On 16th August 1819, 60,000 people gathered at St Peter’s Field (now St. Peter’s Square) in Manchester in peaceful protest in favour of parliamentary reform – only 2% of the British population had the right to vote at the time and Manchester did not have its own Member of Parliament to voice its population’s concerns about falling wages and rising food prices. The day ended tragically, however, when local magistrates ordered the Manchester Yeomanry to charge upon the crowd, killing 18 men, women and children and injuring hundreds more.
To mark the 200-year-anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre, People’s History Museum prepares to launch a major new exhibition that examines the factors leading up to the event and its significance as a watershed moment in the history of UK democracy. Disrupt? Peterloo and Protest will also take visitors through the past, present and future of protest in a broader sense, using original artefacts some of which have never been on public display before.
One of the important themes highlighted within the exhibition will be the experiences the women who attended the Peterloo protest and who were explicitly targeted by the yeomanry due to the high visibility of the white dresses they wore as female members of the reform movements.
The connection between the events of Peterloo and contemporary citizen activism will also be told through a specially commissioned film featuring a range of locally and nationally familiar voices, including actor and activist Maxine Peake, journalist and presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy, Greater Manchester Police Chief Inspector Tariq Butt and politician Angela Rayner MP. A section titled of ‘Protest Lab’ will also provide a generative space within the show for individuals and groups to come together and develop ideas for collective action around issues facing us today.
Covering two centuries worth of protest and activism, and highlighting the central importance of revolutionaries, reformers, workers, voters and citizens along the way, Disrupt? Peterloo and Protest should hopefully offer a genuinely inspiring experience in times of growing political apathy and disillusionment.