Extracts from memoirs and diaries recording mass protests of the pastby Ian Irvine / February 23, 2011 / Leave a comment
16th August 1819. Over 50,000 people marched to St Peter’s Fields, Manchester, for a meeting demanding parliamentary reform. Fifteen were killed when the army charged the crowd. Samuel Bamford, afterwards imprisoned for 12 months for sedition, records the scene:
“The meeting was indeed a tremendous one. Mr Hunt [Henry Hunt, the celebrated radical speaker], stepping towards the front of the stage, took off his white hat, and addressed the people… a noise and strange murmur arose… I stood on tiptoe and saw a party of cavalry in blue and white uniform come trotting, sword in hand… they were received with a shout of goodwill, as I understood it. They shouted again, waving their sabres over their heads; and then, slackening rein, and striking spur into their steeds, they dashed forward and began cutting the people.
“Stand fast,” I said, “they are riding upon us; stand fast”… The cavalry were in confusion: they evidently could not, with all the weight of man and horse, penetrate that compact mass of human beings and their sabres were plied to hew a way through naked held-up hands and defenceless heads; and then chopped limbs and wound-gaping skulls were seen; and groans and cries were mingled with the din of that horrid confusion. “Ah! ah!” “For shame! for shame!” was shouted. Then, “Break! break! they are killing them in front and they cannot get away”… For a moment the crowd held back as in a pause; then a rush, heavy and resistless as a headlong sea, and a sound like low thunder, with screams, prayers, and imprecations from the crowd-moiled and sabre-doomed who could not escape.”
April 1848. The Chartist movement planned a meeting at Kennington Common to present its petition to Parliament. Their demands included the secret ballot and full adult male suffrage. Lord John Russell’s government feared a revolution. Charles Greville, clerk of the Privy Council, chronicles the events in his diary: “9th April 1848. All London is making preparations to encounter a Chartist row tomorrow; so much that it is either very sublime or very ridiculous. All the clerks and others in the different [government] offices are ordered to be sworn in special constables, and to constitute themselves into garrisons. I went to the police office with all my clerks, messengers etc and we were all sworn. We are to pass the whole day at the office tomorrow, and I am to send down all my guns; in short, we are to take a warlike attitude. Every gentleman in London is become a constable [100,000 special constables were sworn in].
13th April 1848. Monday passed off with surprising quiet, and it was considered a most satisfactory demonstration on the part of the Government, and the peaceable and loyal part of the community… We have displayed a great resolution and a great strength, and given unmistakeable proofs, that if sedition and rebellion hold up their heads in this country, they will be instantly met with the most vigorous resistance, and be put down by the hand of authority, and by the zealous cooperation of all classes of the people.”