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Duration 00:03:36

The Petition of Mary Fildes, 15 May 1821

This video is an abridged adaptation of the petition delivered to Parliament in 1821 on behalf of Mary Fildes, President of the Manchester Female Reform Society. The original petition is held by the Parliamentary Archives.

Performed by Helen Kavanagh.

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.


Adapted from the Petition of Mary Fildes, 15th May 1821

I have long been a resident of Manchester and on 16th August I attended the advertised meeting in St Peter’s Field. The meeting had been convened for the purpose of considering the most legal and effective means of obtaining the reform of the representation of the House of Commons.

I arrived at about one o’clock and took to higher ground so I could hear the proceedings more clearly. To my utter astonishment, a quarter of an hour had scarcely elapsed when I saw a troop of the Yeomanry Cavalry, without the least provocation or cause on the part of the assembled crowd, ride furiously over the people. They were cutting and slashing with their sabres, right and left, men, women and children.

In a few minutes, after this dreadful havoc had commenced, I was rudely and violently assaulted by a Special Constable of the name of Heiffor. He struck me down with a heavy weighted truncheon, for the purposes of my destruction, and even as I lay on the ground he continued to strike me.

Heiffor then forcibly wrenched out of my hand a pocket-handkerchief, with which I was wiping the blood from my forehead, and made the most dreadful oath, before putting the handkerchief in his own pocket. He has not returned it.

In a state of utmost exhaustion I then attempted to make my escape from the horrid carnage that was presented on every side. I had only stepped a few yards when a violent sabre blow was directed at my head. This was only warded off by the truncheon of a Constable who happened to recognise me.

If it was possible to portray the countless acts of outrage I witnessed, the House would shudder at the recital of the dreadful tragedy. I cannot refrain, however, from calling the attention of the House to a small portion of the deliberate cruelty which it was my heart-rending lot to witness.

Making my way through the crowd, hearing with horror the shrieks and cries of the dying and wounded, I saw an aged man fall under a sabre blow inflicted on his bald head by one of the Manchester Yeomanry Cavalry.

The poor man’s name was Scholefield. The grey hairs on the lower part of his head were drenched with blood.

My ears were then assailed by the voice of the trumpeter of the Manchester Yeomanry Cavalry, Meagher. With the most horrid oaths he was ordering two men belonging to the same troop “to cut away”.

With difficulty I made my way home from this scene of slaughter and was so injured that I could not leave my room for more than a fortnight.

I humbly pray that the House will institute a solemn inquiry into these transactions, for only this can calm the feelings of an injured and abused people. 

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