Peterloo is on the front cover of my 2017 book the ‘ Dark Days of Georgian Britain’ as it was the key element of the Regency Period 1811-1820.
The film is excellent; those with reservations would say it was a little wordy, as there are quite a few political speeches by a large ensemble cast, but the film is still a testament to what we could, for the first time call ‘working class’ protest and establishment response.
My book is a comprehensive review of the events and attitudes that made Peterloo happen and some of the more immediate consequences.
THE DARK DAYS OF GEORGIAN BRITAIN
First, the two chapters specifically about Peterloo
Chapter 13 PETERLOO -Who Killed John Lees?
Joseph Lees died after being beaten up at the mass meeting at St Peter’s Field ( Peterloo). However the government were able to prove “otherwise”. This chapter looks at the victims of Peterloo, how they were treated by the government that was not going to take responsibility for the poor or the actions of their own soldiers.
Chapter 14-The Women of PETERLOO
What’s more frightening that a radical? A women radical! Despite the difficulty in finding evidence, here we have the story of Alice Kitchen, Nancy Prestwick and Mary Fildes and others This is my favourite chapter of the book.
Chapter 1- The Darkness Years
This is an overview of the problems of the period 1811-1820. It was a time of austerity, climate change and poverty, with all the major institutions of the government being rotten and in need of reform. Sound familiar?. It was certainly for a major reason for the Peterloo protest, which was new and frightening for the ruling classes. They were not used to calls for political change
Chapter 2- The Poor Weavers
This chapter looks at examples of real people – Thomas Holden of Bolton, the Luddites and their refusal to accept that they should starve to death as industrialisation and the new attitudes of employers made their life miserable. Sound familiar ? Many Peterloo protestors were hand loom weavers and workers in the early factories, and they were suffering from the effects of industrialisation
Chapter 3- Making Life Worse
The Tory government made life worse for the poor after 1815 because of their political beliefs. This chapter deals with the rich avoiding income tax, high prices for bread and scandalous National Lottery which took money from the poor and gave it to the rich. We meet MP William ” Billy Biscuit” Curtis, who made a fortune for himself but tried to cut benefits for the poor. Thank heavens that kind of thing doesn’t happen now!
Chapter 4-Why People Rioted
This deals with the rioting of 1816. Some of it was old style rioting that had been common for centuries…but there were new developments which worried the establishment
Chapter 5- Bread and Potatoes
Three thousand words on bread and potatoes? Remember that was a large proportion of the diet of the poor…and it is an interesting story. You will be amazed at how much bread people ate, and how many ways you could justify other people not eating much. Much of the population of Manchester was subsisting on this diet around the time of the protest
Chapter 6-The Poor Law
The British had a quite a generous benefit system before the Poor Law was made harsher in 1834- that’s the Poor Law people study at school. The system is explained here, with lots of examples of the poor suffering. One family are evicted by having their roof removed and their house flooded with excrement…and yes, the landlord did get away with it!
Chapter 7- Cold Charity
The rich loved to help the poor…but with huge strings attached. I remain unimpressed throughout this chapter.. hence the title ! You will see William Wilberforce in a new light when you read what he thought was acceptable treatment of Britain’s war heroes- one of them was John Lees, hero of Waterloo and victim of Peterloo
Chapter 8- Old Corruption- The General Election, 1818
The 1818 General Election is covered in some detail the corruption the collusion, the rioting, the bribery and the intimidation. And it was regarded at the time as a better than average election.
Chapter 9- All About The Money
This chapter shows that in order to achieve anything in the Regency you needed money. Most things were for sale – parishes, army ranks, seats in parliament, everything. You will met a lot of rich people who took taxpayers money for imaginary jobs.
Chapter 10- The Disgusting Prince Regent?
What were the main personal failings of the Prince Regent? Its all in this chapter, which therefore has to be quite long . He also represented a rotten system. He did not know the meaning of money, as it all came from the poor taxpayer.
Chapter 11- Arthur Thistlewood- The Gentlemen Revolutionary
Arthur was born a minor gentlemen and ended up being hanged for trying to assassinate the cabinet. This chapter tells the story of him and his revolutionary friends in the Regency. He may have planned to parade the streets of London with the Home Secretary’s ‘s head in a bag, but you may still like him, albeit as a very flawed human being. He was directly inspired by the cover up at Peterloo to attempt his coup in 1820
Chapter 12- The New Revolt of the Peasants
In 1817, the poor tried new ways of overthrowing their oppressors, that scared the establishment more because they were “political” riots. So the punishments were more severe. John Bagguley, mentioned in the film , is dealt with here, and what happened to him after he was beaten up in his cell
Chapter 15- The Freeborn Englishmen?
Britain was freer than most, but in the Regency that was put under great strain. People were imprisoned without trial. We meet William Ogden , 74, manacled in goal without charge for months with a 30 pound weight. His crime- wanting a reform of Parliament.
Chapter 16-The Punishment Didn’t Fit the Crime
This is a well-known regency topic. In my version, real people suffer at the hands of a floundering system that was at the end of its time. Reform did come- just not then. We meet Horace Cotton, who worked at Newgate with those condemned to die. He was a real charmer.
Chapter 17- Retribution
Fancy a trip to Newgate or a Prison hulk? We meet the poor in prison, including one man in gaol for stealing a cucumber.
OTHER CHAPTERS ON
- Body Snatching
- Discrimination against Irish migrants
- Currency Crisis
It’s an interesting read…promise! If you like the film , you will like the book- ask your library to stock one!