February 23, 2019

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Keeping the memory of Peterloo alive | Letters | World news

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John Harris’s excellent commentary on the 1819 Peterloo massacre (Peterloo shaped modern Britain, as much as any king or queen, 29 October) omitted any reference to the suffragette movement, founded over 80 years later. Emmeline Pankhurst’s paternal grandfather had narrowly escaped death that day and such dramatic and moving stories were undoubtedly told to her four surviving children – Christabel, Sylvia, Adela and Harry – who all became active suffragettes in the Women’s Social and Political Union, founded in 1903 primarily to campaign for the parliamentary vote for women on the same terms as men.

The women-only WSPU always had wider social reforms as a key objective, including an end to the sexual abuse of girls and the exploitation of poor women. Its emphasis on equality for women in all walks of life, including the parliamentary franchise, was thoroughly modern.
Professor June Purvis
University of Portsmouth

John Harris’s article on Peterloo was a welcome reminder of our social history. But I am not sure how much it shaped today’s Britain or even changed much in the short term. The response to the Newport rising 20 years after Peterloo was very similar, although fewer in casualties because of its smaller size. Lord Liverpool, the prime minister at the time of Peterloo, was the most repressive leader of the country, though approached by Margaret Thatcher in her response to the miners’ strike.

But I feel that the people of Britain today are much less likely to show mass dissent against government measures. Had they done so, I doubt that austerity would have gone unopposed by the people hurt most by it, and would never have lasted as long as it has. In spite of the large march against Brexit, there are no signs that the government will move from its road to perdition. Not so great a change since 1819.
Harry Galbraith
Peel, Isle of Man

Though I now live just over the Pennines in Yorkshire, we were a Manchester family. I am 86 years old. I recall my grandmother, who was born in 1888, telling me that her grandmother told her about Peterloo from the viewpoint of someone who had known people who had suffered in this disgraceful event. Southerners may have forgotten the Duke of Wellington’s most ignominious campaign, but in Manchester it is still part of our history.
Alan Braddock
Horbury, West Yorkshire

Your feature on Maxine Peake highlights the new Mike Leigh film and her political commitment and passion (‘It feels as if hope has started to grow again’, 17 October). But I wonder about the reference in the opening paragraph to “the bloodiest political clash in British history”. Twenty-four protesters were killed in June 1831 during the Merthyr rising – the first time the red flag was flown as a symbol of workers’ struggle – by the British army.
John Richardson
Clyro, Powys

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