Look back at the historic events which took place in the years before the Peterloo Massacre.
June 1815

Battle of Waterloo

Final defeat of French Emperor Napoleon by European allies led by Duke of Wellington. Wartime income tax abolished, corn laws restrict imports and raise the price of bread, taxes on salt, candles, soap etc. continued.


Post-war economic slump

‘Lost summer’ of failed harvests coincides with economic depression, demobilisation of troops, and mass unemployment.

Nov-Dec 1816

Spa Fields meetings

Mass meetings for parliamentary held reform at Spa Fields, north London, chaired by orator Henry Hunt.

Jan-Mar 1817

Petitioning campaign

Over 600 petitions for parliamentary reform with nearly 1 million signatures presented to House of Commons and rejected.

4th March 1817

Seditious Meetings Act

Dozens of radical reformers imprisoned without trial in March and April until the end of 1817.

10th March 1817

March of the Blanketeers

Reformers rally at St Peter’s Field, Manchester to march to London; intercepted by troops on the way.

28th March 1817

Ardwick conspiracy

Attempted rising in Manchester, infiltrated (or instigated) by spies.

June 1817

Attempted armed risings in the north

Rebels assemble at night at Huddersfield (West Riding of Yorkshire) and Pentrich (Nottingham/ Sheffield / Derby area) expecting a national rising. Pentrich rebels arrested and tried at Derby, three executed.

January 1818

Manchester Observer founded

The radical Manchester Observer begins publication, becoming in 1819 Britain’s best-selling provincial newspaper, and leading radical newspaper.

Spring 1818

Open-air reform meetings resume

In Lydgate, Saddleworth, women vote for the first time.

Summer 1818

Cotton strikes

As trade improves, a wave of strikes in the cotton industry and other trades wins wage rises. First attempt to form a general union, the ‘Philanthropic Society’.

Winter 1818-19

Second post-war slump

Mass unemployment in Lancashire, especially among handloom weavers.

18th January 1819

Mass reform meeting, St Peter's Field, Manchester

Chaired by Henry Hunt, resolves ‘the only source of all legitimate power, is in the People.’

15th February 1819

'The fray at Stockport'

Authorities attempt to seize flags and cap of liberty at reform meeting but fought off by demonstrators.

7th June 1819

Oldham manifesto

Reform delegates declare for universal suffrage, annual parliaments, vote by ballot, and repeal of corn laws: ‘if we must die, either by starvation, or in the defence of our inalienable rights, we cannot hesitate to prefer the latter.’

14th June 1819

Ashton appeal

Reform meeting, Ashton, issues ‘An appeal to the People of England’ to hold ‘a general Election of Representatives’ to force a reform of parliament.

5th July 1819

Blackburn reform meeting

Female reformers present address and cap of liberty on the platform.

12th July 1819

Birmingham reform meeting

Reform meeting, Birmingham, elects Sir Charles Wolseley as ‘legislatorial attorney’ – an unofficial MP.

19th July 1819

Smithfield reform meeting

Reform meeting, Smithfield, London, chaired by Hunt: resolves to withdraw allegiance if no parliamentary reform by 1 January 1820.

9th August 1819

Manchester reform meeting

Reform meeting planned for Manchester to consider electing an unofficial MP; cancelled on legal advice.

16th August 1819

Peterloo Massacre

Mass reform meeting at St Peter’s Fields, Manchester, chaired by Hunt to consider reform of parliament, attacked by armed cavalry 18 killed, nearly 700 injured.

Aug-Dec 1819

Peterloo protests

Over 30 protest meetings against the ‘Manchester massacre’, including London, Paisley, Leeds, Birmingham, Halifax, York, Newcastle, Sheffield, Wigan, Burnley, Bradford.

2-4th September 1819

Lancashire Assizes

Hunt and 9 other Peterloo defendants indicted for sedition. Indictments of Manchester Yeomanry for cutting and maiming rejected.

Sep-Dec 1819

John Lees inquest, Oldham

Inquest into the death of John Lees of Oldham at Peterloo sits for 10 days, but collapses without a verdict; the jury say they would have declared it an ‘unlawful killing’.

23-24th November 1819

Parliament reconvenes

150 MPs vote for inquiry into Peterloo, 381 against.

December 1819

Six acts passed

Severe restrictions on public meetings, marches and rallies, and on freedom of the press.

23rd February 1820

Cato St conspiracy, London

Plot by London ultra-radicals to assassinate Prime Minister & cabinet fails; policeman murdered. Five conspirators hanged & beheaded.

16-25th March 1820

Trial of Henry Hunt

Henry Hunt and nine reform leaders arrested after Peterloo tried for sedition at York. Five acquitted, five found guilty on one charge. Sentences: Hunt 2 ½ years, Bamford & others 1 year.

Spring 1820

Economic recovery

Rapid decline in radical movement.

June 1821

Manchester Observer

Manchester Observer ceases production in Manchester; four editors have been bankrupted or imprisoned.

Enormous thanks to our partners and funders