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Sacred to
the memory of
H Hunt Esq
J Johnson Esq
with those
who escaped
the bloody massacre
August 16 1819
Presented by
Martha Varley

This ‘sampler’, held today by the People’s History Museum, commemorates the massacre at St Peter’s Field’s, Manchester, which came to be known as Peterloo. On 16 August 1819, during a large meeting of radical reformers who had gathered to hear calls for parliamentary reform, soldiers charged in to arrest the speaker, Henry Hunt. In the chaos that ensued, at least eleven people were killed and over 400 more wounded – many of them women. It was a pivotal moment for reformers throughout the country, particularly those of the working class, galvanising many in their efforts for greater equality and enfranchisement. Among them were many whose challenge to those in power also included a scepticism of religion. Radical publisher Richard Carlile, for example, was accelerated in his activism by the events at Peterloo. He had been present and set to speak, and in the aftermath immediately set about publishing his account, which authorities attempted to suppress. Already accused of blasphemy for publishing works by Thomas Paine, Carlile’s fiery condemnation of government action at Peterloo added charges of seditious libel. For Carlile and his fellow freethinkers, this was typical of the way a corrupt state upheld – and was upheld by – religion. In court, Carlile read the entirety of Paine’s Age of Reason, with the trial transcript then printed and sold for twopence, numbering 10,000 copies.

Samplers, traditionally embroidered fabric panels, generally featured a religious quote or message. For this reason, this example is particularly unusual. It speaks to the wide and catalysing impact of Peterloo on men and women across the country – including those who fought for church and state separation – and its long legacy for reformers in the decades following 1819.

Made by Heritage Creative