THE anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre was observed with solemn dignity nearly 200 years on.
In one of the darkest days in Manchester’s history, it is estimated that up to 18 people were killed and more than 700 injured when soldiers on horseback charged a crowd of 60,000 people who had gathered in August 1819 to peacefully call for social and political change.
Hundreds gathered in Manchester’s Albert Square to honour their memory and recreate in part the events of the day.
Actor Christopher Eccleston played the part of Longsight magistrate, the Rev Charles W Ethel-stone, who is said to have read out the ‘Riot Act’ to the protesters before the decision to charge and arrest speakers at the rally was taken. From a window high up in the town hall, Eccleston delivered the magistrates’s exact words.
The crowds – who had marched into Manchester dressed in their Sunday finery – were told to depart under a law passed by King George III to pre- vent ‘tumults and riotous assemblies’.
The full text read: “Our sovereign lord the King chargeth and commandeth all persons, being assembled, immediately to disperse themselves, and peaceably to depart to their habitations, or to their lawful business, upon the pains contained in the act made in the first year of King George, for preventing tumults and riotous assemblies. God save the King.”
The names of the dead were read aloud by guests including Eccleston, actress Maxine Peake, actor John Henshaw, Stella Grundy, Clare Mooney and CP Lee ahead of a minute’s silence.
Addressing the crowds Peake, who is starring in a film about the massacre being made by director Mike Leigh, said she hoped the commemoration would ‘awaken the wider world’ to the massacre and its many stories.
One victim was a boy aged just two. William Fildes was knocked from his mother’s arms and trampled to death by a galloping cavalryman. His death inspired the poet Shelley to write his work, The Masque Of Anarchy.
This year’s commemoration – following an event last Wednesday to mark the anniversary date – saw people march to Manchester from towns and villages across the region as they did on the day itself.
They carried banners and placards bearing the surnames of victims.
Christopher Eccleston reads the ‘Riot Act’ from the town hall. Right, Maxine Peake