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.
CLICK ON ANY LINK TO SEE THE INFORMATION AVAILABLE IN BOOKS, SHORT 'PEN PORTRAITS' AND ARTICLES.
BIOGRAPHIES HAVE BEEN COMPILED FROM VARIOUS SOURCES INCLUDING WIKIPEDIA AND SPARTACUS EDUCATION.
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
His talent for public speaking became noted in the electoral politics of Bristol, where he denounced the complacency
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 ???? - 1835 (NO IMAGE AVAILABLE)
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
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
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,
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, Salford, Bolton, Rochdale 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 1788-1844 NO IMAGE AVAILABLE
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 – Birmingham, Leeds, 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. CHARLES WICKSTEAD ETHELSTON 1767 - 1830 NO IMAGE AVAILABLE
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 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 In Manchester. 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".
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 Blackburn, Lancashire. 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. 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 Tyas, Archibald 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.
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
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.
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 SAXTON ???? - ???? NO IMAGE AVAILABLE
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 (GUY) L’ESTRANGE - 1775 - ???? IMAGE AVAILABLE
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 8 DECEMBER 1790 – 10 FEBRUARY 1843
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 blasphemy, blasphemous 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 Gaol with a fine of £1,500. When he refused to pay the fine, his premises in Fleet Street were raided and his stock was confiscated.
While he was in jail he continued to write articles for The Republican which was now published by his wife Jane, and by then, thanks to the publicity it was outselling pro-government newspapers such as The Times.
THOMAS PAINE January 29 1737 – June 8 1809
Thomas Paine was a British pamphleteer, revolutionary, radical, inventor, and intellectual. He lived and worked in Britain until age 37, when he emigrated to the British American colonies, in time to participate in the American Revolution.
His principal contribution was the powerful, widely-read pamphlet Common Sense (1776), advocating colonial America's independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain, and The American Crisis (1776–1783), a pro-revolutionary pamphlet series. Later, he greatly influenced the French Revolution.
He wrote the Rights of Man (1791), a guide to Enlightenment ideas.
Despite not speaking French, he was elected to the French National Convention in 1792. The Girondists regarded him as an ally, so, the Montagnards, especially Robespierre, regarded him as an enemy. In December of 1793, he was arrested and imprisoned in Paris, then released in 1794.
He became notorious because of The Age of Reason (1793–94), the book advocating deism and arguing against Christian doctrines. In France, he also wrote the pamphlet Agrarian Justice (1795), discussing the origins of property, and introduced the concept of a guaranteed minimum income.
He remained in France during the early Napoleonic era, but condemned Napoleon's dictatorship, calling him "the completest charlatan that ever existed". In Paris, in 1802, William Cobbett presented Paine with a gift of money him to enable him to discharge his debts and to travel. That same year, at President Thomas Jefferson's invitation, he returned to America.
Thomas Paine died, at the age of 72, at 59 Grove Street, Greenwich Village, New York City, on June 8, 1809.
He was buried at what is now called the Thomas Paine Cottage in New Rochelle, New York,
where he had lived after returning to America in 1802.
His remains were later disinterred by an admirer, William Cobbett, who sought to return them to England.
The bones were, however, later lost and his final resting place today is unknown.
His writing desk is on display in the People’s History Museum, Manchester.
Graham Moore wrote a fine song entitled Tom Paine’s Bones, which has since been recorded a number of times,
notably by Dick Gaughan.
NOTE: Britain's unreformed political system had been condemned by middle-class reformers and a growing
working-class radical movement, which was influenced by the late eighteenth century writings of Thomas Paine
and the American and French Revolutions.
MARY FILDES 1789 - 1875
Born Mary Pritchard 1789 in Cork, Ireland, she married William Fildes, a reedmaker, on 18 March 1808 in Cheshire, England. They had eight children, James Fildes, father of Luke Fildes (1808); Samuel Fildes (1809), George FIldes (1810), Robert Fildes (1815), Sarah (1816), Thomas Paine Fildes (1818), Henry Hunt Fildes (1819), and John Cartwright Fildes (1821)
Mary Fildes was a member of The Manchester Female Reform Society, formed in July 1819
Mary, along with other female activists including Elizabeth Gaunt & Sarah Hargreaves was to be placed on the platform or in Hunt’s carriage holding the flags and banners of the societies represented.
When the Yeoman Cavalry charged the crowd Mary was wounded severely while riding on the box sear of Henry Hunt's carriage. In the confusion of the massacre she tumbled off the carriage seat. An eye-witness describes seeing;
'Mrs. Fildes hanging suspended by a nail on the platform of the carriage which had caught her white dress. She was slashed across her exposed body by a brave officer of the cavalry'.
Reports claimed that the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry attempted to murder her while arresting the leaders of the demonstration. Although badly wounded she survived and continued her campaign for the vote.
Richard Carlile who was present at the rally describes Mary as a figure like "Joan of Arc" escaping uninjured, his account is given in "THE BATTLE OF THE PRESS" by his daughter Theophila Carlile Campbell.
Samuel Bamford claims that women first became involved in the struggle for universal suffrage in the summer of 1818. Bamford describes a meeting at Lydgate in Saddleworth where women were allowed to vote for and against resolutions. Bamford points out that:
"This was a new idea; and the women, who attended numerously on that bleak ridge, were mightily pleased with it."
In 1833 Mary Fildes & Mrs Broadhurst established the Female Political Union of the Working Classes. When attempting to distribute pamphlets on birth control, Fildes was arrested and charged with the distribution of pornography.
Years went by and Mary became more of a celebrity. In the 1830s and 1840s she was active in the Chartist movement. Later she exchanged the tensions of Manchester for the relaxation of Chester and settled down as the proprietress of the "Shrewsbury Arms". She adopted her grandson, Luke Fildes, who was later to become one of Britain's most successful artists.
Mary Fildes died in May 1875 while visiting friends in Manchester.
GEORGE CRUIKSHANK 27 September 1792 - 1 February 1878
father insisted that he needed his help in the studio. He taught him the rudiments of etching into copperplates; at the age
of thirteen he was executing the titles of his father's caricatures, and also putting in backgrounds, furnishings, and dialogue.
By 1808 Cruikshank had developed his own style and was signing his prints "G. Cruikshank".
Inspired by the work of William Hogarth, and others, Cruikshank developed a reputation for his
Cruikshank was soon selling his drawings to over twenty different printsellers. This included a large caricature that appeared
in each issue of William Jones's satirical magazine, The Scourge. (1811-1816). These early drawings included attacks on
The French poet, Charles Baudelaire, remarked,
"The special merit of George Cruikshank is his inexhaustible abundance of grotesque. The grotesque flows inevitably and incessantly from Cruikshank's etching needle, like pluperfect rhymes from the pen of a natural poet"
In 1818 George Cruikshank joined forces with Radical publisher and bookseller, William Hone, who was playing a leading role in the campaign against the Gagging Acts. In their struggle for press freedom, the two men produced The Political House that Jack Built, an immediate success selling over 100,000 copies in a few months.
George Cruikshank, like many people, was deeply shocked by the Peterloo Massacre. He responded to this event by produced one of his most powerful drawings, 'Massacre at St. Peter's.'
Cruikshank, however, did not hold strong political beliefs and was willing to produce anti-radical prints for Tory booksellers. These included Death and Liberty, a warning of the dangers that Radicals posed to the British Constitution and The Female Reformers of Blackburn , an attack on women becoming involved in politics.
JEMIMA BAMFORD ???? - 23 September 1862
Jemima Shepherd was Sam Bamford’s childhood sweetheart. He first encountered her as one of the younger pupils over whom he was appointed monitor at Sunday School as a child.
They were engaged round the beginning of 1810 prior to their marriage, in June of that year, by Rev Joshua Brookes at the Collegiate Church, Manchester, and she was to remain his faithful wife until her death on 23rd October 1862.
It was fortunate that Samuel Bamford saw fit to include the following description of Peterloo in his autobiography. If he had not done we would have little or no first –hand evidence from any of the women present.
“I was determined to go to the meeting, and should have followed, even if my husband had refused his consent to my going with the procession. From what I, in common with others, had heard the week previous, ‘that if the country people went with their caps of liberty, and their banners, and music, the soldiers would be brought to them,’ I was uneasy, and felt persuaded, in my own mind, that something would be the matter, and I had best go with my husband, and be near him; and if I only saw him I should be more content than in staying at home. I accordingly, he having consented after much persuasion, gave my little girl something to please her, and promising more on my return, I left her with a careful neighbour woman, and joined some other married females at the head of the procession. Every time I went aside to look at my husband, and that was often, an ominous impression smote my heart. He looked very serious, I thought, and I felt a foreboding of something evil to befall us that day.
I was dressed plainly as a countrywoman in my second best attire. My companions were also neatly dressed as the wives of working men; I had seen Mr Hunt before that time; they had not, and some of them were quite eager to obtain good places, that they might see and hear one of whom so much had been reported.
In going down Mosley Street, I lost sight of my husband. Mrs Yates, who had hold of my arm, would keep hurrying forward to get a good place, and when the crowd opened for the Middleton procession, Mrs Yates and myself, and some others of the women, went close to the hustings, quite glad that we had obtained such a situation for seeing and hearing all. My husband got on the stage, but when afterwards I saw him leap down, and lost sight of him, I began to be unhappy. The crowd seemed to have increased very much, for we became insufferably pressed.
We were surrounded by men who were strangers; we were almost suffocated, and to me the heat was quite sickening; but Mrs. Yates, being taller than myself, supported it better. I felt I could not bear this long, and I became alarmed. I reflected that if there was any more pressure, I must faint, and then what would become of me? I begged of the men to open a way and let me go out, but they would not move. Every moment I became worse, and I told some other men, who stood in a row, that I was sick, and begged they would let me pass them, and they immediately made a way, and I went down a long passage betwixt two ranks of these men, many of them saying, ‘make way, she’s sick, she’s sick, let her go out,’ and I passed quite out of the crowd and, turning to my right, I got on some high ground, on which stood a row of houses – this was Windmill Street.
I thought if I could get to stand at the door of one of those houses, I should have a good view of the meeting, and should perhaps see my husband again; and I kept going further down the row, until I saw a door open, and I stepped within it, the people of the house making no objections. By this time Mr Hunt was on the hustings, addressing the people. In a minute or two some soldiers came riding up. The good folks of the house, and some who seemed to be visitors, said, ‘the soldiers were only come to keep order; they would not meddle with the people;’ but I was alarmed. The people shouted, and then the soldiers shouted, waving their swords. Then they rode amongst the people, and there was a great outcry, and a moment after, a man passed without hat, and wiping the blood of his head with his hand, and it ran down his arm in a great stream.
The meeting was all in a tumult; there were dreadful cries; the soldiers kept riding amongst the people, and striking with their swords. I became faint, and turning from the door, I went unobserved down some steps into a cellared passage; and hoping to escape from the horrid noise, and to be concealed, I crept into a vault, and sat down, faint and terrified, on some fire wood. The cries of the multitude outside, still continued, and the people of the house, upstairs, kept bewailing most pitifully. They could see all the dreadful work through the window, and their exclamations were so distressing, that I put my fingers in my ears to prevent my hearing more; and on removing them, I understood that a young man had just been brought past, wounded. The front door of the passage before mentioned, soon after opened, and a number of men entered, carrying the body of a decent, middle aged woman, who had been killed. I thought they were going to put her beside me, and was about to scream, but they took her forward, and deposited her in some premises at the back of the house.
After over 50 years of marriage to Sam, Jemima Bamford died in September 1862. At the funeral, Sam recited verses from two of his poems as a tribute in memory of his beloved 'Mima'
MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT 1759-1797
Mary Wollstonecraft was brought up as an Anglican, she soon began attending Richard Price's chapel. Price held
radical political views and had encountered a great deal of hostility when he supported the cause of American
At Price's home Mary met the publisher, Joseph Johnson* who commissioned her to write a book on the subject.
In ‘Thoughts on the Education of Girls’, published in 1786, Mary attacked traditional teaching methods and suggested
new topics that should be studied by girls. Two years later Wollstonecraft helped Johnson to found the Analytical Review.
Mary Wollstonecraft could look to her own life history and to the lives of women in her family. Abuse of women was close
to home. She saw little legal recourse for the victims of abuse. For women in the rising middle-class, those who did not
have husbands -- or at least reliable husbands -- had to find ways to earn their own living or a living for their families.
Writings on the "rights of man" including one by Wollstonecraft were part of the general intellectual discussion in England and France before, during, and after the French Revolution.
Wollstonecraft moved in the same circles as Thomas Paine, Joseph Priestley, Samuel Coleridge, William Wordsworth, William Blake and William Godwin.
William Godwin married Mary Wollstonecraft when she became pregnant, though they continued their separate apartments. Tragically, Wollstonecraft died within two weeks of delivery of the baby, of "childbed fever" or septicemia. The daughter, raised by Godwin with Wollstonecraft's older daughter, later married the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley in a shocking elopement -- and is known to history as Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, author of Frankenstein.
*This was not the Joseph Johnson who co-founded the Manchester Visit the page for further information regarding Mary Observer, but an earlier publisher by the same name.
LIEUTENANT WILLIAM JOLLIFFE 7 DECEMBER 1800 – 1 JUNE 1876
William Jolliffe, the eldest son of the Rev. William Jolliffe, joined the 15th Hussars and at the age of eighteen took part in the events at St. Peter's Field.
Lieutenant Jolliffe was at Deansgate when he received orders to go to the Field. When Jolliffe arrived the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry had already moved into the crowd. The Yeomanry appeared to be in trouble and Lieutenant-Colonel George L'Estrange, the military commander in Manchester, ordered Jolliffe and the rest of the 15th Hussars to rescue them.
Jolliffe left the 15th Hussars with the rank of captain. 25 years later he provided Lord Sidmouth’s biographer with a dispassionate and widely cited account of that day’s events, in which he acknowledged that the actions of the yeomanry had ‘greatly aggravated’ the situation, and admitted,
‘this was my first acquaintance with a large manufacturing population’ and ‘I had little knowledge of ... whether or no a great degree of distress then prevailed’
At the time, however, he boasted to his father that it would ‘be a long time before there is another meeting of this sort in the town’, In 1832 he unsuccessfully stood as Tory candidate for Petersfield. He obtained the seat in 1833 but was defeated in 1835. Successful in the 1837 General Election he held the Petersfield seat until 1866 when he was granted the title Baron Hylton.
William Jolliffe died on 1st June 1876 at Merstham House, near Reigate.
SIR FRANCIS BURDETT, FIFTH BARONET 25 January 1770 – 23 January 1844
Burdett, Sir Francis, was recognised as the leader of the Radicals in the House of Commons.
In parliament Burdett denounced corporal punishment in the army, and supported all attempts to check corruption, but his
principal efforts were directed towards procuring a reform of parliament, and the removal of Roman Catholic disabilities.
In 1809 he had proposed a scheme of parliamentary reform, and returning to the subject in 1817 and 1818 he anticipated the
but his motions met with very little support.
In 1819, he was responsible for leading the campaign to press for an independent inquiry into the Peterloo Massacre.
In 1820 Burdett had again come into serious conflict with the government. Having severely censured its action in print with reference to the Peterloo Massacre, he was prosecuted at Leicester assizes, fined £1,000, and committed to prison by Justice Best for three months for the crime of "composing, writing, and publishing a seditious libel" with explanation:
“My opinion of the liberty of the press is that every man ought to be permitted to instruct his fellow subjects; that every man may fearlessly advance any
new doctrines, provided he does so with proper respect to the religion and government of the country; that he may point out errors in the measures of public men; but he must not impute criminal conduct to them. The liberty of the press cannot be carried to this extent without violating another equally sacred right; namely, the right of character. This right can only be attacked in a court of justice, where the party attacked has a fair opportunity
of defending himself"
After the passing of the Reform Act 1832, the ardour of the veteran reformer was somewhat abated, and a number of his constituents soon took umbrage at his changed attitude.
JOHN TYAS ???? - ???? NO IMAGE AVAILABLE
John Tyas joined The Times as a reporter in 1817. In August, 1819, Thomas Barnes, the editor of The Times, decided to send Tyas to cover the parliamentary reform meeting at St. Peter's Field. Tyas was chosen because according to Barnes he
"was nephew to an individual of great respectability in the town of Manchester"
Whereas the other journalists that covered the St. Peter's Field meeting worked for local newspapers, Tyas was based in London. The Times had been critical of the parliamentary reform movement and there is no evidence that Tyas was a radical sympathizer before the Peterloo Massacre. Tyas and the other journalists at the meeting were positioned on the platform with the speakers. As a result, Tyas was arrested with Henry Hunt, Joseph Johnson and John Saxton when the meeting was broken up.
Thomas Barnes was furious that one of his journalists should be arrested. As Tyas was unable to send his report, The Times published an account written by John Edward Taylor, a journalist who worked for the Manchester Gazette. Taylor and his friend and colleague at the Gazette, Archibald Prentice, were concerned that an accurate report needed to reach the London papers before the Magistrates could publish their own interpretation of events.
John Tyas claimed that when the soldiers broke up the meeting they attempted to kill John Saxton. At the trial in 1820 Tyas gave the following evidence;
‘I understand I have a right to tell all I saw. I saw Harrison and others of them cutting the people right and left. Samuel Harrison and Thomas Shelmerdine were using their swords at the hustings, and Harrison made a lunge at me, and then he said,
‘There is that villain Saxton; run him through!’
‘No,’ replied the other, ‘I had rather not - I leave him to you’.
The man immediately made a lunge at Saxton, and it was only by slipping aside from the blow that his life was saved. As it is, it cut his coat and waist coat, but fortunately did him no other injury. A man within five yards of us in another direction had his nose completely taken off by a blow of a sabre.’
After John Tyas was released from prison, his full account of the events was published on 19th August. The Times mounted a campaign against the action of the magistrates at St. Peter's Field. In one editorial the newspaper told its readers
"a hundred of the King's unarmed subjects have been sabred by a body of cavalry in the streets of a town of which most of them were inhabitants, and in the presence of those Magistrates whose sworn duty it is to protect and preserve the life of the meanest Englishmen." As these comments came from an establishment newspaper, the authorities found this criticism particularly damaging.
REVEREND JOSEPH HARRISON 7th July 1779 - 21 April, 1848
Joseph Harrison was born, most likely in Clavering, Essex, where his father was minister of the Independent Chapel at the time.
His parent were Reverend Joseph Harrison and Mary Beezley, who came from Swinden, near Skipton, in West Yorkshire.
In 1790 Harrison’s mother died and his father accepted a call to the pastorate of Skipton, where his uncle, James Harrison acted as deacon.
It was probably at Skipton that young Joseph first developed his radical views after experiencing first-hand the prejudice meted out agains the Dissenters.
In 1793 the family moved to Bingley, Yorkshire where his father combined tuition with preaching for a short time.
By 1806 Harrison was married, and returned to Essex as pastor and schoolmaster to the newly-formed Henham Independent Chapel. Troubles began for him in 1810 which resulted in his resignation, which was attributed to ‘many sad instances of loose, immoral conversation and indecent behaviour’
Harrison moved to Glossop in Derbyshire in 1812 and became minister of Littlemoor Independent Chapel where he stayed for about 5years, but was again compelled to resign for ‘indiscretion of conduct’
Around June 1818 he moved to Stockport ‘a very poor man’ and took up residence at Sandy Brow.n During his time in Stockport he became close friends with the ‘Blanketeers’ Bagguley, Drummond and Johnston and became known for his forceful oratory and crowded meetings.
Joseph Harrison died at Stockport, aged 69. Buried at Stockport Municipal Cemetery on 21 April, 1848.
It was J.E.Taylor and Archibald Prentice who actually filed their stories in London, which were published within 48 hours.
In this way they got ahead of and were never overtaken by the official version – which included the following statement
‘the cavalry began a bloodbath in the act of quelling a rebellion'
Although Taylor was not a radical, he was outraged by the Peterloo Massacre and the article was very critical of the authorities.
REV. WILLIAM HAY 1761 - 1839
In 1802 he became rector of Ackworth Church, near Pontefract, and Chairman of the Salford Quarter Sessions.
William Hay was one of the ten magistrates on duty at St. Peter's Field on 16th August, 1819. He agreed with William Hulton and the rest of the magistrates that Henry Hunt, John Knight, Joseph Johnson and Joseph Moorhouse should be arrested.
After the Peterloo Massacre Hay was given the task of writing the report for the government on what had happened. Two days later, Hay went to London to give a first-hand account to Lord Sidmouth, the Home Secretary in the Earl of Liverpool's government.
In January 1820, the Government appointed Hay to the rectorship of Rochdale, which was one of the richest livings in England.
William Hay died in 1839
ELIJAH DIXON 23 October 1790 – 26 July 1876
Elijah Dixon was a textile worker, businessman, and agitator for social and political reform from Newton Heath,
Manchester, England. His obituary claims that he was called "the Father of English Reformers" His activism led
to arrest and detention for suspected high treason, alongside some other leading figures of the movement, and
a successful and wealthy manufacturer.
his youth Dixon was employed in various roles in the textile industry
He was radicalised during the depression following the Napoleonic wars, in which northern textile workers suffered
considerable hardship.By 1817 the authorities were sufficiently worried by rumours of an imminent workers’ uprising
to suspend the Habeas Corpus Act. Dixon, who was present at the abortive Blanketeers' March on 10 March and who
had been one of those behind recent petitions calling for universal suffrage, was immediately targeted as a suspected
He was arrested at his workplace, Houldsworth Mill, Newton Street, Manchester,on 12 March and transported in irons to London, where he was arraigned before the Home Secretary, accused of high treason. Eventually released without trial in November 1817, he, like Samuel Bamford and Robert Pilkington who had been similarly imprisoned, petitioned Parliament individually without success for redress and recognition that the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act had been unnecessary. Richard Carlile declared that:
"Elijah Dixon, separated from his religion, is one of the most benevolent and kind creatures that ever carried about him the milk of human kindness, and with the same exception, a very intelligent man.
Dixon found commercial success as a manufacturer, first of pill boxes, then of matchboxes and Lucifer matches. This latter enterprise evolved into a timber yard and match manufacturing business, known at various times as Dixon & Nightingale and Dixon Son & Evans, and later as George Evans & Son. It expanded rapidly, and by 1850 had around 450 employees.
Dixon espoused a number of popular causes of the day, including temperance and the abolition of slavery. He was a preacher and teacher, and had an interest in the developing Co-operative movement. He delivered lectures on the latter subject, including a series at Manchester Mechanics' Institution during August 1830, and on 26–27 May 1831 he chaired the first ever Co-operative Congress, held in Salford. His interest extended to Owenite-style land reform and he bought shares in at least one such project at New Moston aimed at providing building plots for homeowners who would then qualify to vote in parliamentary elections. He remained a prominent local figure in the cause of political reform; he was chairman of the Manchester Reform Association in 1832, campaigning against the proposed provisions for voter registration, and Archibald Prentice records his addressing large public meetings on the subject around this time.
SAMUEL DRUMMOND ???? - ???? NO IMAGE AVAILABLE
On March 10, 1817, 5,000 Lancashire spinners and weavers and thousands of onlookers gathered at St Peter’s Fields, Manchester, to set out for London.
Each of the destitute ‘Blanketeers’ carried a blanket, to show they were textile workers and to sleep in during their wintry journey. They also carried a letter to the Prince Regent.
“We will let them see it is not riot and disturbance we want,” the Lancashire reformer Samuel Drummond told the crowds. It is bread we want, and we will apply to our noble Prince as a child would to its Father for bread.”
Beaten back by the King’s Dragoon Guards, the Blanketeers were the forerunners of the tens of thousands who gathered at St Peter’s Fields two years later, only to be charged by cavalry.
The blanketeers were self-employed spinners and weavers facing the loss of their jobs and poor working conditions. They were destitute.
They each carried a small piece of the petition for the Prince Regent. As soon as they set off, The Riot Act was read and they faced violence and intimidation. One man was killed and the story has it that only one man, Abel Cauldwell, made it to London.
Their industries were mechanising, leaving handloom workers jobless, and poor harvests and the Corn Laws – intended to protect British agricultural landowners from cheap foreign imports – had led to higher grain prices and brutal hardship.
When the Blanketeers gathered 101 years ago, Drummond and his comrade John Bagguley were immediately arrested with 25 others. Despite this, several hundred men set off, only to be attacked by the cavalry in Ardwick, then on the outskirts of Manchester. In Stockport, the men were attacked with sabres and a local resident was shot dead. Most turned back or were arrested under vagrancy laws before they reached Derbyshire, and the last were turned back at ‘Hanging Bridge’ over the River Dove.
The Blanketeers’ March was one of the reasons Manchester magistrates decided to form the short-lived Manchester and Salford Yeomanry cavalry in case of future trouble.
JOHN BAGGULEY ???? - ???? NO IMAGE AVAILABLE
On 10 March 1817 around 5,000 marchers, mainly spinners and weavers, met in St. Peter's Field, near Manchester,
along with a large crowd of onlookers, perhaps as many as 25,000 people in total. Each marcher had a blanket
or rolled overcoat on his back, to sleep under at night and to serve as a sign that the man was a textile worker,
giving the march its eventual nickname.
The plan was for the marchers to walk in separate groups of ten, to avoid any accusation of illegal mass assembly.
Each group of ten carried a petition bearing twenty names, appealing directly to the Prince Regent to take urgent steps
to improve the Lancashire cotton trade.
The organisers stressed the importance of lawful behaviour during the march, and Drummond was quoted as declaring:
"We will let them see it is not riot and disturbance we want, it is bread we want and we will apply to our noble Prince as a child would to its Father for bread."
Nevertheless, magistrates had the Riot Act read, the meeting was broken up by the King's Dragoon Guards, and 27 people were arrested including Bagguley and Drummond. Plans for the march were thus in confusion, but several hundred men set off.
The cavalry pursued and attacked them, in Ardwick on the outskirts of Manchester and elsewhere, including an incident at Stockport that left several marchers with sabre wounds and one local resident shot dead. Many dropped out or were taken into custody by police and the yeomanry between Manchester and Stockport, and the majority were turned back or arrested under vagrancy laws before they reached Derbyshire.
There were unconfirmed stories that just one marcher, variously named as "Abel Couldwell" or "Jonathan Cowgill",reached London and handed over his petition.
LORD CASTLEREAGH 18 June 1769 – 12 August 1822
As British Foreign Secretary, from 1812 he was central to the management of the coalition that defeated Napoleon and was the principal British diplomat at the Congress of Vienna. Castlereagh was also leader of the British House of Commons in the Liverpool government from 1812 until his suicide. Early in his career, as Chief Secretary for Ireland, he was involved in putting down the Irish Rebellion of 1798 and was instrumental in securing the passage of the Irish Act of Union of 1800.
Castlereagh's challenge at the foreign office was to organise and finance an alliance to destroy Napoleon. He successfully brought Napoleon's enemies together at the Treaty of Chaumont in 1814. Thereafter he worked with Europe's leaders at the Congress of Vienna to provide a peace consistent with the conservative mood of the day. At Vienna he was largely successful in his primary goal of creating a peace settlement that would endure for years. He saw that a harsh treaty based on vengeance and retaliation against France would fail, and anyway the conservative Bourbons were back in power. He employed his diplomatic skills to block harsh terms.
He held the Chaumont allies together, most notably in their determination to finally end Napoleon's 100 Days in 1815. He had a vision of long-term peace in Europe that united efforts of the great powers. At the same time he was watchful of Britain's mercantile and imperial interests. He also worked to abolish the international slave trade. After 1815 Castlereagh was the leader in imposing repressive measures at home. He was hated for his harsh attacks on liberty and reform. However, in 1919 diplomatic historians recommended his wise policies of 1814–1815 to the British delegation to the peace conferences that ended the First World War. Historian Charles Webster underscores the paradox:
'There probably never was a statesman whose ideas were so right and whose attitude to public opinion was so wrong. Such disparity between the grasp of ends and the understanding of means amounts to a failure in statesmanship.'
Despite his contributions to the defeat of Napoleon and restoration of peace, Castlereagh became extremely unpopular at home. He was attacked for his construction of a peace that gave a free hand to reactionary governments on the Continent to suppress dissent. He was also condemned for his association with repressive measures of the Home Secretary, Lord Sidmouth. As Leader of the House of Commons for the Liverpool Government, he was often called upon to defend government policy in the House. He had to support the widely reviled measures taken by Sidmouth and the others, including the infamous Six Acts, to remain in cabinet and continue his diplomatic work. For these reasons, Castlereagh appears with other members of Lord Liverpool's Cabinet in Shelley's poem The Masque of Anarchy, which was inspired by, and heavily critical of, the Peterloo massacre:
I met Murder on the way –
He had a mask like Castlereagh –
Very smooth he looked, yet grim;
Seven bloodhounds followed him
All were fat; and well they might
Be in admirable plight,
For one by one, and two by two,
He tossed them human hearts to chew
Which from his wide cloak he drew.
After the death of his father in 1821, Castlereagh began to suffer from a form of paranoia or a nervous breakdown. He was severely overworked with both his responsibilities in leading the government in the House and the never-ending diplomacy required to manage conflicts among the other major powers. At the time, he said "My mind, is, as it were, gone." Towards the end of his life there are increasing reports, both contemporaneous and in later memoirs, of exceptionally powerful rages and sudden bouts of uncharacteristic forgetfulness. He surprised his friends by admitting his belief in ghosts and other supernatural beings, in particular the "radiant boy", a figure which emerges from fire and is supposed to foretell death, which he claimed he had seen as a young man in Ireland.
As his paranoia increased his friends and family were alarmed and hid his razor.
On 12 August, Castlereagh managed in the three to four minutes he was left alone to find a small knife with which he cut his own throat
An inquest concluded that the act had been committed while insane. The verdict allowed Lady Londonderry to see her husband buried with honour in Westminster Abbey near his mentor, William Pitt. The pallbearers included the Prime Minister Lord Liverpool, the former Prime Minister Lord Sidmouth and two future Prime Ministers, the Duke of Wellington and Frederick Robinson. Some radicals, notably William Cobbett, claimed a "cover-up" within the government and viewed the verdict and Castlereagh's public funeral as a damning indictment of the elitism and privilege of the unreformed electoral system. His funeral on 20 August was greeted with jeering and insults along the processional route, although not to the level of unanimity projected in the radical press. A funeral monument was not erected until 1850 by his half-brother and successor, Charles Stewart Vane, 3rd Marquess of Londonderry
Some time after Castlereagh's death, Lord Byron wrote a savage quip about his grave:
Posterity will ne'er survey
A nobler grave than this:
Here lie the bones of Castlereagh:
Stop, traveller, and piss.
Sir Charles Wolseley 20 July 1769 - 3 Oct. 1846. NO IMAGE AVAILABLE.
The original list of members of the union of parliamentary reform (1812) contains his name, and he was one of
the founders of the Hampden Club. He succeeded to the baronetcy on 5 Aug. 1817, when the reform movement
was becoming formidable, and identified himself with the more extreme section of radicals.
His first appearance as one of the leaders of the agitation after it had come into conflict with the authorities was
as chairman of a great demonstration held at Sandy Brow, Stockport, in June 1819. At this time these
demonstrations began to be used for the purpose of making a show of electing popular representatives,
and on 12 July in that year the Birmingham reformers met at Newhall Hill and, in his absence, elected Sir Charles
as their ‘legislatorial attorney,’ and empowered him to present their grievances to the House of Commons.
Major John Cartwright (1740–1824) and another conveyed the resolution of the meeting to Wolseley Hall,
where he stayed for some days, occupied with Sir Charles in devising means for meeting the measures which
the government had adopted . On the 19th Sir Charles was arrested for his speech at Stockport, taken to Knutsford,
and liberated on bail.
Pending his trial he interested himself in the victims of the Peterloo ‘massacre,’ which had occurred in the meanwhile. He supported some of their families, attended their trial, and became their surety.
In April 1820 his own trial came on at Chester. He and Joseph Harrison, dissenting minister and schoolmaster, were charged with sedition and conspiracy, and were sentenced to eighteen months' imprisonment. Sir Charles was lodged in king's bench, Abingdon. While in gaol he was elected on 16 Jan. 1821, with eight others, including Jeremy Bentham and Sir Francis Burdett, to constitute a committee of Middlesex electors to promote reform, and his liberation was made the occasion of a great demonstration.
He continued for some time to support the reformers, and when Hunt was released from Ilchester gaol in 1822 Sir Charles was one of his sureties. But he gradually withdrew from the forefront of the agitation, and from about 1826 he does not appear to have taken any public part in politics.
He became a convert to Romanism, and was received into that church in October 1837. He died on 3 Oct. 1846.
WILLIAM BENBOW 5 FEBRUARY 1787 - 24 February 1864
Benbow was born on 5 February 1787 in Middlewich, Cheshire, son of William Benbow, shoemaker, and his wife Hannah (née Chear)
His early employment history is unknown, but McCalman describes him as an ex-soldier. By 1808 he was preaching Nonconformist sermons in the Newton area of Manchester, and evidence suggests he may have been a Quaker He appears as "William Benbow, of Manchester, shoemaker" in a list of the leading reformers of Lancashire in 1816.
He was closely involved with planning the attempted Blanketeers protest march by Lancashire weavers in March 1817 and was one of a number of radicals arrested in the wake of this event and the subsequent severe crackdown by the authorities, amidst rumours that mass uprisings were being plotted in industrial centres like Manchester.
His protest petition to Parliament in 1818, presented along with a number of others, describes how he was apprehended in Dublin on 16 May 1817, spent eight months on remand in London, then was released without trial, lacking the resources to travel home to Manchester.
He established himself as a political radical in London, where he was an associate of William Cobbett and passed his time "agitating the labouring classes at their trades meetings and club-houses” according to the memoirs of the Manchester radical Samuel Bamford, who also spent several months in the Coldbath Fields Prison in London and petitioned Parliament unsuccessfully for redress.
ROBERT SOUTHEY 12 August 1774 – 21 March 1843 NO IMAGE AVAILABLE
Embraced by the Tory establishment as Poet Laureate, and from 1807 in receipt of a yearly stipend from them,
he vigorously supported the Liverpool government.
He argued against parliamentary reform ("the railroad to ruin with the Devil for driver"), blamed the Peterloo Massacre
on the allegedly revolutionary "rabble" killed and injured by government troops, and opposed Catholic emancipation.
In 1817 he privately proposed penal transportation for those guilty of "libel" or "sedition".
He had in mind figures like Thomas Jonathan Wooler and William Hone, whose prosecution he urged. Such writers were guilty, he wrote in the Quarterly Review, of "inflaming the turbulent temper of the manufacturer and disturbing the quiet attachment of the peasant to those institutions under which he and his fathers have dwelt in peace."
Wooler and Hone were acquitted, but the threats caused another target, William Cobbett, to emigrate temporarily to the United States.
In some respects, however, Southey was ahead of his time in his views on social reform. For example, he was an early critic of the evils which the new factory system brought to early 19th-century Britain. He was appalled by the conditions of life in towns like Birmingham and Manchester, and especially by the employment of children in factories, and was outspoken in his criticism of these things.
He sympathised with the pioneering socialist plans of Robert Owen, advocated that the state promote public works to maintain high employment and called for universal education.
THOMAS WOOLER 1786 – 29 October 1853
He was born in Yorkshire and lived there for a short time before moving to London as a printer's apprentice. He worked for the radical journal The Reasoner, then became editor of The Statesman.
His interest in legal matters led him to write and publish the pamphlet An Appeal to the Citizens of London against the Packing of Special Juries in 1817.
In response to the Gagging Acts (Treason Act 1817 and Seditious Meetings Act 1817) passed by the British government in January 1817, Wooler started publishing The Black Dwarf as a new radical unstamped (untaxed) journal.
Within three months, he was arrested and charged with seditious libel. The prosecution claimed that Wooler had written articles libelling Lord Liverpool's government, but Wooler, defending himself, convinced the jury that, although he had published the article, he had not written it himself, and therefore was not guilty.
He continued to publish The Black Dwarf and to use it to argue for parliamentary reform.
Wooler was an active supporter of Major John Cartwright and his Hampden Club movement. In 1819, he joined the campaign to elect Sir Charles Wolseley to represent Birminghamin the House of Commons. Birmingham had not been given permission to have an election, and the campaigners were arrested and charged with "forming a seditious conspiracy to elect a representative to Parliament without lawful authority".
Wooler was found guilty and sentenced to eighteen months' imprisonment.
After his most prominent patron, John Cartwright, died in 1824, Wooler gave up publishing the Black Dwarf. For a while, he edited the British Gazette, but, after the Reform Act 1832 was passed, he gave up politics to become a lawyer.
Wooler went on to write books and pamphlets on the British legal system, including Every Man his Own Lawyer in 1845.