On August 16, 1819, the Peterloo Massacre occurred at St. Peter’s Field in Manchester. A crowd of 60,000-80,000 had gathered to protest the lack of parliamentary representation for the heavily populated industrialized areas.
With the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, the Corn Laws exacerbated the famine of the Year without Summer (1816) and the growing unemployment problems. By the beginning of 1819 the pressure generated by poor economic conditions, coupled with the lack of suffrage in northern England, had enhanced the appeal of political radicalism. In response, the Manchester Patriotic Union, a group agitating for parliamentary reform, organized a demonstration to be addressed by the well-known radical orator Henry Hunt.
Fearing the worst, local magistrates called on the military to dispense with the crowd. They also demanded the arrest of Hunt and the other featured speakers. The Cavalry charged the crowd with sabers drawn. In the melee, 15 people were killed and some 500+ were injured. The massacre was given the name Peterloo, an ironic comparison to the devastation found at the Battle of Waterloo. The Peterloo Massacre became a defining moment of the age. Unfortunately, the massacre’s immediate effect was the passage of the Six Acts, which labelled any meeting for radical reform as “an overt act” of treasonable conspiracy.”
It also led directly to the foundation of The Manchester Guardian, but had little other effect on the pace of reform. In a survey conducted by The Guardian in 2006, Peterloo came second to the Putney Debates as the event from British history that most deserved a proper monument or a memorial. A plaque close to the site, a replacement for an earlier one that was criticized as being inadequate, as it did not reflect the scale of the massacre, commemorates Peterloo.