From art battles to radical reads, over 150 events will take place across Greater Manchester
On 16 August 1819, 60,000 people gathered on what was then known as St Peter’s Field to demand parliamentary reform. Despite protesting peacefully, they were charged by cavalry - killing eighteen and injuring over 700 men, women and children - in what became a tragic milestone on the potholed road to democracy. Thereafter, it was known as the Peterloo Massacre.
Now, 200 years on, a major programme will commemorate the watershed event with over 150 happenings across Greater Manchester and beyond. Taking place from June to August, Peterloo 1819 will include exhibitions, screenings, performances, conversations, takeovers, dramatisations and much more; inspired by themes of protest, democracy and freedom of speech. As well as ticketed events, there are many free happenings for all the family (pre-booking may be required).
The programme opens on Friday 7 June with Billy Bragg In Conversation, an evening that sees the activist singer-songwriter joined by writer and broadcaster Dave Haslam to discuss what freedom of speech means in today’s world of algorithms and social media.
Also opening at the library on 7 June is The Hidden Tableaux’s Peterloo Massacre 1819: an exhibition created by leading artist Red Saunders. Vast, colourful and visually stunning, Saunders’ photographic artworks depict the events of Peterloo in a ways never seen before.
Music and song carried along those who marched for miles from their towns and villages on the day of Peterloo, and has remained part of protest movements ever since. Protest Music, taking place at Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM) on Saturday 6 July, is a performance of brand new, original protest music created by a community of Manchester-based creative artists, including MC Fox (Levelz, Swing Ting), che3kz, Streetwise Opera, Mandy Wigby a.k.a. Architects Of Rosslyn and the Ignition Orchestra.
The rallying cries of protest will also be heard on 6 July, in Rise Like Lions; a powerful performance that takes place as part of Manchester International Festival. Created by The Guardian and Manchester Histories, the Festival Square event is also a reminder of the role that the press played in the reporting of the massacre, the government’s attempts to restrain the media and the founding of Manchester Guardian in Peterloo’s aftermath.
Reflecting the stories of those who marched from homes across the region, events and exhibitions will take place across Greater Manchester’s ten boroughs. Protest & Peterloo at Touchstones Rochdale features a range of Peterloo artefacts; including the only surviving banner, which was marched from Middleton by a group led by Sam Bamford. Made of blue silk it carries in gold the words ‘Unity and Strength 1819’ on one side and ‘Liberty and Fraternity’ on the other.
Bamford’s story is proudly explored in the film Our Sam, The Middleton Man, which is made by the town’s young people with film makers REELmcr, and will be shown at a free screening at Manchester Central Library on Thursday 27 June.
Also at Central Library is 1819 - 1981, a fascinating pop up exhibition (various dates) that uses community stories and police memoirs from the 1981 Moss Side riots to give a voice to the long-dead Peterloo protestors and Hulme Hussars of 1819.
Oldham’s Parliament Square will be transformed by Soapbox into a speaker’s corner as a line-up of poets, writers, musicians as young people step up to share their thoughts on Saturday 22 June, having taken part in creative workshops. And there’ll be more to inspire younger generations with Radical Read (Wednesday 3 July, Manchester Central Library) as people from schools, colleges, youth groups and arts organisations present an evening of poetry, music, theatre performances, stories and more.
On each Wednesday of the summer holidays (24 July to 28 August), meanwhile, families can take part in a print workshop at People’s History Museum - with a different print technique explored in each session. This activity compliments the museum’s headline exhibition Disrupt! Peterloo & Protest, which features original Peterloo artefacts and a Protest Lab; an experimental area where ideas can be developed for collective action.
On Friday 16 August, the anniversary of Peterloo, its story will be embraced and remembered across Manchester and the world in From the Crowd; a moving, interactive outdoor event in which voices of today are united by the spirit of Peterloo (full details TBA in July).
This immersive experience will incorporate the Peterloo memorial, which has been commissioned by Manchester City Council and is being created by artist Jeremy Deller as a permanent tribute to the Peterloo Massacre. There’ll also be Peterloo Picnic- a family event featuring food, music and a line up of performances - and a Peterloo special of Manchester’s popular Art Battle at Manchester Art Gallery.
Other events taking place over the Peterloo Weekend include David Olusoga in Conversation. The historian, film-maker and broadcaster will headline this free event at Manchester Art Gallery on Saturday 17 August, with Olusoga discussing his recent book Black and British: A Forgotten History, and drawing upon the themes of protest and freedom.
Karen Shannon, CEO of Manchester Histories - the heritage charity that manages Peterloo 1819 - said: “The city of Manchester that we know today carries the legacy of the Peterloo Massacre in many different ways; as a city of progress, as a change creator and as a city that will listen and speak out. This connection between the past and present flows throughout this exciting and powerful line up of events.
“The Peterloo 2019 summer events invite those that know nothing about this chapter of history to discover its powerful legacy and welcome those that live in, work in or are visiting Manchester to explore its contemporary relevance.”
Peterloo 1819 is supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, cultural partners and event hosts. The full programme of events can be found at Peterloo1819.co.uk