Justice and Equality: Addressing the Church's Complicity in Peterloo

Published: 24 June 2019

On Sunday 7 July 2019, Manchester Cathedral will hold a special service to commemorate the 200th Anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre.

On Monday 16 August 1819, 60,000 people gathered at St Peter’s Field in Central Manchester to call for parliamentary representation. The watching magistrates panicked and ordered a troop of sabre-wielding cavalry to charge into the crowd injuring 650 and killing 15 men, women and children. What became known as “the Peterloo Massacre” is central to Manchester’s legacy as a radical city and served as a defining moment for the development of British democracy. The magistrates responsible for Peterloo included a number of Anglican clergy, and the majority of churches at the time supported the actions of the authorities.

It is partly to address this wrong that a special service themed around “Justice and Equality”, will be held at Manchester Cathedral as one of the many and varied commemorations of the Massacre in this its bi-centennial year. Civic and Faith Leaders from the city will attend the service, which is open to those of all faiths or none.

The Dean of Manchester, the Very  Revd Rogers Govender said: “Manchester Cathedral is pleased to be hosting this bi-centenary of the Peterloo Massacre which tragically cost lives in our city. The rapid growth of Manchester in the early eighteenth century and the momentum of the Industrial Revolution called for greater political representation. This protest saw 15 people killed and 650 people injured.

“Many Church of England leaders were in support of the charge by the authorities making us complicit in the violence and subsequent deaths. My hope is that we would recognise our part in this tragic event and work for a society that is inclusive and peaceful. Let us continue to oppose oppression and work for justice for all people.”

Dr Andrew Crome of MMU, one of the organisers, said: “We aim to remember those who died, repent of the times when the Church has supported oppression in the past, and commit ourselves to fighting injustice in the present and future.”

The service will include contributions from Manchester’s Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and Christian communities as an expression of our Standing Together in unity and equality in our city.

Nidhi Sinha, Member of the Hindu Community, said: “We live in a multicultural democratic society where justice and order are at the heart of our great city – the City of Manchester. The Asian Community are part of the life of our city and we have much to learn about living and being a Mancunian with rich history like our motherland to offer. The Peterloo Massacre is a reminder to continue the fight of justice and equality in the wider world.”

Rabbi Warren Elf, Faith Network for Manchester, said: “As people of faith we have come together on many occasions in recent years to show solidarity and resilience after tragic events and at moments of need. On the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre, we feel it is important once again to stand together with the citizens and residents of Manchester, where this peaceful protest for a more representative parliament and a broader electorate turned into a nightmare due to lack of understanding, poor communication, inadequate training and inept or unjust leadership. Those who died and suffered are remembered with gratitude for what they were trying to peacefully achieve. We thank them and resolve to continue standing up to all forms of injustice, now and in the future, and invite people of all faiths and none to join us.”

Councillor Abid Latif Chohan, Lord Mayor of Manchester said: “Manchester has always been a city that has been defined by its history. Defined by its ability to strive for greatness. And the ability to recover in the face of tragedy.

“The Peterloo Massacre was a tragedy. People were cut down and trampled by the horses of the Yeomanry for nothing more than wanting a voice of their own in a rapidly changing world.

“I like to think that even 200 years on, the courage and spirit of those protesters is alive and well in the actions of so many Mancunians going about their lives, working to make the world a better and fairer place.

“I am grateful that today, we have the opportunity to say thank you, and reflect on how far we have come.”

Other contributors will include Manchester Cathedral artist-in-residence Stephen Raw, poet-in-residence Andrew Rudd, classical music ensemble ‘Epiphany’, Bharatiya Vrund Gaan Indian Choir and guest speaker Revd Dr Deirdre Brower-Latz, Principal of Nazarene Theological College.

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