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Collection highlights: Peterloo handkerchief

In 1819 blood ran in the streets of Manchester. Sixty thousand had gathered in the city centre to demand the vote and fearing revolution the authorities ordered the arrest of Henry ‘the orator’ Hunt who the crowd had come to hear. Peterloo handkerchiefWith little to protect themselves, eighteen were killed as the Yeoman hacked at and rode over the defenceless crowd. The event became known as the Peterloo Massacre.

Hundreds of these handkerchiefs were produced following Peterloo. They would have been carried by radical supporters and perhaps sold to raise money for those injured.Depiction of the massacre at Peterloo

The three phrases repeated around the margin of the textile have ‘echoed down the ages’ in one form or another; ‘Universal Suffrage’, ‘Annual Parliaments’ and ‘Election By Ballot’. There is another more obscure phrase, ‘Major Cartwright’s Bill’. Major John Cartwright was a prominent radical of the day demanding reform of parliament and the extension of the vote.

The second image shows another depiction of the massacre at Peterloo and, along with the Peterloo handkerchief, can also be found in Main Gallery One.

The Peterloo handkerchief is part of the British Museum’s Teaching History with 100 Objects project; one hundred objects from museums across the UK with resources, information and teaching ideas to inspire students’ interest in history.