17th August 2019
“Look to the rock whence thou wast hewn.” Isaiah, Old Testament prophet.
A peronal reflection by Mick Spreader
I hope that you didn’t let Friday 16th August 2019 pass without marking it as the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo massacre. On that day 60,000 working people and their families gathered on St Peter’s Field in Manchester to protest peacefully at a political system that concentrated power in the hands of the few, the wealthy and priviledged; they were calling for reform.
For decades the enclosing of common land upon which rural village way of life depended had been proceeding, but in the early half of the eighteenth century this accelerated resulting in rural clearances to the towns and cities. In other words, by act of a parliament of the privileged, the common land belonging to the various manors up and down the country, upon which the rural inhabitants were able to support themselves, was enclosed and added to the estates of the wealthy. Rural people could continue to live, almost certainly in dire circumstances, in the countryside as the paid labourers of wealthy landowners or move to the towns and cities to labour in the factories and mills. Either prospect was bleak, but for the privileged, who had added the enclosed commons to their estates, life was great.
“All classes above the poor adopted a more extravagant and ostentatious style and scale of living.”
About this period there was a general undercurrent of discontent in the country generated by a feeling of utter helplessness that the system could not be changed by parliamentary means. The system was rotten. Serious trouble broke out in the Royal Navy at the end of the previous century. In the countryside the Swing rioters were burning hayricks and smashing up threshing machines and in the urban areas protest gatherings such as met at St Peters Field were indicators of the demands for change.
For us it is interesting to note that “Foxhunting dates from this century,” that is the beginning of the 1800’s.
Prior to this, the aristocrat hunted the stag and the squire the hare, both quarry, almost certainly for human consumption. But killing wildlife for fun, as entertainment, emerged in this period amongst those who had the leisure time and the newly-enclosed estates to allow it.
But, I am digressing. Peterloo.
In this period the wealthy landowning class ( I was trying to avoid that word) were scared ****less of a French-style revolution in this island and were resolved to hold on to the extravagant lifestyle that they had appropriated to themselves by a crooked electoral system. Cavalry, even cannon, were brought to St Peters Field. As the speeches began at the meeting, the local magistrates ordered the cavalry to charge into the peaceful crowds, trampling, bayonetting and sabre-slashing. When it was over, at least 14 were dead, 15 if you include the unborn infant of its slain mother and 600 needed hospital attention.
There is good reason for us to look to the Peterloo martyrs as our spiritual forebears. We want change. We want a privileged class* to cease from hunting and killing wildlife, to cease from illegally pursuing the hare and the fox, the stag, the otter and the mink. We want that particular, privileged strata of our society who hunt to hounds to abide by the Hunting Act. But, because they are resolved to hang on to what they believe is their right, although the law of the land says “nay” and the overwhelming proportion of our society say “nay,” we, in our various ways, will put ourselves into the vulnerable position of confronting them as they go about their murderous ways.
On the 200th anniversary of Peterloo we salute those ordinary folk who suffered in the cause of suffrage.
“Quotes in italics” from The Village Labourer 1760-1832 by Hammond and Hammond unless otherwise stated.
© Mick Spreader
*Editors note: …and their minions.