A Very Rare Peterloo Artefact Has Gone On Display At People’s History Museum

Laura O'Neill Laura O'Neill

A Very Rare Peterloo Artefact Has Gone On Display At People’s History Museum

A very rare Peterloo artefact, known as the Peterloo cane, will go on display at People’s History Museum today (July 19).

This will be the first time that the piece has been on public display, and is one of the few items to have witnessed what took place in Manchester on 16 August 1819. When a protest by 60,000 working people for rights and representation turned into an event that saw loss of lives and the injury of hundreds. The Peterloo cane, while simple in design, is highly symbolic and significant.

The Peterloo cane has been donated by the family of Charles Worsley who, at the time of Peterloo, lived in the Withington area of south Manchester and worked in the highly skilled trade of joinery, employing up to six people.

It is believed that Charles Worsley was at Peterloo as a protestor and dressed, like so many others, in his Sunday best with the walking cane a part of his attire, as was the fashion of the time.

The Peterloo cane carries both inscriptions and inked drawings. While some of the words are more difficult to decipher, the words ‘be brought to justice’ and a number of names, including ‘HUNT’ can be clearly read. As well as the sentence;  ‘I was one of the dreadfull (sic) bludgeons seen on the plains of PETERLOO’.

From the work carried out by People’s History Museum, which included magnification techniques and the use of ultraviolet light, it is believed that while the writing was added after the events of 16 August 1819, the drawings were done ahead of the protest. Of those that particularly stand out, are two caps of liberty and a flag flying.

Sam Jenkins, Collections Officer at People’s History Museum, said:

“Observers said one in ten of the protestors at Peterloo carried a walking stick or cane, similar to this object, which subsequently led to accusations that they were armed.

“We believe the inscription to have been a satirical response to the exaggerated claims that the protestors carried weapons.”

A spokesman for People’s History Museum said the Peterloo cane has been passed through the generations of the Worsley family, with the donation being made to the museum by Charles Worsley’s four times great-grandson.

The spokesman said it will be displayed as part of the exhibition Disrupt? Peterloo and Protest (until 23 February 2020) which is supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund. Like all the objects assembled it helps to tell the story of events that unfolded 200 years ago at the Peterloo Massacre, making it important to the nation’s history and the story behind the evolution of democracy.

Dr Shirin Hirsch, Researcher at People’s History Museum, said:

“Despite the scale of the Peterloo Massacre both in numbers and in impact, there are relatively few artefacts remaining.  This is in part because this was a distinctly working-class chapter of history, and in part, because the clampdown by the authorities that followed meant that anything related to the event was often hidden or destroyed for fear of the repercussions.

This is why the Peterloo cane is such a vital piece of history, as something that directly links to one of those who gathered 200 years ago to demand representation and rights of equality at a time when working people had none.”

Throughout 2019 People’s History Museum will be exploring the past, present and future of protest through its galleries, exhibitions and events programme.  The museum’s programme of summer activities for families, its community exhibitions and its current display of banners all illuminate these themes for visitors.

Photo: Jessica Taylor

People’s History Museum is open seven days a week from 10.00am to 5.00pm, Radical Lates are on the second Thursday each month, open until 8.00pm.  The museum and its exhibitions are free to enter with a suggested donation of £5.  To find out about visiting the museum, its full exhibition and events programme click here.

Also published on Medium.