Massacre remembered in gallery’s exhibition

By Charlotte Green, Local Democracy Reporter

THE 200th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre, which claimed the lives of five Oldham residents in the ‘the bloodiest political clash in British history’, is to be commemorated.

The massacre occurred at St Peter’s Field in Manchester on August 16, 1819 when tens of thousands, including people from Royton, Shaw and Crompton, had gathered to demand the reform of parliamentary representation.

What had been planned as a peaceful political and family gathering turned to bloodshed when cavalry charged into the crowd, indiscriminately cutting down people with their sabres.

It is believed 15 people were killed, and up to 700 people injured. A third of the people killed lived in and around Oldham.

Now, Oldham Council has confirmed the events of Peterloo will be commemorated with an exhibition at Gallery Oldham from May 27 to September 23, with accompanying talks.

Speaking at a recent meeting of Oldham Council, leader councillor Sean Fielding said: “The Peterloo Massacre marked a turning point in Britain’s democracy.

“It was the fight of ordinary people for civil rights and liberties and these are still important issues today.

“There was a significant Oldham contingent of men and women, bringing their children peacefully call for political reform, expecting speeches, not the bloodiest political clash in British history.

“Sadly, there were casualties from Oldham. It’s important that we commemorate this fateful day.”

Cloth worker John Lees, an ex-soldier who had fought in the battle of Waterloo, was stabbed with a sabre during the melee and died from his wounds three weeks later.

John Ashton, from Chadderton, died on the day of the massacre after being sabred and trampled on by the crowd.

He had carried the black flag of the Saddleworth, Lees and Mossley Union, inscribed with the message ‘Taxation without representation is unjust and tyrannical. NO CORN LAWS’.

The inquest jury returned a verdict of accidental death. His son, Samuel, received 20 shillings in relief.

Thomas Buckley, also of Chadderton died after being sabred and stabbed by a bayonet, and Edmund and William Dawson, both of Saddleworth, were killed after being stabbed with sabres.

It estimated that about 10,000 people – including a substantial number of women – from the Oldham districts, including Royton, Crompton, Lees and Saddleworth, attended the mass meeting at Petersfield.

Afterwards it was reported they were the ‘best dressed’ contingent of the crowd, which is estimated to have been up to 80,000 strong.

Cllr Fielding added: “Oldham will also be working closely with Manchester Histories, who have been awarded a heritage lottery fund grant.

“We’re also working with the People’s History Museum, who are leading on an education and schools pack to ensure that local information relating to Oldhamers is included.”

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