Peterloo memorial to be built outside Manchester Central

Date published: 15 March 2019

A memorial commemorating the Peterloo Massacre will be built outside Manchester Central convention centre after it won the backing of Manchester Council's planning committee – with some tweaks to the original design to make it more accessible to wheelchair users.

A decade-long campaign saw Turner prize-winning architect Jeremy Deller commissioned to create a tribute ahead of the 200th anniversary this year.

His design shows a landscaped ‘hill’ made up of steps carved with the names and villages of the massacre’s victims.

In an alteration  to the original plan, the lower step will now be widened so that people using wheelchairs or those with other mobility issues can access it.

One objector said that if the designs hadn’t become more accessible, the memorial risked being an international ’embarrassment’.

The adapted design was approved on Thursday by Manchester’s planning committee and council officers are hoping it will be in place by the 200th anniversary in August – although they admit that timescale will be ‘challenging’.

Each step on the memorial will be made from materials from around the UK and will include motifs that recall Lancashire industrial heritage, as well as iconography related to revolutionary movements.

The ‘hill’ will also be accompanied by a second flat circle that will be accessible for those who can’t reach the top of the main memorial.

Both aspects are intended to look like a compass, locating places in Manchester and the wider world.

On August 16, 1819, local government forces charged a crowd of 60,000 people gathered to listen to anti-poverty and pro-democracy speeches at a peaceful rally, near where St Peter’s Square is today.

The order was given as orator Henry Hunt was making an address from the podium.

The marchers had come from as far afield as Rochdale, Saddleworth, Altrincham and Wigan to call for parliamentary representation. Outrage at the resulting slaughter of 18 men, women and children, alongside 700 people being injured, led to political change and parliamentary reform.

Middleton-born Sam Bamford (1788-1872), a weaver, poet and radical, led a contingent of approximately 6,000 men and women who marched to Manchester to hear the speech by Henry Hunt at St Peter’s field.

Councillors at the planning meeting stressed the need to have information boards so that visitors understand the significance of the massacre.

Councillor Ben Clay said: “It’s not just national significance – it’s world significance. This needs to be a memorial for the many not the few. It is really important that we include some form of display board to tell the story of Peterloo for people that visit and need to understand the significance of our democracy and our politics.”

Councillor Gavin White said that the recently-added Emmeline Pankhurst statue in St Peter’s Square has been a focal point for education about the suffragette movement and said the Peterloo memorial could play a similar role in informing youngsters about the massacre’s role in parliamentary reform.

Mr Deller had previously said that he wants the structure to be ‘not just something to look at and admire,’ but to be a ‘memorial with a public role’.

The architects, Caruso St John, added in planning documents: “The gathering of people around it brings the memorial alive. The people are celebrated and they are the spectacle.”

Mari Eccles, Local Democracy Reporter

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