The Peterloo Massacre, 16 August 1819, Part III

As the Manchester magistrates concern for the assembly to greet Henry Hunt turning into a riot or rebellion grew, they met on the morning of the assembly on Deansgate, at the Star Inn. By the time they had gathered, Thomas Worrell, Manchester Assistant Surveyor of Paving, had conducted a thorough inspection of St. Peter’s Field and removed anything that may have been used as a weapon. Following the intercepted letter, mentioned in our previous post, the Manchester magistrates concern for rebellion resulted in gathering up an overwhelming show of force. The 15th Hussars dispatched from London numbered 600 men. They were flanked by an array of forces including hundreds of infantrymen, a Royal Horse Artillery unit armed with two six-pounder guns, a 400-strong force of the Cheshire Yeomanry, 400 special constables and 120 cavalrymen from the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry. British Army units stationed in the north were under the command of General Sir John Byng, who had originally pledged eight squadrons of cavalry, eighteen companies of infantry “and the guns” for the assembly originally planned for the 2nd of August. However, as the 16th of August coincided with his eagerly anticipated visit to the York races, he handed command of his forces to his deputy Lieutenant Guy L’Estrange.

The drilled and trained contingents arriving at St. Peter’s Field arrived and assembled in a regimented and organised manner, in pre-determined and pre-planned locations. The organisers had planned a peaceful rally, with Henry Hunt insisting on attendees being “armed with no other weapon but that of a self-approving confidence.” Contemporary estimates counted the number of attendees between 30,000 and 150,000. Modern scholars have revised this figure to being between 60,000 and 80,000. Faced with a swathe of people determined to protest peaceful but assertively, the already-panicked magistrates and their jumble of forces, comprising mostly of yeomanry militia, led by a deputy commander, committed what is considered one of the greatest tragedies in Manchester’s political history.