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Rare Peterloo 1819 family heirloom to go on display

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A 'very rare' Peterloo artefact is now on display in public for the first time, at the People's History Museum in Manchester. 

The Peterloo Cane is one of the few items to have witnessed what took place in Manchester on 16 August 1819, when a protest by 60,000 working people for rights and representation turned into an event that saw loss of lives and the injury of hundreds. 

The cane has been donated by the family of Charles Worsley, who at the time of Peterloo lived in the Withington area of south Manchester worked in the highly skilled trade of joinery, employing up to six people. 

It is believed that Charles Worsley was at Peterloo as a protestor and dressed, like so many others, in his Sunday best with the walking cane a part of his attire, as was the fashion of the time.

The significance of the Peterloo Cane

The Peterloo cane carries both inscriptions and inked drawings.  Whilst some of the words are more difficult to decipher, quite clearly are the words “be brought to Justice” and a number of names, including “HUNT”.  Also clearly distinguishable it says  “I was one of the dreadfull (sic) bludgeons seen on the plains of PETERLOO”. 
 
From the work carried out by People’s History Museum, which included magnification techniques and the use of ultra violet light, it is believed that whilst the writing was added after the events of 16 August 1819, the drawings were done ahead of the protest.  Of those that particularly stand out, are two caps of liberty and a flag flying.  
 
Dr Shirin Hirsh, Researcher at People’s History Museum, says, “Despite the scale of the Peterloo Massacre both in numbers and in impact, there are relatively few artefacts remaining. This is in part because this was a distinctly working class chapter of history, and in part because the clamp down by the authorities that followed meant that anything related to the event was often hidden or destroyed for fear of the repercussions. 
 
"This is why the Peterloo cane is such a vital piece of history, as something that directly links to one of those who gathered 200 years ago to demand representation and rights of equality at a time when working people had none.”

Where to see the Peterloo Cane

The Peterloo cane has been passed through the generations of the Worsley family, with the donation being made to People’s History Museum by Charles Worsley’s four times great grandson. It will be displayed as part of the exhibition Disrupt? Peterloo and Protest (until 23 February 2020) which is supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

For more on Peterloo, read Adele Emm's article on the events surrounding the massacre in August 2019 Family Tree magazine.

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