The brutal dispersal of a huge crowd of campaigners for parliamentary reform by British cavalrymen at St Peter’s Field, Manchester, on 16 August 1819, resulting in fifteen deaths and hundreds of injuries, was one of the most notorious episodes of Regency England. Ironically dubbed ‘Peterloo’ because it came just four years after those same soldiers had helped win the famous battle in Belgium that toppled Napoleon from power, it is the subject of a new film by director Mike Leigh, who writes the foreword to this book:
As we worked on the film Peterloo, all of us, on both sides of the camera, were continually struck by the ever-increasing contemporary relevance of the story. Despite the spread of universal suffrage across large parts of the globe – poverty, inequality, suppression of press freedom, indiscriminate surveillance and attacks on legitimate protest by brutal regimes are all on the rise.
Indeed. But I can’t quite see the connection. Fortunately the author, Jacqueline Riding, lets the evidence speak for itself, and in doing so produces a cool and even-handed indictment of the authorities and the soldiers at St Peter’s Field that is far more devastating than any emotional rant.