In April 1817, William Sherwin, a printer and Richard Carlile, a journalist, formed a publishing business in London. The company began publishing the radical journal, Sherwin's Political Register. Sherwin was a supporter of Henry 'Orator' Hunt and his campaign for parliamentary reform. Joel H. Wiener described the newspaper as "one of the formative radical journals in early nineteenth-century Britain". (1) Although Sherwin was only 18 years-old his newspaper was the "most cogent and well written of the periodicals". (2)
Sherwin praised the work of the Church in its role in the education of children: "If the Bible Societies, and the Sunday School societies have been attended by no other good, they have at least produced one beneficial effect - they have been the means of teaching many thousands of children to read." (3)
In March 1819, Richard Carlile, Major John Cartwright, and Henry Orator Hunt were invited to speak at a public meeting in Manchester. The men were told that this was to be "a meeting of the county of Lancashire, than of Manchester alone. I think by good management the largest assembly may be procured that was ever seen in this country." Cartwright was unable to attend but Hunt and Carlile agreed and the meeting was arranged to take place at St. Peter's Field on 16th August. (4)
At 1.30 p.m. the magistrates came to the conclusion that "the town was in great danger". William Hulton therefore decided to instruct Joseph Nadin, Deputy Constable of Manchester, to arrest Richard Carlile and the other proposed speakers. Nadin replied that this could not be done without the help of the military. Hulton then wrote two letters and sent them to Lieutenant Colonel L'Estrange, the commander of the military forces in Manchester and Major Thomas Trafford, the commander of the Manchester & Salford Yeomanry.
When Captain Hugh Birley and his men reached the hustings they arrested most of the men. As well as the speakers and the organisers of the meeting, Birley also arrested the newspaper reporters on the hustings. John Edward Taylor reported: "A comparatively undisciplined body, led on by officers who had never had any experience in military affairs, and probably all under the influence both of personal fear and considerable political feeling of hostility, could not be expected to act either with coolness or discrimination; and accordingly, men, women, and children, constables, and Reformers, were equally exposed to their attacks." (5)
Lieutenant Colonel L'Estrange reported to William Hulton at 1.50 p.m. When he asked Hulton what was happening he replied: "Good God, Sir, don't you see they are attacking the Yeomanry? Disperse them." L'Estrange now ordered Lieutenant Jolliffe and the 15th Hussars to rescue the Manchester & Salford Yeomanry. By 2.00 p.m. the soldiers had cleared most of the crowd from St. Peter's Field. In the process, 18 people were killed and about 500, including 100 women, were wounded. (6)
Richard Carlile managed to avoid being arrested and after being hidden by local radicals, he took the first mail coach to London. The following day placards for Sherwin's Political Register began appearing in London with the words: 'Horrid Massacres at Manchester'. A full report of the meeting appeared in the next edition of the newspaper. The authorities responded by raiding Carlile's shop in Fleet Street and confiscating his complete stock of newspapers and pamphlets. (7)
The meeting was one of the most calm and orderly that I have ever witnessed. No less than 300,000 people were assembled. Mr. Hunt started his speech when a cart was moved through the middle of the field to the great annoyance and danger of the assembled people, who quietly endeavoured to make way for its procedure. The cart had no sooner made its way through, when the Yeomanry Cavalry made their appearance from the same quarter as the cart had gone out. They galloped furiously round the field, going over every person who could not get out of their way.
The Yeomanry Cavalry made their charge with a most infuriate frenzy; they cut down men, women and children, indiscriminately, and appeared to have commenced a pre-meditated attack with the most insatiable thirst for blood and destruction. They merit a medallion, on one side of which should be inscribed 'The Slaughter Men of Manchester', and a reverse bearing a description of their slaughter of defenceless men, women and children, unprovoked and unnecessary. As a proof of meditated murder of the part of the magistrates, every stone was gathered from the ground on the Friday and Saturday previous to the meeting, by scavengers sent there by the express command of the magistrates, that the populace might be rendered more defenceless. The meeting was one of the most calm and orderly that I have ever witnessed. No less than 300,000 people were assembled. The Yeomanry Cavalry made their charge. They cut down men, women and children, and appeared to attack with a thirst for blood.