Musicians will take to the stage in Wigan this weekend to remember the Peterloo massacre which happened 200 years ago today.
Folk music performers Lawrence Hoy and Ken Scally have put together The March to Peterloo exploring the killings in Manchester and their aftermath through two centuries of song.
Peterloo marked the start of the long battle for full democracy in Britain when troops charged into a crowd of 60,000 protesters gathered in St Peter’s Fields to hear speakers call for radical political change.
The new show, to be performed at The Old Courts on Sunda, explores the grim lives of many working-class people in the run-up to the 1819 massacre before featuring performances of broadsides relating what happened on that dreadful day and songs written about it.
Lawrence says the bi-centenary is extremely important as it marks a milestone in British history.
He said: “Peterloo came about because of ordinary people demanding a say in the running of the country. It was the start of that movement of working-class people claiming their rights and having a say over their lives, not just being seen as serfs or work slaves.
“It was the beginning of the acknowledgement that all people are created equal. I’m not going to get into the politics of our country at the moment but across the world you see people still fighting for their rights. It’s still relevant.”
Lawrence and Ken, helped by other colleagues from the Wigan folk music scene, have been working on the show for months.
Ken amassed a lot of the historical material before Lawrence and Stephen Knowles helped to trim the production into its final shape. Lawrence has also written three songs for the show, including one based on the tragic story of 12-year-old Abraham Charleston, who was caught up in the turmoil preceding Peterloo.
Lawrence said: “The Luddite movement was part of the build-up to Peterloo. They thought, in some respects legitimately, that technological advances were the reason people were being put out of work.
“They burned down Westhoughton Mill and this 12-year-old boy lent them his flint and tinder. They hanged him for that. We’ve made a little scene out of that in the show with his mother pleading for his life. We’ve put it all together so it is a show, not a historical lesson. We’re finishing with We Shall Overcome, which has a universal message about people’s suffering.”
Wigan also played a significant part in the Peterloo story, with major demonstrations taking place in the borough in the run-up to the ill-fated event in Manchester and 20,000 people massing on Ince Common soon after the slaughter.
Lawrence said: “One thing that struck me was how many people gathered at Peterloo and yet not one of them was on Facebook or had a phone in their hand. They had to get the word out and then people had to walk 20 or 30 miles or maybe get a horse and cart. It was quite a feat in itself.”
The March to Peterloo begins at 2pm on Sunday. Admission is by donation, with money going to Doing It For Joan, the disabled access fund in memory of Wigan folk musician Joan Blackburn.