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Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Was Your Ancestor A Peterloo Casualty?

Peterloo print, courtesy Library of Congress.
This summer, Manchester and Lancashire Family History Society (MLFHS) is launching a project to find the descendants of the people who were present at the Peterloo Massacre on 16 August 1819.

On this dreadful day in Manchester's long history, sixty to eighty thousand people - including women and children -  had assembled at St Peter’s Field to attend a meeting on parliamentary reform, with Henry 'Orator' Hunt as the keynote speaker.

Although the meeting was peaceful, local magistrates, fearing that a riot was imminent, ordered yeomanry cavalry into the crowd to arrest Hunt.

The Manchester and Salford Yeomanry rode into the crowd, brandishing their sabres. But the people could not move to give them room.The horses panicked; the yeomanry lost their temper, and began hacking their way through. Over four hundred people were injured - many wounds were from sabre cuts - and between eleven and fifteen people died (accounts disagree).
Plaque commemorating the Peterloo victims.

The true number of casualties has never been completely ascertained. Many books have been written on Peterloo, including this one by Professor Michael Bush; my new book has some tips on researching Peterloo, too. There's also info and transcripts of contemporary documents here on the Peterloo Witness Project.

MLFHS is setting up a new website to discover people's family history stories which will go live on 1 June. If you are interested in contributing to this project, please visit the website when live, or contact the project manager Rod Melton by email at

Or if you are visiting Manchester Central Library after the project launches, Rod Melton will be available each Tuesday between 10:30 and 15:00. Please go to the Manchester and Lancashire Family History desk and ask for Rod and he will come down to see you.

The hope is to create a fitting and lasting memorial to all the victims of that fateful day.