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An open letter to Lord Sidmouth demanding justice after Peterloo

A public letter from Richard Carlile, a prominent radical reformer writer and publisher, to Lord Sidmouth calling for justice after the Peterloo Massacre.

Performed by Tom Ward-Thomas.

Archives Alive: Peterloo

The Archives Alive: Peterloo project is a collaboration between Royal Holloway, University of London, and The National Archives, supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. This series of short films forms part of a wide programme of activity marking the 200th anniversary of the massacre – an important milestone in the history of the struggle for rights and representation – and its aftermath. Find out more on The National Archives’ blog.


My Lord, as a spectator of the horrid proceedings of Monday last at Manchester, I feel it my duty to give the public a narrative of these proceedings, through the medium of a letter addressed to you, who ought to be the conservator of the public peace. 

My motives for doing this are two-fold: the first is to call on you to cause the Magistrates of Manchester, and Yeomanry Cavalry acting under their direction, to be brought to the bar of public justice, for the unprovoked slaughter of the peaceable and distressed inhabitants of that place, whilst legally exercising their rights in public meeting assembled. 

And secondly, in the case of the default of the existing government to give satisfaction to the mangled and suffering, and the friends of the murdered inhabitants of Manchester, the people, not only of Manchester, but of the whole country are in duty bound to provide themselves with arms to defend themselves.

The safety of the people is not now the supreme law; the security of the corrupt borough-mongers and their dependants can only be perceived to be the object of the existing administration. 

Where my Lord Sidmouth – where are now to be found the assassins, with their daggers? You have used every means within your reach to urge the Reformers to the use of the dagger; they have been too prudent, and you, no longer able to resist their reasonable demands by reasonable argument, have thrown off your mask and set the first example of shedding blood. 

The people have no alternative but immediately to prepare for retaliation.

The meeting, at the entrance of the cavalry, and from the commencement of business, was one of the most calm and orderly that I have ever witnessed. Hilarity was seen on the countenances of all, whilst the Female Reformers crowned the assemblage with grace.

The Yeomanry cavalry made their charge with the most infuriate frenzy, they cut down men, women and children, indiscriminately, and appeared to have commenced a premeditated attack with the most insatiable thirst for blood and destruction.

As a proof of the premeditated murder on the part of the magistrates, every stone was gathered from the ground, on the Friday and Saturday previous to the meeting, by scavengers sent by the magistrates, that the populace might be rendered more defenceless.

One woman, who was near the spot where I stood, and who held an infant in her arms, was sabred over the head, and her tender offspring drenched in its mother’s blood … so inhuman, indiscriminate and fiend-like, was the conduct of the Manchester Yeomanry Cavalry.

Again, my Lord, if the administration of that Government, of which you are a member, cannot support itself without violating the laws and compact between the King and People, in an unprovoked and unrelenting massacre of the latter, you had far better retire, and not wait to be driven.

I shall anxiously wait, my Lord, to see whether in the present Government there is sufficient respect for the laws and justice, to enforce them against the Magistrates of Manchester. R. Carlile

Catalogue reference: HO 42/192.

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