10 - The Peterloo Massacre, Tolpuddle Martyrs and early unions/coops
- Army charge a large unarmed crowd of men, women and children in Manchester meeting in support of parliamentary reform. Shock waves of 'Peterloo Massacre' lead to repeal of laws preventing unions forming.
- Tolpuddle Martyrs attempt to start a labourers' union in Dorset but are sentenced to transportation using obsure legal trickery around oath taking which backfires when shown that many weathy people including the kings brother are also involved in such oath taking. Massive peaceful protest marches in London and great petitions presented to parliament and the king perhaps mark the beginning of modern day protest movement techniques.
- Chartist movement gives up on political action and concentrates on repopulation countryside with model communities. See also the birth of the co-op movement.
songs, poems, quotes and stories
- Master and I (From Roy Palmer 'The Painful Plough')
- Song Of The Times (Chartist Song, good recording by Chumbawamba)
- Road To Dorchester by Graham Moore
- Tolpuddle Man by Graham Moore
- 1819 - The Peterloo Massacre
- 1824 - repeal of combination acts
- 1824 onwards - Birth of modern day union and coop movements
- 1834 - Tolpuddle Martyrs
One way which labourers trapped in towns and cities hoped to peacefully affect social change was through reform of the corrupt voting system for MPs which had not changed to reflect the massive migrations of the past hundred years.
Large industrial cities like Leeds, Birmingham and Manchester did not have a single MP between them, whereas 'rotten boroughs' such as Dunwich in Suffolk (which had a population of 32 in 1831) were still sending two MPs to Westminster.
In 1819 around 100,000 unarmed men, women and children met in a field on the outskirts of Manchester to listen to speeches about parliamentary reform. They were charged by an army cavalry and many killed in a horrific event later referred to as the Peterloo Massacre. The widespread horror and repulsion from this sent shock waves through all strata of society.
At first the ruling elite cracked down even more ruthlessly on any dissenting voices but this only fanned the flames of discontent further and after a few years they realised that they had to give concessions to the reformers or they would soon be facing a revolution.
A few years later the hated Combination Acts were repealed. This meant that people were now free to meet up or 'combine' for the purposes of political reform. Workers wasted no time forming what we recognise as the first modern day unions.
It is often overlooked that a major goal of the early union, chartist and co-op movements was to collect subscription money from workers, pooling their money so they could buy land and build new model rural communities in an effort to escape from the filthy urban slum conditions and return to the countryside which their families had left, often in living memory.
The Peterloo Massacre is a major turning point in our history and from here in we start to see workers winning back some of the rights lost in the previous several hundred years. The massacre has very little presence in our public consciousness and many people believe it to be a hugely significant event that people should know more about.
Agricultural work was still the major occupation in the country around this time and not being as concentrated as other industries, found it most difficult to combine successfully. The best known early attempt by agricultural labourers to form a union was the Tolpuddle Martyrs in Dorset who were given outrageously harsh sentences only overturned after a nationwide campaign which saw mass marches and petitions closely resemble modern day campaigning techniques.