Disrupt? Peterloo and Protest takes visitors through the past, present and future of protest, beginning with the story of the Peterloo Massacre of 1819, where 18 died as local yeomanry attacked a protest in support of better rights and representation.
The museum says the themes explored in the exhibition include why representation meant so much to the people in the early 19th century, how this day would end in bloody violence, the actions carried out in the aftermath and the legacy 200 years on.
As part of the exhibition, the scene that unfolded as the local yeomanry drew their sabres is shown in a commemorative glass and an oil portrait introduces Hugh Hornby Birley, who as captain of the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry, was the one who gave the orders for the local government forces to attack the crowds. Eyewitness reports also indicate that it was Birley himself who was responsible for many of the deaths and injuries of the men, women and children present. The portrait, which has never been on public display before, has been donated to People’s History Museum (PHM) by the captain’s great great grandson, Dr Rick Birley.
Of the 18 people that died, the museum says that three were women, ‘which is reflective of the fact that witnesses spoke of the yeomanry explicitly targeting them’. It says the white dresses worn by the women of the reform movements, made them particularly easy targets it says, and as a result around a quarter of the 700 people injured were women, despite them making up only 12% of the protestors. In the exhibition the dress of Mrs Mabbot, the owner of a sweet shop on Bridge Street in the city centre who was caught up in the protests, represents some of the previously untold stories of the women of Peterloo.
Jenny Mabbott, Head of Collections & Engagement at People’s History Museum, said: “We begin with the history of the Peterloo Massacre in our main galleries, from which so much of the evolution of our democracy stems. We’ve used this new exhibition to reflect and explore the story that led to and followed this tragic and pivotal moment in our history and, in doing so, we are acknowledging the sacrifices and time it sometimes takes to achieve change.”
Mabbott said the connection of Peterloo to people’s lives today, and current activism and campaigning, is told through a film specially commissioned for the exhibition in which a range of contemporary and familiar voices share personal perspectives, 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 dynamic and highly active space called Protest Lab has also been created so that individuals or groups can develop their ideas for collective action on contemporary live issues. The Protest Lab is also where an ever-evolving display of items will be exhibited that represents individuals’ expressions of creative disobedience and everyday activism, which have been submitted through open calls to the public.
Peterloo 2019 Website
A new website, Peterloo1819.co.uk, has also been launched that interactively explores the events and legacy of the Peterloo Massacre and is part of a project, Peterloo 2019, being delivered by Manchester Histories with the support of The National Lottery Heritage Fund to mark the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre.
Using detailed 3D imagery the user is placed in St Peter’s Field so that they can see how events unfolded when 60,000 people gathered in Manchester on 16 August 1819 seeking rights and representation.
Timelines enable the user to navigate the months, days and hours ahead of the tragic events that were to take place, in which 18 people would lose their lives and around 700 would be injured when troops, including local yeomanry, charged the crowd.
Karen Shannon, Chief Executive of Manchester Histories, said: “There is a huge amount for us to learn from about the events that were to lead to Peterloo; how a peaceful protest was to end in a day of bloodshed and the consequences that were to follow. Yet awareness levels of this milestone in our democracy are still relatively low, even within Greater Manchester. The website that we’ve created will help to connect people to this history and to understand why it has such relevance to our lives today.
Peterloo 2019 features public events, learning opportunities and creative exploration developed through partnership work amongst cultural organisations and communities, led by Manchester Histories and supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund.
The Disrupt? Peterloo and Protest exhibition at the People’s History Museum runs from Saturday 23 March 2019 to Sunday 23 February 2020.