This ill-trained collection of part-timers had been raised in June, 1817, as a direct response to the Blanketeers' March four months earlier. They were mainly middle-class shopkeepers and tradesmen, and on that afternoon, some of them may have been the worse for drink. They went about their job with gusto.
At the cry "Have at their flags!" they charged into the crowd, aiming not only at the flags on the wagon that held Hunt and Co, but at the banners carried by the various contingents. Sabres swinging in murderous arcs, sparing no thought for the women and children caught beneath their horses' hooves, they carved a swathe of blood through the screaming crowd.
By now, the professionals of the 15th Regiment of Hussars had arrived and their commander asked the magistrates for instructions. The reply he reputedly received was: "Good God, Sir! Do you not see how they are attacking the yeomanry? Disperse the crowd!"
This they did, but they seemed to spend just as much time keeping the Yeomanry in check. An 18-year-old plasterer, Sam Allcard, owed his life to the Hussars. Bleeding profusely from sabre cuts to his face and elbow, and with a finger almost severed, he was thrown to the ground and was about to be attacked further when a soldier of the 15th Regiment rode up and threatened to cut down the Yeoman if he tried to strike again.
As the field cleared, all that remained were the dead and injured. Eleven people were killed, four hundred wounded - one man had his nose severed from his face.
The incident quickly became known as the Peterloo Massacre - an allusion to the Battle of Waterloo four years earlier. Even some of the mill masters were horrified.
Rochdale millowner Thomas Chadwick, who was at the scene, described the massacre as: "An inhuman outrage committed on an unarmed, peaceful assembly."
To add insult to injury, Hunt, Sam Bamford (who had led the Middleton contingent but had taken no part in the speeches), and several others were arrested. Hunt, Bamford and two others were convicted of "being persons of a wicked and turbulent disposition" they had "conspired together to create a distur-
RICHARD CARLILE (left) reported the massacre in his weekly newspaper. Joseph Nadin (right) refused to take his fellow policemen into the crowd
Carlile, who had escaped arrest despite being on the platform and due to speak, dashed back to London by mailcoach and described his impressions in his newspaper, Sherwin's Weekly Political Register, on August, 18th:
"The meeting was one of the most calm and orderly that I have ever witnessed," he wrote. "No less than 300,000 people were assembled (a wild exaggeration). Mr Hunt started his speech when a cart was moved through the middle of the field to the great annoyance and danger of the assembled people, who quietly endeavoured to make way for its procedure.
"The cart had no sooner made its way through, when the Yeomanry Cavalry made their appearance from the same quarter as the cart had gone out. They galloped furiously round the field, going over every person who could not get out of their way.