill, which led to Manchester and Salford having democratically elected councils. He took an interest in the facilities provided by the new municipalities, and was largely responsible for the opening of Peel Park, Salford and Weaste Cemetery.

Brotherton fought for the working man, woman and child. He supported the Factory Act of 1847 limiting working hours in factories and worked towards an improvement in working class education. He was also at the forefront in getting the Public Libraries Act through Parliament in 1850 and encouraged Salford to establish the first unconditionally free public library.

Joseph Brotherton died suddenly from a heart attack aged 73 in January 1857, while travelling to a meeting in Manchester. He was buried on 14 January in the new Weaste municipal cemetery, Salford, the first interment at the cemetery he campaigned for, following a two and a half mile long funeral procession. A Joseph Brotherton Memorial Fund was established, and a statue was erected in Peel Park in 1858.



ARCHIBALD PRENTICE    1792 – 22 December 1857


Archibald Prentice was a Scottish journalist, known as a radical reformer and temperance campaigner.


After a scant education, he was apprenticed at age 12 to a baker in Edinburgh; but then the following summer (1805) to a woollen-draper in the Lawnmarket. Here he remained for three years, then moved to Glasgow as a clerk in the warehouse of Thomas Grahame, brother of James Grahame the poet. Two years later he was appointed traveller to the house in England, and in 1815 Grahame, acting on his advice, moved his business from Glasgow to Manchester, and at the same time brought Prentice into partnership in the firm.


In Manchester Archibald Prentice became friends with local social reformers such as John Edward TaylorAbsalom Watkin, and Joseph Brotherton


Prentice, like the rest of the businessmen in Manchester, objected to a system that denied important industrial towns and cities representation in the House of Commons. The men met in the back room of John Potter's house which became known as Potter's Planning Parlour.


On 16th August, 1819, Prentice observed the beginning of the reform meeting at St Peter's Field from the window of a friend's house in Mosley Street. Prentice had left the area when the attack on the crowd took place. However, after interviewing several people who had seen what had happened, Prentice wrote an account of the event and sent it to a London newspaper. The story left Manchester by night coach and appeared in the London newspaper 48 hours later. This article, along with the report that John Edward Taylor wrote for The Times, ensured that the events at St. Peter's Field became national news.


Prentice took an interest in politics, and contributed to Cowdroy's Gazette, a weekly. In May 1821 the Manchester Guardian was founded as an organ of radical opinion. Some, including Prentice, found John Edward Taylor as editor insufficiently advanced; Prentice purchased Cowdroy's Gazette to start an alternative paper. In June 1824, the first number of the renamed Manchester Gazette appeared under his editorship.


The year 1826 saw a commercial depression, and Prentice found himself unable to keep the paper afloat. The Gazette was then incorporated with the Manchester Times and he was appointed sole manager of the new paper, the first number of which appeared on 17 October 1828.


ABSALOM WATKIN    1787 - 1861

Absalom Watkin, the son of an innkeeper, was born in London. Absalom's father died when he was young and at the

age of fourteen he accepted the offer of work at his uncle's cotton business in Manchester. John Watkin's small

company produced yarn and undyed calico.

A few years after Absalom arrived in Manchester John Watkin sold the business to Thomas Smith. Absalom had done

so well since arriving in Manchester that the new owner employed him as the factory manager. Absalom had a strong

desire to own his own business and by 1807 had raised enough money to buy the factory from Thomas Smith.

Absalom was a supporter of parliamentary reform and in 1815 became a member of a group of liberals that used to

meet in the home of John Potter. Others in the group included John Edward TaylorArchibald Prentice and Joseph

Brotherton. The group was strongly influenced by the ideas of Jeremy Bentham and Joseph Priestley and objected to

a system that denied such important industrial cities such as Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham, representation in

the House of Commons.

All the men held Nonconformist religious views. Absalom was a Methodist and was a supporter of Joseph Lancaster and the Nonconformist school that he opened in Manchester in 1813. Like other members of the group, he, too, was an advocate of religious tolerance.


Absalom played an important role in the campaign to obtain an independent inquiry into the massacre. He drew up the famous Declaration and Protest document that was signed by over 5,000 people in Manchester, which expressed ‘utter disapprobation of the unexpected and unnecessary violence by which the assembly was dispersed.[4]


After Peterloo, Watkin became a close friend of Joseph Johnson, one of the organisers of the meeting at St. Peter's Field. On 12th August 1827 Johnson introduced Watkin to Richard Carlile, the radical journalist who had been one of the main speakers at the Peterloo Massacre. Four days later Absalom carried out a long interview with Carlile about what had happened on 16th August.


In December 1830 Absalom joined a committee of men including Thomas Potter, Mark Philips, William Harvey and William Baxter with the intention of campaigning for parliamentary reform. He was given the task of drawing up the petition asking the government to grant Manchester two Members of Parliament.


As a result of the 1832 Reform Act Manchester had its first two Members of Parliament, Mark Philips and Charles Poulett Thomson. Two close friends of Absalom Watkin, Joseph Brotherton (Salford) and Richard Potter (Wigan) also became Members of Parliament in 1832. In 1833 Absalom organised the campaign in Manchester for the Ten Hours Bill.


Absalom's other great concern was over the price of bread. In 1840 he became Vice President of Manchester's Anti-Corn Law League. However, he was strongly opposed to the Chartist campaign and in August 1842 helped the police to defend Manchester from rioters demanding universal suffrage.

Absalom's two sons also played an active role in politics. Edward Watkin became a Liberal M.P. and Alfred Watkin became Mayor of Manchester.


John Saxton    1776 -  ????   NO IMAGE AVAILABLE


John Saxton was born in Manchester in 1776. He was initially a worker in the cotton industry but in 1818 helped James Wroe and Joseph Johnson to start the radical newspaper, the Manchester Observer. Henry Hunt called the Manchester Observer,


"the only newspaper in England that I know, fairly and honestly devoted to such reform

as would give the people their whole rights."


John Saxton and his wife Susanna were both active in the campaign for universal suffrage. John Saxton was on the platform with the other journalists at the meeting at St. Peter's Field


Although Saxton was arrested it is believed that he smuggled out contributions to the reports that appeared in the Manchester Observer about the events at St. Peter's Field. He also contributed to the series of pamphlets on The Peterloo Massacre published by the Manchester Observer and edited by John Edward Taylor. It is believed that either Saxton or John Wroe who was the first person to use the term "Peterloo" to describe the attack.


When the trial took place in March, 1820. John Saxton argued that he was on the platform as a journalist rather than as a speaker. After three days of evidence, five of the men, Hunt, Johnson, Knight, Healey and Bamford were found guilty Saxton along with Moorhouse, Jones and Wild were found not guilty and released.


John Saxton was a staunch defender of the right of the people to display the Cap of Liberty as their emblem. In Stockport on the day of The Battle of Sandy Brow he spoke these words to the assembled crowd (having first, momentarily taken the Liberty Cap from its pole and placed it on his own head, to rapturous applause)

‘This constitutional ensign’, he said ‘a ruffian banditti are, at this moment, contemplating to wrest from your grasp.

For this part, should an illegal seizure be attempted, my mind is made up to perish in its defence.’



Susanna was secretary of the Manchester Female Reformers and a writer of several political pamphlets.

The most popular was The Manchester Female Reformers Address to the Wives, Mothers, Sisters and Daughters of the Higher

and Middling Classes of Society.


Although Saxton addressed women as "Sisters of the Earth", she argued that women's main role was to support their husbands

in their struggle for universal male suffrage.

They were also urged "to install into the minds of our children, a deep and rooted hatred of our corrupt and  tyrannical rulers.


A small part of the address is included here;

 “It is with a spirit of peaceful consideration and due respect that we are induced to address you, upon the causes of that have compelled us to associate together in aid of our suffering children, our dying parents, and the miserable partners of our woes. Bereft, not only of that support, the calls of nature require for existence; but the balm of sweet repose hath long been a stranger to us. Our minds are filled with a horror and despair, fearful on each returning morn, the light of heaven should present to us the corpse of some of our famished off spring, or nearest kindred, which the more kind hand of death had released from the oppressor…Every succeeding nights bring with it new terror, so that we are sick of life and weary of a world, where poverty , wretchedness, tyranny and injustice, have so long been permitted to reign…”


The address was signed by Susannah Saxton as Secretary of the Society



Lieutenant-Colonel George L'Estrange was the military commander in Manchester in 1819. On 14th August he received a request from William Hulton to provide military assistance to prevent trouble at the meeting at St. Peter's Field on 16th August. L'Estrange decided to employ 600 members of the 15th Hussars, and several hundred infantrymen in the 31st and 88th Foot. He also had a detachment of the Royal Horse Artillery, 400 members of the Cheshire Yeomanry and 120 members of the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry Cavalry.

Lieutenant-Colonel L'Estrange's plan was to surround the St. Peter's Field with troops. The cavalry were in the front and were to be used to disperse the crowd if the magistrates decided on that action. The infantrymen were to be called in if the meeting turned into a riot. L'Estrange decided that the Royal Horse Artillery would only be used in an emergency.

At about 12.30 William Hulton came to the conclusion that "the town was in great danger". Hulton therefore wrote two letters and sent them to Lieutenant Colonel L'Estrange, the commander of the military forces in Manchester and Major Trafford, the commander of the Manchester & Salford Yeomanry.

Major Thomas Trafford, who was positioned only a few yards away at Pickford's Yard, was the first to receive the order to arrest the main speakers. Major Trafford chose Captain Hugh Birley, his second-in-command, to carry out the order.


Local eyewitnesses claimed that most of the sixty men who Birley led into St. Peter's Field were drunk. Birley later insisted that the troop's erratic behaviour was caused by the horses being afraid of the crowd.

When L'Estrange arrived at St. Peter's Field he asked William Hulton what was happening. Hulton replied: "Good God, Sir, don't you see they are attacking the Yeomanry? Disperse them." L'Estrange ordered Lieutenant Jolliffe and the 15th Hussars to rescue the Manchester & Salford Yeomanry.

That night Lieutenant-Colonel George L'Estrange wrote a report on the day's proceedings and sent it to Major General Sir John Byng, Commander of the Northern District.



Richard Carlile was a Devonshire shoemaker’s son, journeyman tinsmith and mechanic in London in 1813.


Later in 1818 he published Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Manfor which he was imprisoned at Dorchester Gaol 1819-1825.

He later became the proprietor of Sherwin’s, Political Register changing its name to the Republican editing twelve volumes

whilst still in prison. He was finally released in 1825.One of his famous quotations "Free discussion is the only necessary

Constitution - the only necessary Law of the Constitution."

Carlile was one of the scheduled main speakers at the Manchester meeting. Just as Henry Hunt was about to speak,

the crowd was attacked by the yeomanry. Carlile escaped and was hidden by radical friends before he caught the mail coach

to London and published his eyewitness account, giving the first full report of what had happened, in Sherwin's Weekly

Political Register of 18 August 1819. His placards proclaimed "Horrid Massacres at Manchester".

The government responded by closing Sherwin's Political Register, confiscating the stock of newspapers and pamphlets.

Carlile changed the name to The Republican and in its issue of 27 August 1819 demanded that

"The massacre... should be the daily theme of the Press until the murderers are brought to justice.... Every man in Manchester who avows his opinions on the necessity of reform, should never go unarmed – retaliation has become a duty, and revenge an act of justice."

Carlile was prosecuted for blasphemyblasphemous libel and sedition for publishing material that might encourage people to hate the government in his newspaper, and for publishing Tom Paine's Common Sense, The Rights of Man and the Age of Reason (which criticised the Church of England).  In October 1819 he was found guilty of blasphemy and seditious libel and sentenced to three years in Dorchester