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.
Despite widespread public sympathy in response to the massacre, the government’s immediate response was to toughen laws, which limited the freedoms of both the public and the press. The new legislation became known as the Six Acts.
Even with these new oppressive laws, people continued to meet in secret in support of reform. This flag is one of the most impressive survivors from these times. It had to be hidden between meetings and buried in a specially made box. Anyone found in possession of it would have been arrested.
It is believed to have been made in 1819 by a Mrs Bird, a pattern maker from Radcliffe Street in Skelmanthorpe, a village near Huddersfield, to honour the victims of the Peterloo Massacre.
The bound man is a depiction of a slave in chains. The use of this symbol reflects the influence of the abolition movement on the new struggles for democracy in Britain.
Part of the national commemorations marking 200 years since the Peterloo Massacre, this object featured in the Disrupt? Peterloo and Protest exhibition at People’s History Museum in 2019 to tell the story of Peterloo and highlights its relevance today.