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"Framed knitted sampler, commemorating the Peterloo Massacre" [NMLH.2019.45]

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Catalogue Number

Object Name

Sacred to the memory of H Hunt Esq J Johnson Esq with those who escaped the bloody massacre August 16 1819 Presented by Martha Varley

St Peter's Field, Manchester

Henry Hunt, Joseph Johnson, Martha Varley

Peterloo Massacre

19th Century


Framed knitted sampler, referencing Peterloo.

This 'sampler', presented mounted in a wooden frame, is actually a piece of knitting in two pieces and later sewn together, rather than a traditional embroidered sampler. The first piece is a commemoration of the Peterloo Massacre, reading "Sacred to the memory of H Hunt Esq J Johnson Esq with those who escaped the bloody massacre August 16 1819" the second piece says that the sampler was "Presented by Martha Varley" who is presumed to be the maker.

It is not known exactly who Martha Varley is, as both the first name and surname were fairly common for the 19th century. Likewise, it is not currently known when the sampler was made; it could be from the early 1820s, but research into the possible makers has led to speculation that it could have been created as late as 1899. This form of textile work is rare and unusual, especially as there is no religious connotation to the message. The style is similar to mourning samplers, which were popular from c.1780 - c.1820, but these again were usually embroidered examples with pictoral elements.

The textile commemorates Henry Hunt, Joseph Johndon and the Peterloo Massacre, which happened on August 16 1819. Thousands of demonstrators met at St Peter's Field in Manchester to hear speakers, including Henry Hunt, call for reform. After the meeting began, the mounted Yeomanry charged into the crowd with sabres drawn, trying to arrest Hunt and the other speakers; 18 people were killed, and hundreds wounded in the violence that followed.

This sampler has been purchsed with assistance from Arts Council England/V&A Purchase Grant Fund, Heritage Lottery Fund's Collecting Cultures Programme, and the Fabric of Protest group.

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