Peterloo and the Archaeology of Protest in C19 Manchester – a twitter conference paper

Earlier this month I was lucky enough to take part in the Society for Post-Medieval Archaeology’s first twitter conference. Indeed, I had the scary task of tweeting the first paper, which meant keeping to time and making sure that I didn’t get cramp in my thumbs! Fortunately, three days of prep meant that I had my tweets and images all to hand and to launch over the 20-minute window. The constraints certainly focuses the mind on the value of every word and image – every element needs to have a purpose.

1_PeterlooHussarsThis was an innovation borne out of the COVID-19 crisis and the need to postpone the SPMA annual conference. However, a virtual substitute worked very well, with several dozen paper spread over three days (16 to 18 April 2020). Hopefully such an event might be run again alongside the society’s normal programmes in future years as it certainly got to a wider audience than the normal conference with interaction online, often for several days afterwards. The effort needed to stage such an event should not be under-estimated. To turn around such a conference in just a few weeks was extra-ordinary work.

For those that didn’t get the chance to follow my paper I thought that I would reproduce it below. I have blogged about Peterloo before but that just focused on the Dig Greater Manchester community dig at Hulme Barracks in 2013. This paper looks at the broader context of the protest in early 19tyh century Manchester.
1/15 ‘Peterloo & the Archaeology of Protest in C19 Manchester’: 2019 was the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre, a peaceful protest that descended into bloodshed. What can archaeology tell us about the political & industrial landscape of the campaigners & Mcr? #PMAC20

2/15 16 August 1819 c. 60,000 people met on St Peter’s Fields Mcr to protest peacefully for Parliamentary reform. When local yeomanry tried to arrest orator Henry Hunt the crowd panicked & the 15th King’s Hussars were called to restore order leaving 15 dead & 700 injured #PMAC20

3/15 Archaeologists have explored the material evidence of the Massacre’s wider context. The protest site is mostly built over but redevelopment has enabled the investigation of several sites with Peterloo links helping to reconstruct a landscape of power & protest.

5b_HulmeBarracks34/15 Excavation of Hulme Barracks the base of the 15th King’s Hussars established in 1804 revealed structures that housed 399 hussars & 20 officers. Site on southern edge of the city closed in 1915 & now playing fields. Foundations of barracks, stables & hospital dug.

5/15 From the canteen area there was E19 pottery, glass bottles & buttons from military uniforms – items that could be directly linked to the hussars who occupied the site. Among more domestic items were clay tobacco pipes & M19 bottles for the beef extract drink Bovril

6/15 What of the Peterloo protestors? Orator Henry Hunt & 11 other protestors were locked up in New Bailey Prison central Salford for 11 days under charges of High Treason. The site has been dug four times since 2013 making it the most excavated Georgian prison in Britain #PMAC20
7/15 In 2018 n-e part of the site dug: male misdemeanour & female refractory wards built 1816-23. Male wards had 4 blocks of 6 cells: each block had a large day room built in handmade bricks. Cells were just 1.8m x 2.2m arranged in 2 groups of 3 either side of a corridor #PMAC20

8/15 2018 dig shed light on how differently male & female cells were heated. The heating system was an integral part of the original construction of the male misdemeanour ward & the vagrant ward with a boiler for each but there was no heating for female cells #PMAC20

9/15 Most of the protestors lived & worked in Mcr. The city was the largest urban centre outside London. Its population grew from 22,481 in 1773 to 126,066 in 1821. Many worked in the 65 cotton mills that by 1809 made Mcr the world’s largest cotton manufacturing centre #PMAC20

10/15 In 1800 19 textile mill sites used steam power to supplement or run directly cotton spinning machinery. 1st cotton spinning mill was only built in 1781–1782 on Shude Hill by Richard Arkwright. Excavations in 2005, 2014-2015 showed the 5 storey mill was 66m by 9.1m #PMAC20

11/15 Murray’s Mills in Ancoats typified the Mcr mill; with narrow, 6-storey, brick-built blocks, on the side of a canal, steam powered. In 1811 it ran 84,300 spindles on spinning mules & by 1815 with 1,215 workers it was the largest single cotton mill complex in Britain #PMAC20

12/15 One E19 mill with a link to Peterloo is Chorlton New Mill. Oldest surviving eg of fireproof mill construction in Mcr built 1815, 1818, & 1845 by the Birley family. In 1819 owned by Hugh Hornby Birley, the man who headed the yeomanry who arrested Henry Hunt #PMAC20

13/15 Factory owners needed to be able to guarantee a regular supply of labour. Huge nos of dwellings were built in Mcr, rising from 3,446 in 1773 to 17,257 in 1821.Since 2001 more than 40 sites containing C19 workers’ housing have been excavated ahead of redevelopment #PMAC20

14/15 In 2011 excavation of a well-preserved group of court houses, Hall’s Court in Ancoats, yielded a large quantity of pottery & metalwork in small rooms 4m x 4m, providing a detailed glimpse of industrial domestic living conditions before & after the events of Peterloo #PMAC20

15_PeterlooBanner15/15 The impact of Peterloo on the psyche of Mcr was profound. The city emerged as both a free-market centre for economics & a campaign centre for social justice & political reform. Yet objects from 16 August 1819 are few, a protest banner being one of the most poignant #PMAC20


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