It's 9:45 on Sunday morning and out on the Clifton border of Salford, a `Peterloo Pitstop' has been set up at the side of the road for over a dozen hardy souls from Bolton who are marching to Manchester carrying flags and banners - re-creating the steps of those who walked from all over the region to attend the huge human rights gathering at St Peter's Field in 1819, which later became known as the Peterloo Massacre...
"We think that this whole process of recognising the battle for democracy is very important, it's a history that the establishment wants to shove under the carpet; they don't want people to know about it" explains Chris Chilton, chair of Bolton Socialist Club "But I think with the whole wave of dissatisfaction with the democratic process that's currently going on there's even more importance.
"It's absolutely crucial that people understand the struggles that people went through and the sacrifices they made to get the vote and to open up democracy for everybody" he adds "Huge levels of inequality can only happen when people are denied the franchise or made to feel the franchise isn't worth anything because they have no power to change things."
After eating home-made scones and cupcakes supplied by Noreen Bailey, Paul Gerrard and Norma Parkinson Green of Salford Against the Cuts, the Bolton contingent march for another ninety minutes into Salford to meet up with people from Eccles at Pendleton Church, and then another Salford contingent at Salford Crescent Station.
Now about forty strong, the marchers head down The Crescent and Chapel Street to stop off at Shalimar's convenience store and show solidarity with its owner Mo and his local community. Mo has run the shop for over thirty years and his store is due to be demolished in the regeneration and gentrification by English Cities Fund (ECf). But, so far, he has been priced out of a unit in the new Vimto Gardens development next door, which has been supported by over £11million of public money (for full details click here and click here).
From Mo's store, the march continues into Manchester town centre, meeting up with other contingents from all over Greater Manchester, pausing by the Peterloo plaque on the old Free Trade Hall, before heading into the central meeting point outside Manchester Central Convention Centre (GMex), where over six hundred people are now present – many dressed in period costumes, eating snacks on blankets in another nod to the original 1819 rally which drew between 60,000 and 80,000 people.
It is now that the full horror of the Peterloo Massacre is brought home, firstly by the Peterloo Massacre Memorial campaign's Paul Fitzgerald who tells the crowd that "Each one of you would have had a deep sabre cut and appalling bruises which would have lasted for months and months and disabled you from work, because it's the same number of people we have today who were injured at Peterloo..."
Salford's Christopher Eccleston steps forward to read a surviving fragment of the speech by orator Henry Hunt, telling the crowd at St Peter's Field that by banning a previous meeting their numbers had actually doubled... "My friends and fellow countrymen... It will be perceived that in consequence of the calling of this new meeting our enemies who flattered themselves they had gained a victory have sustained a great defeat..."
As Hunt was relaying the original speech the cavalry charged the crowd, leaving 15 people dead and those six hundred injured. Actor John Henshaw reads an eye witness account of the charge by Samuel Bamford who was subsequently arrested and imprisoned for a year...
"...They dashed forward and began cutting the people...The cavalry were in confusion: they evidently could not, with all the weight of man and horse, penetrate that compact mass of human beings, and their sabres were plied to hew a way through naked held-up hands and defenceless heads; and then chopped limbs and wound-gaping skulls were seen; and groans and cries were mingled with the din of that horrid confusion.
"Many females appeared as the crowd opened; and striplings or mere youths also were found. Their cries were piteous and heart-rending, and would, one might have supposed, have disarmed any human resentment: but here their appeals were in vain. In ten minutes from the commencement of the havoc the field was an open and almost deserted space...Several mounds of human being still remained where they had fallen, crushed down and smothered. Some of these still groaning, others with staring eyes, were gasping for breath, and others would never breathe more..."
The names of the Peterloo dead and the circumstances of their slaughter are then read out by fifteen people, ranging from actor John Thomson, to musician George Borowski, actress Stella Grundy, DJ and writer, Dave Haslam, plus C P Lee, Sefton Mottley, Robert Poole, Manchester Lord Mayor Paul Murphy and others.
The first of the fifteen victims was a two year old knocked from his mother's arms and trampled to death by cavalry - a horror that inspired poet Percy Shelley to write The Masque of Anarchy. Three Salford people were also named... Sara Jones of Silk Street, who was severely beaten on the head by a special constable and died from her injuries, leaving seven children; Martha Partington from Eccles, who suffocated to death after being crushed by people falling down cellar steps in an effort to flee from St Peter's Field; and James Crompton of Barton, trampled to death by the cavalry.
One of the most poignant statements was that of John Leese from Oldham, who was an ex-soldier at Waterloo but told a friend he was never in as much danger... "at Waterloo it was man to man, in Manchester it was downright murder" he said. He later died from sabre wounds to his arms and shoulder.
After a minute's silence, Maxine Peake reads out selected verses from Percy Shelley's The Masque of Anarachy, a poem that was banned for thirty years after he wrote it...
"And that slaughter to the Nation
Shall steam up like inspiration,
A volcano heard afar.
And these words shall then become
Like Oppression's thundered doom
Ringing through each heart and brain,
Again - again – again...
Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number -
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you -
Ye are many - they are few...'
The words from the Bolton marchers in the morning ring truer every minute..."It's absolutely crucial that people understand the struggles that people went through and the sacrifices they made to get the vote and to open up democracy for everybody..."
• To read Samuel Bamford's account of the Peterloo Massacre – click here
• To read the full version of The Masque of Anarchy – click here