Trace Your Peterloo People

Trace Your Peterloo People

Peterloo at the Library!

At times, this summer, it seemed that every organisation had only Peterloo in mind, and how many times could we listen to the same story? The city’s inventiveness proved to be boundless, with every event looking at a different angle, a different interpretation or a different way of remembering Peterloo; there really was something for everyone. Here is a taste of Peterloo at the Manchester Central Library in one week in July and a glimpse of the organisation, co-operation and partnerships that pulled everything together.

The Peterloo Projects

Tracing Peterloo Descendants

Saturday, 13th July 2019 at Manchester Central Library: Michala Hulme is meeting and greeting attendees at her morning talk on The Peterloo Projects, an event organised by Manchester Histories. Michala is a professional genealogist and social historian at Manchester Metropolitan University who has worked on Who Do You Think You Are, Heir Hunters and Long Lost Family and was asked by Manchester Histories to work on the ‘Descendants of Peterloo’ project.

Michala introduced us to the world of filming, from receiving the call to make the documentary about the descendants of ‘Peterloo’ people, to working with the film crew and the challenge of finding descendants who were willing to be interviewed on camera. We heard about the descendant who received a letter, some twenty years ago, about her 2 x great grandfather Isaac Entwistle, who had marched to Peterloo and noted what happened on St Peter’s Fields, she was shown a shoebox of ‘treasures’ but, as seemed to be the fashion a few generations back, the photographs were later destroyed. A letter survived from John Barnish, clockmaker, who walked from Rochdale with Samuel Bamford; he escaped the massacre, found his way home and wrote to his brother to say that “all is well”. The crew filmed conversations with the families of John Edward Taylor, the editor of the Manchester Guardian newspaper, and John Stafford whose descendants were organising a street party, and the audience enjoyed viewing some clips from the forthcoming programme.

Peterloo predated modern records and most of the Peterloo marchers were working class, people for whom very few records exist, nothing to record that they had taken part in the most important public meetings of their day. Michala’s first choice for finding ancestors is Ancestry, it has the breadth of records, the largest network of researchers and it is easy to build trees although, as most of us agreed, that can be a disadvantage. Michala’s advice is pragmatic – when Ancestry tags a public tree to a person’s record it is worthwhile to have an objective look, there may be some clues in the tree, but you must do the research. Some Peterloo records exist, there are casualties lists, witness testimonies, parish records and newspaper reports, and these come from a mix of personal, government and court records; Robert Poole has compiled a list of names[1] and sources[2] online, which can make it easier to begin a search.

Corroborating evidence is needed to prove your research. Find My Past is good for UK records and Parish Records; the later census records should be consulted, and the eyewitness accounts can be searched on the internet. Newspaper reports from the British Newspaper Archives (see Masterclass below) are essential when searching for an inquest or an obituary of someone who was present at Peterloo. Search beyond 1819, inquests took place much later and the massacre was talked about for many years after that – as late as 1884 when the ‘Failsworth Eleven’, veterans of Peterloo, were photographed. Personal letters are the best primary source but are particularly hard to find; Michala works with the National Trust at Dunham Massey and the Estate of the Earl of Stamford and had access to the Order given by the Earl to the Cheshire Yeomanry. These letters are also available at The National Archives and there may be other private archives that can also be consulted.

The MLFHS Help Desk

While Michala was talking about her searches for descendants of the Peterloo veterans, a team of experienced volunteers from the MLFHS at the Help Desk were helping people to trace their ancestors. This was a special event, arranged in partnership by Manchester Histories and MLFHS, offering the usual Help Desk drop-in facility for anyone wanting advice on searching ancestors online and a special one-to-one service for people who wanted to learn more about their early 19th century ancestors. The Help Desk team, co-ordinated by Leslie Turner, were fully employed all day, using their experience and expertise to guide visitors through the online resources to trace their own Peterloo ancestors. The Society’s new Research Guide, giving advice to researchers of their Peterloo ancestors, was available free of charge and a copy has been added to the collection of Research Guides on the MLFHS website as a free download[3]. It was noted that there was a nice, friendly, atmosphere and a ‘buzz’ in the library as people worked together to search for that story of Peterloo or just to find their own missing ancestors, and there were good reviews and stories from our visitors as they waited for their appointments or left with new information to follow up.

Setting up Michala’s Masterclass

As the Help Desk volunteers continued with their work, Michala started an afternoon session at a suite of computers on the 3rd floor of the Library, a Masterclass on ‘how to research your Peterloo ancestors’ with each person having access to a computer terminal. Public computers are an invaluable asset to any library but sometimes they can be quite demanding – knowing how to log in, icons being in different places, or that awkward feeling of not being au fait with the workings of a new website can unsettle a new visitor. Fortunately, Leslie Turner was on hand throughout the session to ensure that no-one was ever out of sync with the rest of the group and Janine Hague of Manchester Histories was available to ensure that all aspects of the event ran smoothly.

Tour of the Library and Vaults

There was also the story of the lady who said, by way of conversation as people were settling in, that she hadn’t known whether to book for the Masterclass or for the Library Tour, as she had visited the higher floors of the library previously and would like to see the storage vaults and the Peterloo archives, but didn’t want to miss the Masterclass! Cue a little behind the scenes ‘magic’: towards the end of Michala’s Masterclass the Tour was processing along the 3rd floor corridor, past the computer suite when, to everyone’s surprise, a voice called out “come along then!”. With everyone’s blessing our guest tagged onto the end of the tour, waved goodbye to us and we all cheered her on. It was one of those strange things that happens and a story worth telling because it conveys how some ad hoc organising by members of the MLFHS, Manchester Histories and Archives+ enabled one visitor to get even more out of the day than she had anticipated.

Peterloo Ancestors Masterclass

Ten lucky people are logged in to computers, all are settled into their seats and palms are poised upon mice, ready to start work. After discussing parish records and the census, Michala introduced burial records as the best place to search those hard-to-find names. Ancestry  and Find My Past both bid for the rights to transcriptions and original records and the highest bidder will win the contract; Manchester City Council provide basic burial information  free of charge online[4] and their ledgers are free to view for anyone with a Manchester Library card; Family Search probably has the greatest number of transcriptions. Other burial records can be found online including the MLFHS’ own exclusive collection of memorial inscriptions[5]. Manchester Collegiate Church records are on Ancestry and cover the Peterloo era. Michala uses The 1939 census and the 1911 census, which can both be searched by address on Find My Past, to pinpoint a locality, and Manchester Images Archive have a large searchable collection of photographs[6], all of which might give you more clues about your ancestor and where the family might have lived.

The British Newspaper Archive[7] can be accessed via Find My Past at the Library and, in discussion, Leslie suggested that visitors to the Manchester Central Library can choose to access the stand-alone BNA site separately[8], free of charge.  Michala uses the newspaper archives extensively and recommends that the person’s name is entered into the Keywords box, as it tends to produce more relevant results. Other keywords can be typed into the keyword box to refine the search, but keep the name within inverted commas, e.g.  ‘“john smith” weaver’. Be broad in your date range; there were meetings, protests, inquests and obituaries after Peterloo. Other newspapers are available to subscribers of Ancestry. Those hard times meant that many weavers were on the breadline and it is important to search Poor Law records at Archives+[9], and Bastardy records on Find My Past. The National Archives have a useful information section[10] and Manchester City Council provides a list of their archives which are available at Find My Past[11].

Michala’s Masterclass was enjoyed immensely in a warm and friendly atmosphere, our visitors particularly enjoyed visiting some sites that were new to them and delving into the newspaper archives, any ‘computer nerves’ on their part were soon dispelled by the combined assistance of Leslie Turner of MLFHS and Janine Hague of Manchester Histories. Three events, in three parts of the library, running concurrently and dovetailing in with the Library and Archives+ tours, worked well and provided a unique experience for our visitors.

MLFHS – The Peterloo Event

MLFHS Quarterly Meetings

Wednesday, 17th July at Manchester Central Library: our quarterly meetings for July are designed to showcase the best that the Society, the Manchester Central Library, Archives+ and our partners can bring together to celebrate the 200th anniversary of The Peterloo Massacre. All classes of people are represented on both sides at Peterloo, but the weavers are the hardest hit; all they want is work and a return to something like a fair rate of pay for a day’s work. Cotton, fustian, linen, wool and silk, spinners and weavers, manufacturers and tradesmen. This is to be the focal point of our Peterloo event.

Chris Makepeace: Peterloo

Our morning event was a talk by Chris Makepeace, a popular speaker who has a lifetime of experience of researching, writing and talking about the history of Manchester and the surrounding areas.  Chris took us through the events of Peterloo, pointing out almost literally the landmarks of St Peter’s Fields as they could be seen through the windows of our meeting room. The Library was built on part of the Fields and, in 1819, we would have been right there, on the edge of the crowd, we might have seen the magistrates looking down on events from the upper windows of the houses and we would have heard and seen the yeomanry and the cavalry; we could not have avoided the turmoil as people fled for their lives after Hunt’s arrest. With his local knowledge, research and enthusiasm and his balanced approach to discussion of the facts, Chris brought the story of Peterloo home to St Peter’s Fields, an excellent and memorable presentation and well received by the audience.

Clogs at the Library!

A cup of coffee at the Library café also proved to be more interesting than expected. Clatterings, bells and singing were heard from the direction of the entrance foyer – the Oakenhoof Cloggers and Friends from Littleborough had arrived, a clog dance troupe who entertained us throughout the lunch hour. These players were an absolute delight, with their clogs and just a few props to transform their modern dress into 1819 attire – caps of liberty and staffs and shawls – the dancers, musicians and singers processed through the foyer and into the performance and display area; their energy was boundless, their playing and singing of the popular Peterloo-era songs was bold and confident and the sound of those rhythmic clogs on the library floor had us all tapping our feet and nodding in time to the music. The refurbished library was made for this! One performance was particularly memorable, each dancer donned a rolled blanket across the shoulders, attached by simple shoulder straps, which immediately transformed the troupe into the hapless Blanketeers of 1817, full of enthusiasm as they set off on their ultimately ill-fated march to London to present their case. The performers’ ability to present such a variety of dances, songs, pronouncements and poetry of the era, to adapt to the various open spaces in the library and to produce a running performance of considerable length, was marked with a huge round of applause from visitors, volunteers, staff and slightly bemused tea-drinkers, who got rather more than they bargained for when they thought they had found a quiet corner!

MLFHS Peterloo Exhibition

Behind the scenes, the Facility Management team quietly set up the performance space for the afternoon Peterloo event. Tables appeared and chairs disappeared, the North West Film Archive set up their own screening area. Books and prints were brought up from the Archives, items representing the textile industry were arranged, iPads were charged and loaded with film clips and another team of volunteers from the MLFHS were waiting at the display tables.

When the doors were opened. the visitors were greeted with songs of the era performed by the Free Radicals, their music provided the perfect atmosphere for our visitors who could listen whilst they browsed the displays or sit and enjoy the performance for a while. Much of the room was devoted to a handling session, with volunteers on hand to talk about the items, to answer questions and, of course, to ensure that these fragile items were handled carefully. One long table displayed books from the Boroughreeve collection held at Archives+, and it was fascinating to see one volume of ‘filed’ correspondence, the letters neatly folded and attached to the pages of a folio so that each letter could be opened out for inspection and folded back into place. On another table there was a run of JR Barfoot’s lithographs entitled ‘The Progress of Cotton’, beautifully coloured prints of the various processes involved in cotton manufacturing, each with an explanatory document. There were also some items from the John Owen Collection at Archives+ and one volume, originally an old atlas, had been used as a ‘filing book’, documents attached to the pages rather like a scrapbook, and the old maps visible in the gaps between them. This was a rare chance to view both collections and the displays were very popular.

Leslie, who planned and managed this event, had procured two branches of cotton to display alongside some books on the cotton industry; there was also a fine flying shuttle, deliberately left in its working state with all its brushes intact and a fair amount of grime still evident, and iPads loaded with film from the North West Film Archive which included the sounds of the looms and a film about ‘kissing the shuttle’ – i.e. sucking the thread through the feeds, an extremely unhealthy activity for the mill girls. At the end of the table was a pattern book from the archives, containing samples of cloth, some very fine and delicately patterned, which could have been shown to prospective buyers. Finally, because it was so captivating that everyone stopped to watch it and talk about it, was North West Film Archive’s screening of film about the cotton industry in the area; it was all there, the people, the mills, the cold…  a story that was all the better and more authentic for being told in black and white.

Volunteers and Partners

The Peterloo march could not have happened without careful organisation, planning and co-operation. The same was true for the Society’s involvement with the Peterloo Project and for the MLFHS’ Peterloo Event, with many volunteers and partners working together to produce two enjoyable and successful events.

Leslie Turner, the Help Desk Co-ordinator, put together teams of volunteers to work the Help Desk on both days, assisted Michala Hulme with the smooth running of the Masterclass, designed and organised the Peterloo Event Handling Sessions, organised the volunteers for the Handling Sessions and arranged performances by The Radicals and Oakenhoof Cloggers and Friends; Janet Parkes arranged for Chris Makepeace to give the talk on Peterloo and greeted the arriving visitors and Barry Henshall ran the bookshop at that event. Hilary Hartigan provided assistance to Michala and loaned a flying shuttle for the display and David Muil was present throughout both events, liaising with our partners and meeting our visitors. The list of volunteers, many of whom worked on both the Help Desk and at the Handling Sessions, included Mark Campbell, Pat Etchells, Geoff Edge, Sue Forshaw, Sheila Goodyear, Bette Hall, Jim Lougheed, Barbara Meredith, David Mott, David Muil, Janet Parkes, Ina Penneyston, Linda Richardson, Leslie Turner, Ruth Walker and Lynne Wilkinson.

The Peterloo Project was hosted by Manchester Histories in partnership with Michala Hulme Associate Researcher at Manchester Metropolitan University, Archives+, the Library Facilities Management crew and the MLFHS. The day was organised by Janine Hague of Manchester Histories; Janine Hague and her team of Ambassadors were present throughout the day facilitating Michala’s talks and setting up the equipment, helping people move from one venue to another and overseeing the running plan for the day which included the help provided by the MLFHS helpdesk and the Library Tours. The Library Tours were organised by Manchester Archives+ and conducted by Darren Rawcliffe and Jackie Pugh. The Facilities Management team worked under the direction of Dorothee Devouge and her deputy Danny and ensured that rooms and areas were prepared for each event.

The Peterloo Event was led by Leslie Turner and the volunteers of the MLFHS, as named above, in partnership with Manchester Histories, Will McTaggart at the North West Film Archive (Manchester Metropolitan University), Archive material for the handling sessions was arranged by Larysa Bolton, Heritage Collections Officer at Archives+, and her team including Jackie Pugh, Tony Lees and Darren Rawcliffe; Chris Makepeace’s talk was arranged by Janet Parkes, and the Facilities Management team quietly rearranged the furniture while we were entertained by Oakenhoof Cloggers and Friends and subsequently by the Free Radicals, both performances organised by Leslie Turner.

Hilary Hartigan – MLFHS

This article commissioned by MLFHS for publication in its journal.












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