Following the end of war with France in 1815, Britain was plunged into a deep economic and political crisis. High food prices and a relatively closed political system had resulted in high levels of discontent among the working classes, particularly in the industrial north where the ‘factory system’ played a major part in the economy. On the morning of 16 August 1819 members of the Manchester Patriotic Union convened a huge public meeting in support of parliamentary reform, to be addressed by Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt. Fearing unrest, magistrates ordered the mounted militia to enter the crowd in order to arrest Hunt and break up the meeting. Violence and chaos ensued. As they attempted to clear a way through the thousands of people officers swung their drawn sabres, resulting in ten to twenty deaths and several hundred injuries.
The text shown here is taken from the inquest on the body of one of the victims of the cavalry charge, John Lees, an old soldier and veteran of Waterloo. The evidence is shocking in its description of the injuries received by Lees after being struck repeatedly by sabres. Evidence given by witnesses also describes how the huge crowds were penned together as mounted soldiers made their fearsome charge.