I’ve written about the Peterloo Picnic before: held on the closest Sunday to the 16th of August to mark the events of 1819, when a peaceful political rally on St Peter’s Fields in Manchester was broken up by the local yeomanry (a private militia of private citizens) and a regiment of regular cavalry, resulting in around the deaths of around 18 people, and injuries to a further 400 to 700.
Following last year’s gathering a number of new projects were announced to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the massacre. One of these was a Kickstarter campaign to fund the production of a graphic novel (Peterloo: Witnesses to a Massacre) telling the story of Peterloo, based on recent research. Of course I immediately signed up as a backer.
Based on research conducted by Robert Poole (who has a more academic account due out in July: Peterloo: the English Uprising), illustrated by Polyp, and edited by Eva Schlunke, the book’s official launch is imminent; however backers have been able to collect their copies, along with their other rewards, early at a series of gatherings. I went to the first of these; there’s been another since, and the official launch party is coming up later this week.
In an attempt to balance my tradition of walking to Peterloo events with the time constraints of an evening meeting being held on the wrong side of the Pennines on a work day, I caught a train to Manchester, and then made my way on foot to Canal Street and along the tow path to the Briton’s Protection (where we went for refreshment after the 2017 picnic).
Eva and Polyp were waiting in their advertised spot, ready to hand out and sign rewards, and to chat with backers.
I collected my book, badge and temporary tattoo (to be worn at the August events, naturally), got my book signed and admired various pieces of original artwork (some being collected by backers with the wherewithal to support higher tiers of pledges than I could manage this time around. There was also much discussion of the trials and tribulations of creating the book – not all quotations or illustrations could be used – and some airing of opinions on the Mike Leigh film from last year (or this year for those of you in the US). Sadly, I had to leave all too soon and make my way back along the tow path and Canal Street (pausing briefly at the statue of Alan Turing in Sackville Gardens) to arrive at the station just in time for my train home.
And was my journey and backing of the project worthwhile? Most definitely!
The book, as its name suggests, tells the story wherever possible in the words of those present at the time: taken from newspaper reports, inquest accounts and personal journals, while the illustrations are remarkably vivid and detailed. At least one of my friends is depicted as a member of the cast, though I’m yet to spot where she appears. I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in history and/or graphic novels (look at the lovely illustrations in my copy!). The official UK Publication Date is Tuesday the 11th of June 2019, but it’s available to pre-order now from the publisher as well as from the usual online and bricks-and-mortar outlets.
Coming up, of course, we have the August events, including this year, the unveiling of a permanent memorial designed by Jeremy Deller. I’m greatly looking forward to seeing that, and interacting with the memorial itself.