On a hot late summer’s day, a crowd of 60,000 gathered in St Peter’s Field.
They came from all over Lancashire – ordinary working-class men, women and children – walking to the sound of hymns and folk songs, wearing their best clothes and holding silk banners aloft. Their mood was happy, their purpose wholly serious: to demand fundamental reform of a corrupt electoral system.
By the end of the day fifteen people, including two women and a child, were dead or dying and 650 injured, hacked down by drunken yeomanry after local magistrates panicked at the size of the crowd.
Four years after defeating the ‘tyrant’ Bonaparte at Waterloo, the British state had turned its forces against its own people as they peaceably exercised their time-honoured liberties.
As well as describing the events of 16 August in shattering detail, Jacqueline Riding evokes the febrile state of England in the late 1810s, paints a memorable portrait of the reform movement and its charismatic leaders, and assesses the political legacy of the massacre to the present day.
Peterloo by Jacqueline Riding is published in paperback on 2 May, 2019.