Welcome To The End
By Olivia McFadden, Age 14, The Barlow RC High School
I’m standing here. In the middle of St Peter’s Field. We’ve been marching for hours, just for this moment. To get here, in amongst all these people with one thing in common. We’re all hungry. Some of us are starving. We’re determined to tell everyone what we need and what we want. We want to be heard. We want our voices to count. 16th of August, 1819, a year of industrial depression and high food prices. I can see more and more people filling the field. There are banners from Saddleworth, Oldham and Mossley. For years we’ve been working morning till night for next to nothing. We can’t feed our children. But today there’s a chance, with all of us together here, we can change that. We want representation in Parliament. We want equal representation. I’m excited! Today, something is going to happen that will change things for ever. That’s why I’ve come with Eliza. She’s only four, but I want her to see this.
By the way, if you’re wondering, I’m Nancy. Nancy Steele. My body may be gone but my broken soul is still here and forever will be. I was 22 when I died and up until this point my life was far from perfect. But I had a home, a family, a job in a nearby mill and the sweetest little girl you would ever have set your eyes upon.
Let me tell you about the day. It started off great. The bands were playing as the banners swung in the breeze. I’ll never forget the sight of those hundreds of women from Oldham all in their white dresses, their white silk banner saying ‘Universal Suffrage’. Could you imagine? Votes for all of us?! Votes that could lead to better use of public money, fairer taxes, an end to restrictions on trade, food for everyone.
This was a peaceful gathering. 60,000 of us came together in St. Peter’s Field and not one of us armed. For most of us, violence didn’t cross our minds. But that’s not what the local magistrates thought. They brought in their constables, soldiers and cavalry. Their glaring eyes followed our every move. As if in a way, they were strangely intimidated.
I could feel a sudden change in the atmosphere. The crowds started to move but it was confusing. Something was happening but I couldn’t quite work out what it was. People began shouting, screaming and running. I could hear the distant sound of horses charging. I could see people being arrested and carried off. Innocent men and women arrested, for simply voicing their opinion. What happened to free will? What happened to human rights? What happened to human worth? Well… us, the lower classes, don’t deserve that. If you didn’t own land, a big house, servants, you weren’t worthy. If you weren’t rich and wealthy, you guessed it, you weren’t worthy. The ruling classes were alarmed by the size of this crowd because in their minds, who cares about poor people? There was no negotiation, there was no reasoning. The government’s first response was arrest, capture or murder! Herds of drunken guards charged towards us. We all stood tightly surrounding the children. That was our only defence mechanism. The guards rapidly rode in on horses carrying, deadly swords hitting everything in their path. The fields were cleared except for the bodies. Eleven killed, 500 people were injured. All the leaders were convicted and sent to prison.
“What’s your story?” I hear you ask. Well… in the centre I stood, carrying Eliza in my arms, both of us trembling with fear. My heart was racing. I could feel it pounding. I knew exactly what was going to happen, there and then. Everyone else; fled or dead. So it was just me. With my little girl tightly in my clutches. That was when it happened. A drunk, angry roaring soldier charged towards me. Whipping his horse, with sword in hand, that was it, it was over. Someone rescued Eliza from beneath me. I prayed she’d be alright. I prayed that she’d grow up and have a better chance at life than I did.
You may be wondering why I am writing this. Why now? Because it has been 200 years since this happened. And I’ve been watching. It’s like nothing has changed. Yes we have the vote but there’s still so much to be done. There still so much inequality and discrimination. Some people with so much, most with so little. We’re all human and in a way, all the same! So take a moment. You’ve heard my story. Be kind. Make a change. Make a difference.