The Swamp logo

3 Events That Drastically Changed British Politics (which aren’t in London)

Important historical places that nurtured progressive thinking and changed public consciousness.

By Outrageous Optimism Published 3 years ago 10 min read

Peter Street, Free Trade Hall, Manchester: The Peterloo Massacre of 1819

On 16th August 1819 at St Peter’s Field, around 18 people were killed and a further 650 suffered from significant injuries during what is now known as the Peterloo Massacre. The crowd that had gathered is estimated to have contained between 50,000 – 80,000 peaceful protestors who were demanding reform and better representation in parliament. The event was first dubbed the Peterloo Massacre by the newspaper, Manchester Observer, who made the ironic comparison with the Battle of Waterloo that had occurred four years previously.

Peterloo Massacre 1819 | Source: Chethams Library

Coming off of the back of the Napoleonic Wars of 1815, many industries (particularly within the textile trade) were suffering greatly from the effects of economic depression. Most workers had seen their wages cut heavily. Additionally, the cost of food had risen due to the 1815 Corn Laws imposing tariffs upon foreign food imports, which made the cost of grain more expensive and saw the quality drop due to a lack of competition. This resulted in mass unemployment and famine.

With only 11% of men being legally able to vote in the country and a very small portion of those being up in the North West (around 17,000 in a population of almost a million), there was very little chance of real change. The political parties known as the Tories and Whigs had negotiated a good many deals amongst themselves to keep things this way. A mass campaign ensued in 1817, a petition being sent to parliament with 750,000 signatures (Manchester having provided over 30,000 of them). The request for the voting process to be opened up to all adult men was flatly denied.

A series of marches across the country and mass meetings began as desire for political change grew. The sheer number of people attending these meetings and the organised manner in which they were formed frightened the government. When 10,000 people gathered in St Peter’s Field to listen to Henry Hunt (speaker and working-class advocate), it spurred parliament into action, and they put a great deal of focus into preventing such meetings from happening.

When a correspondence between Hunt and the secretary of the Manchester Patriotic Union was intercepted by spies before it reached its destination, fears that the government had of an armed uprising grew stronger. A public meeting, that had been planned by Hunt to go ahead on the 2nd of August was postponed to the 9th as members of parliament attempted to declare the meeting a criminal offence. This would fail, with parliament being advised that the meeting should not be forcibly shut down unless a riot ensued.

In the aim of showing that any meetings for reform would be done peacefully and legally, however, the gathering was rearranged yet again for the 16th November. The procession went ahead, made up of men, women, and children. Due to rising tensions and the deployment of 600 military men to intercept the gathering if need be, the protestors were resolute in making sure that those attending the meeting should leave behind anything that could be misconstrued as a weapon. Protestors left things like walking sticks behind for fear they would be mistaken for guns and many people showed up dressed in their Sunday best. Amongst these crowds was a banner carried by Thomas Redford. On one side ‘Liberty and Fraternity’ had been inscribed, the other reading ‘Unity and Strength’. It is the world’s oldest political banner and the only one known to have survived from the gathering at St Peter’s Field.

The magistrates who had been tasked with keeping an eye on the crowds, seeing the overwhelmingly positive response when Hunt arrived to speak on the 16th of August, acted on a knee-jerk reaction by composing an arrest warrant for each speaker at the rally. This was given to Constable Jonathan Andrews who proclaimed that military assistance would be necessary. When this communication was passed onto horsemen in Portland Street, they drew swords and rushed to the field, knocking a baby boy from the arms of his distraught mother in their haste and trampling him under horse hooves. The subsequent death of this two-year-old boy would be the first casualty of many.

Crowds panicked and confusion ensued with the sudden arrival of armed forces and swathes of people were crushed, beaten or suffered from stab wounds as they tried to escape. With the speakers arrested, the horsemen known as the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry were said to have been seen stabbing flags, banners and people indiscriminately. According to then reporter John Tyas, the horsemen were ‘cutting at everyone they could reach’.

Horsemen riding into the crowds with their swords risen. | Source:

The country was horrified at the barbarity of what had occurred. Although there was a huge public outcry about how the events had been handled, those in the government immediately responded by cracking down and putting an end to protests by passing the Six Acts. For the first time however, campaigners found themselves with the moral high ground and the event became a political rallying point to push for further reforms between 1832 and 1918.

A young Mancunian businessman, named John Edward Taylor started his own paper to campaign for reform after the shock and distress he felt witnessing the onslaught on St Peter’s Field. He named it the Manchester Guardian. Although today, it is more commonly known as The Guardian.

The Free Trade Hall was constructed on St Peter’s Field (now Peter Street) in commemoration of the eventual repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846. It opened a decade later in 1856. It is now a Radisson hotel, but the original building still stands as a testimony to what is known as one of the bloodiest clashes in political history.

Free Trade Hall, Manchester (1885) | Source: Manchester Evening News

It is also where visitors can find a red plaque, serving as a monument to those who lost their lives. It reads:

On 16th August 1819 a peaceful rally of 60,000 pro-democracy reformers, men, women and children, was attacked by armed cavalry resulting in 15 deaths and over 600 injuries.

Farfield Inn, Sheffield: The Great Sheffield Flood of 1864

Farfield Inn is the often-forgotten survivor of a dangerous flood in 1864. During the night on the 11th of March in the rural valley of Bradfield Dale, Sheffield, Dale Dyke Dam burst. It had only recently been built and was being filled for the first time when it collapsed. John Gunson, a resident engineer who had initially directed the construction of the dam, had been concerned about a crack in the outer slope of its embankment. Gunson made the decision to open up additional valves in order to allow more water through. It would be convincing himself that the crack wasn’t hazardous and not taking further precautions however, that would ultimately lead to his downfall. The opening up of the valves didn’t stop the damage from worsening and that very same night, the walls exploded!

Around 700 million gallons of water burst out of the dam, racing through the Sheffield valleys of Loxley and Don destroying everything in its path. One of the places it wreaked the most havoc was Neepsend Lane; an area that ran close to the River Don and, consequently, was also where Farfield Inn was situated.

Farfield Inn after the flood 1864 | Source: Pictures Sheffield

The wreckage was everywhere. Roofs caved in, the fronts of houses were ripped away, fallen bricks and pieces of timber could be seen zipping through residential areas, bridges broke up and many houses were gutted. At least 250 people were killed. Families were broken up… Like the couple who had asked a neighbour to watch their children and left them sleeping at home in a low cellar while they attended a funeral. When the water had reached their house, it had flooded far above ceiling level in their room. All three were found drowned in their beds the next morning. In a lot of cases, entire families were wiped out.

Destruction at Neepsend Lane 1864 | Source: Sheffield Guide

Farfield Inn was one of the few buildings that remained intact; the landlady Matilda Mason having been trapped on an upper floor as the water had surrounded the building. Though in a dilapidated state, it is one of the only, if not the only, building in that area from before the Great Sheffield Flood that is still standing today.

Farfield Inn, Present Day | Source: Farfield Inn Rememberence Group

The Farfield Inn is a reminder of the severe consequences unsafe work practices can cause; the Great Sheffield Flood, being one of the biggest man-made disasters in recent history! A relief fund was set up at the time by the mayor, Thomas Jessop, with over £46,000 raised in total. As well as this, for the first time in England, corporate culpability was brought into question which resulted in the country municipalising the water supply.

Bristol Bus Station, Bristol: The Bristol Bus Boycott of 1963

If you didn’t know any better, Bristol Bus Station just seems like a regular stop of many. An uneventful liminal space where people only congregate for brief periods of time when on route to somewhere else. It can be argued, however (and indeed it has been named recently by official institutions), that the events that occurred in 1963 make it one of the UK’s most important historical places.

As a bit of background, in the 1960s, Bristol had around 3000 people of West Indian origin living there; many of whom had fought in the army to protect Britain during WWII. Despite this, there was still a massive problem with inequality which led to rampant discrimination in employment, housing, and everyday life that often came with the threat of violence from white gangs.

Bristol 1960s | Source: Libcom

One such method of discrimination came from the government-owned Bristol Omnibus Company, which ran the buses through an organisation called Transport Holding Company. Though the organisation was publicly struggling with labour shortages, they continued to turn away prospective bus crew members because of the colour of their skin (only allowing black folk to work in lower-paid roles such as the cafeterias or warehouses). It became known amongst residents as the Colour Bar, which when brought to public attention by local newspapers, was blamed by the company on the Transport and General Workers’ Union. The TGWU would initially deny that the bar existed.

The colour bar greatly impacted the rights of black residents, their ability to better themselves financially and elevate their status. Unhappy with the representation they were receiving in the fight against discrimination, Audley Evans, Roy Hackett, Prince Brown and Owen Henry formed a group that would later be called the West Indian Development Council (WIDC). Their spokesman would become college graduate and civil rights campaigner, Paul Stephenson.

Paul Stephenson Campaigning | Source: The Guardian

Unable to do much about a colour bar that was being labelled as non-existent by those perpetrating it, Stephenson put forward a well-qualified young man called Guy Bailey for an interview as a Bus Conductor at the company. Bailey received an interview quite quickly, though when it was revealed that he was of Jamaican origin, the interview was cancelled before it had even begun. The manager in question had reportedly ordered Bailey to leave the premises stating, ‘we don’t employ black people’.

Inspired by the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955, sparked by Rosa Parks, the WIDC pushed for a boycott of the bus company in Bristol. They were supported by the vast West Indian community, as well as some high profile politicians, white citizens, former cricketer Learie Constantine (who was the High Commissioner for Trinidad and Tobago at that point), and University of Bristol students, who were heckled by angry bus drivers when they marched through the city centre to Bristol Bus Station in opposition of the colour bar. All of this sparked incredibly passionate letters from every side being written into the newspapers.

Students & Tutors from the University of Bristol March 1963 | Source: Bristol Evening Post

A vicious war of words played out in the papers between those for and opposed to the colour bar, with some very public attempts to smear Stephenson (which led to him successfully suing for libel).

It was on the 28th August 1963 that the general manager of the bus station, Ian Patey (who had previously opposed to the integrating of non-white folk into the bus conducting roles, stating that black people became arrogant after being employed and no one would want to work under them), declared that there would be no more discrimination in the recruitment process. This news came on the same day of Martin Luther King’s 'I Have a Dream' speech in Washington.

The 2014 unveiling of the plaque to mark Bristol's milestone in the fight for equality at Bristol Bus Station. | Source: Bristol Post

Raghbir Singh became the first non-white bus conductor in Bristol on the 17th September, with two Pakistani and Jamaican men following shortly after. Two years later in 1965, the UK Parliament approved a bill to make racial discrimination unlawful in public places. This was then extended to employment and housing in 1968.

Sources and Extra Reading:

Peterloo Massacre -

Great Sheffield Flood -

Bristol Bus Boycott -


About the Creator

Outrageous Optimism

Writing on a variety of subjects that are positive, progressive and pass the time.

We're here for a good time AND a long time!

Official Twitter: @OptimismWrites

Author Twitter: @gabriellebenna

Reader insights

Be the first to share your insights about this piece.

How does it work?

Add your insights


There are no comments for this story

Be the first to respond and start the conversation.

Sign in to comment

    Find us on social media

    Miscellaneous links

    • Explore
    • Contact
    • Privacy Policy
    • Terms of Use
    • Support

    © 2024 Creatd, Inc. All Rights Reserved.