A Usable Past

Commemoration of Peterloo remembers the dead, but also promotes future democratic change.

Disturbances at Manchester!, illustration by Atkins, 1819 © Mary Evans Picture Library

On Saturday 16 August 1919 a centenary procession formed at Albert Square in central Manchester. Marchers held banners aloft in the afternoon sun. ‘Labour is the Source of All Wealth’, said one; another ‘Peterloo, 1819: Labourloo, 1919’. Processing south, the crowd headed to the Free Trade Hall – a building erected on the ground where, on 16 August 1819, the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry Cavalry had violently broken up a popular reform demonstration.

In reverence to the reformers who died at Peterloo, banners were dipped and hats were removed. The French Revolutionary anthem, La Marseillaise, rang out, followed by the Red Flag: ‘The people’s flag is deepest red / It shrouded oft our Martyred dead.’

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