Henry Hunt also known to some as the ‘Orator’, realised his talent for public speaking in the electoral politics of Bristol. Henry was highlighting the corruption of the ruling classes and the high tariffs given through mercantilist trade, where only landowners would benefit from it. Henry gave a radical speech at St Peter’s Field in Manchester on the 16th August 1819 which is known today as Peterloo (Named after the Battle of Waterloo). The Peterloo Massacre was caused by the over-reaction of local authorities, where 18 people were murdered.
After the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, there was a brief boom in textiles which was followed by periods of chronic economic depression, particularly among textile weavers and spinners (the textile trade was concentrated in Lancashire). Weavers, who could expect to earn 15 shillings for a six-day week in 1803, saw their wages cut to 5 shillings or even 4s 6d by 1818. The industrialists, who were cutting wages without offering relief, blamed market forces generated by the aftershocks of the Napoleonic Wars. Exacerbating matters were the Corn Laws, the first of which was passed in 1815, imposing a tariff on foreign grain in an effort to protect English grain producers. The cost of food rose as people were forced to buy the more expensive and lower quality British grain, and periods of famine and chronic unemployment ensued, increasing the desire for political reform both in Lancashire and in the country at large.
I find this protest very significant and similar aspects of uncertainty like Brexit looming around the corner, and we, as a nation, are becoming very nervous about the outcome of Brexit and trade, and where economically we will all stand as a nation. I believe that now is the time to send this poem ‘The Orator of Peterloo’ out into the world. It is included in my new full collection Woodworm, which is due to be published in Spring 2019 http://www.hedgehogpress.co.uk/forthcoming-titles/ also of interest and coming out in November of this year will be the new film Peterloo, directed by the legend Mike Leigh, check out the trailer ,https://youtu.be/Dj5h1kKjVYc
Matt Duggan lives in Bristol with his partner Kelly and their dog Alfie. His poems have appeared in many journals such as Osiris Poetry Journal, A Restricted View from Under the Hedge, Ghost City Review, Riggwelter Literary Journal, The Journal, Proletarian Poetry, Into the Void, Ink, Sweat, and Tears. Matt won the Erbacce Prize for Poetry in 2015 with his first full collection Dystopia 38.10 (erbacce-press) and the Into the Void Poetry Prize in 2016, Matt recently did a reading tour across the east coast of the U.S. reading in Boston, New York and Philly and has two new chapbooks available One Million Tiny Cuts https://www.claresongbirdspub.com/shop/poetry/ and A Season in Another World https://www.thirtywestph.com/shop/aseasoninanotherworld his second full collection Woodworm (Hedgehog Poetry Press ) will be published in Spring 2019.
The Orator of Peterloo
The Orator travelled the length of the land through bare corn field to busy city street; kicking sand into the face of the landowner – Repel these laws of mercantilism and allow small and broken mouths to feed and eat. Do not let this highly taxed trade be our prison. Wavering poles topped with the red cap of liberty, the ear of a nation gathered to listen to a man who wants to blind the parliamentary horse giving every man and woman the right – a voice – not lost inside a crowd; the vision of an eye that directs the government’s sight. The Orator saw bones in red mud, a shrill from daughter to mother; fists and shrugs of the disempowered stealing breadcrumbs from their neighbours; the banners held high, read of REFORM, SUFFAGE, EQUAL REPRESENTATION, and LOVE. Words delivered that day echo how we all feel – we heard the sound of long blades withdrawing – the Hussars approached on horseback preparing for the final charge; murdering children, men, and women as the Orator’s words could not stop the unfolding of this bloody mindless slaughter.