Family of Peterloo protester donate cane to Manchester anniversary exhibition

By Rosemary Collins, 17 July 2019 - 12:05pm

The family of Peterloo protester Charles Worsley has donated the ‘Peterloo cane’ to the People’s History Museum

Peterloo cane People's History Museum exhibition
Collections officer Sam Jenkins with the Peterloo cane (Credit: People's History Museum)

A rare ‘Peterloo cane’ belonging to a protester caught up in the 1819 massacre has been donated to Manchester’s People’s History Museum by his descendants.

The museum will display the cane, which was donated by the family of Charles Worsley, from Friday 19 July in its exhibition ‘Disrupt? Peterloo and Protest’.

The exhibition is part of a programme of events commemorating the 200th anniversary of the massacre of 18 political protesters on 16 August 1819 at Manchester’s St Peter’s Field.

Dr Shirin Hirsh, a researcher at the People’s History Museum, said the cane was “a vital piece of history”, as few artefacts of the massacre survive.

Worsley, a joiner from Withington in south Manchester, was among the 60,000 – 80,000 ordinary people who joined the demonstration to calling for parliamentary reform to allow more working class people to vote.

Cavalry from the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry and 15th Hussars charged into the crowd, trying to disperse it and arrest radical orator Henry Hunt and other speakers.

In the subsequent chaos, 18 people were killed and up to 600 injured.

The massacre, which was dubbed ‘Peterloo’ in an ironic reference to the 1815 Battle of Waterloo, became one of the key moments in British political history.

Peterloo cane
The inscription on the Peterloo cane calling it 'one of the dreadfull bludgeons' (Credit: People's History Museum)

Charles Worsley’s cane is decorated with inscriptions and inked drawings.

Some of the words are difficult to read, but the legible inscriptions include “be brought to Justice”, the name “HUNT” and “I was one of the dreadfull (sic) bludgeons seen on the plains of PETERLOO”.

People’s History Museum staff have studied the cane using magnification techniques and ultraviolet light.

They believe that the drawings, including two caps of liberty and a flag flying, were added before the protest, but the writing was added afterwards.

Sam Jenkins, the museum’s collections officer, said that the inscriptions seemed to be “a satirical response to the exaggerated claims that the protestors carried weapons”.

Observers estimated that one in ten Peterloo protesters carried a cane or walking stick, whether to help them walk or because many of the protesters dressed smartly and canes were a common accessory at the time.

This was subsequently used to claim that the protesters were armed.

‘Disrupt? Peterloo and Protest’ will be on display at the People’s History Museum until 23 February 2020.

The Manchester Histories partnership is leading a programme of events and exhibitions across Greater Manchester to mark the Peterloo anniversary.

On the 200th anniversary on 16 August it will hold a massive outdoor gathering, From the Crowd, at the Manchester Central Convention Centre.

Manchester Histories is also keen to hear from more descendants of Peterloo protesters.

If you think one of your ancestors was present at the massacre, please email to share your story.



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