On 16 August 1819, blood ran in the streets of Manchester. 18 people were killed and hundreds injured attending a peaceful demonstration at St Peter’s Field, now the area around St Peter’s Square. 60,000 people had gathered to demand the vote. The massacre became known as Peterloo. A major event in Manchester’s history and a defining moment for Britain’s democracy.
The yeomanry explicitly targeted women during the gruesome dispersal. More than 25% of all casualties were female, even though they comprised only 12% of those present. Women active in the reform movement of the time dressed distinctively in white cotton as a symbol of their virtue.
Mary Fildes, President of the Manchester Female Reform Society, was herself truncheoned by special constables when she refused to let go of the flag she was carrying.
A Mrs Mabbott wore this dress on 16 August 1819. She was a confectionary shop owner from Shude Hill. Rather than being an active participant in the protest, our research suggests that Mrs Mabbott was caught up in the violence of the day.
A silk dress with bodice was expensive and not likely to have been worn by any of the many female reformers present. However, it does show how much the chaos of day spread through the city centre.
Part of the national commemorations marking 200 years since the Peterloo Massacre, the dress featured in the Disrupt? Peterloo and Protest exhibition at People’s History Museum to tells the story of Peterloo and highlights its relevance today.