On Friday 19 July 2019 a very rare Peterloo artefact will go on display at People’s History Museum (PHM), known as the Peterloo cane. This will be the first time that the piece has been on public display, and is one of the few items to have witnessed what took place in Manchester on 16 August 1819, when a protest by 60,000 working people for rights and representation turned into an event that saw loss of lives and the injury of hundreds. The Peterloo cane, whilst simple in design, is highly symbolic in significance.
The Peterloo cane has been donated by the family of Charles Worsley, who is known at the time of Peterloo to have lived in the Withington area of south Manchester and to have worked in the highly skilled trade of joinery, employing up to six people. It is believed that Charles Worsley was at Peterloo as a protestor and dressed, like so many others, in his Sunday best with the walking cane a part of his attire, as was the fashion of the time.
The Peterloo cane carries both inscriptions and inked drawings. Whilst some of the words are more difficult to decipher, quite clearly are the words “be brought to Justice” and a number of names, including “HUNT”. Also clearly distinguishable it says “I was one of the dreadfull (sic) bludgeons seen on the plains of PETERLOO”.
From the work carried out by People’s History Museum, which included magnification techniques and the use of ultra violet light, it is believed that whilst the writing was added after the events of 16 August 1819, the drawings were done ahead of the protest. Of those that particularly stand out, are two caps of liberty and a flag flying.
Sam Jenkins, Collections Officer at People’s History Museum, says “Observers said one in ten of the protestors at Peterloo carried a walking stick or cane, similar to this object, which subsequently led to accusations that they were armed. We believe the inscription to have been a satirical response to the exaggerated claims that the protestors carried weapons.”
The Peterloo cane has been passed through the generations of the Worsley family, with the donation being made to People’s History Museum by Charles Worsley’s four times great grandson. It will be displayed as part of the exhibition Disrupt? Peterloo and Protest (until 23 February 2020) which is supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund. Like all the objects assembled it helps to tell the story of events that unfolded 200 years ago at the Peterloo Massacre, making it important to the nation’s history and the story behind the evolution of democracy.
Dr Shirin Hirsch, Researcher at People’s History Museum, says, “Despite the scale of the Peterloo Massacre both in numbers and in impact, there are relatively few artefacts remaining. This is in part because this was a distinctly working class chapter of history, and in part because the clamp down by the authorities that followed meant that anything related to the event was often hidden or destroyed for fear of the repercussions. This is why the Peterloo cane is such a vital piece of history, as something that directly links to one of those who gathered 200 years ago to demand representation and rights of equality at a time when working people had none.”
During 2019 People’s History Museum is exploring the past, present and future of protest throughout its galleries, exhibitions and events programme. The museum’s programme of summer activities for families, its community exhibitions and its current display of banners all illuminate these themes for visitors.
People’s History Museum is open seven days a week from 10.00am to 5.00pm, Radical Lates are on the second Thursday each month, open until 8.00pm. The museum and its exhibitions are free to enter with a suggested donation of £5. To find out about visiting the museum, its full exhibition and events programme visit phm.org.uk.
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A selection of images can be found here:
You can read Peterloo and Protest, a piece written by PHM’s researcher Dr Shirin Hirsch about the events of 16 August 1819 here: https://phm.org.uk/protest-and-peterloo-the-story-of-16-august-1819/
Notes to editors:
About People’s History Museum (PHM)
People’s History Museum (PHM) in Manchester is the national museum of democracy, telling the story of its development in Britain: past, present, and future. The museum provides opportunities for all people to learn about, be inspired by and get involved in ideas worth fighting for; ideas such as equality, social justice, co-operation, and a fair world for all. PHM offers a powerful programme with annual themes; 2018 looked at representation and commemorated 100 years since the first women and all men won the right to vote in Britain, 2019 sees a year of activities around protest movements to mark the bicentenary of the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester, and the programme for 2020 will be on the theme of migration. Recent winner of Kids in Museums Family Friendly Museum Award.
About Arts Council England (ACE)
PHM is an Arts Council England (ACE) National Portfolio Organisation (NPO). The work of PHM is supported using public funding by ACE, the national development body for arts and culture across England, working to enrich people’s lives. ACE support a range of activities across the arts, museums and libraries – from theatre to visual art, reading to dance, music to literature, and crafts to collections. Great art and culture inspires us, brings us together and teaches us about ourselves and the world around us. In short, it makes life better. Between 2018 and 2022, ACE will invest £1.45 billion of public money from government and an estimated £860 million from The National Lottery to help create these experiences for as many people as possible across the country. artscouncil.org.uk
The National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF)
Thanks to National Lottery players, The National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF) invest money to help people across the UK explore, enjoy and protect the heritage they care about – from the archaeology under our feet to the historic parks and buildings we love, from precious memories and collections to rare wildlife. heritagefund.org.uk. Follow NLHF on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and use #NationalLotteryHeritageFund.
Dr Shirin Hirsch, Researcher:
Shirin is a Researcher at PHM. She specialises in the history of modern Britain with a particular focus on the labour movement, as well as questions of race and Empire. Shirin is currently undertaking research on Peterloo and the global context of the early 1800s democracy movement in Manchester. She can talk about the history of Peterloo as well as PHM’s objects and archive material from this period.
Sam Jenkins, Collections Officer:
Sam manages PHM’s whole collection, as well as arranging to borrow loans from other institutions as needed. She has worked with various museums to arrange loans of objects within the Disrupt? Peterloo and Protest exhibition, and has worked on collecting new items relating to the Peterloo Massacre. Sam can discuss each of the objects within the exhibition, as well as the wider museum collection.
Kloe Rumsey, Conservator:
Kloe specialises in object conservation and cares for PHM’s whole collection, including banners, furniture, ceramics and posters. Kloe has conserved the artefacts on display in the Disrupt? Peterloo and Protest exhibition and can talk about these objects and their stories.
Michael Powell, Programme & Learning Officer:
Michael has been working with historians and communities to plan PHM’s programme of activity for 2019. He has also been responsible for developing learning resources for Greater Manchester schools in partnership with Manchester Histories. In addition to talking about the 2019 bicentenary, he can share his insight into the museum’s rich collections and archives.