Peterloo to Peel
The Peterloo Massacre
The Peterloo Massacre was England’s Tiananmen Square. On August 16th 1819, tens of thousands of cotton spinners and their wives and children gathered in St Peter’s Fields in central Manchester to hear the fiery words of a radical orator called Henry Hunt, preaching revolution and equality. With orders to arrest him, a radical militia on horseback and sabres drawn charged into the middle of the crowd. Hundreds were brutally wounded, and 11 men, women and children died. This is the story of the aftermath, recounting the events of one particular inquest held in an Oldham pub into the death one of the casualties, John Lees, a young spinner and veteran of Waterloo. Using the original transcripts of the trial, the film depicts the courtroom battle between the proponents of the “official version” and a campaigning radical London lawyer, who took on the might of the British State and turned a tiny back room of a pub into a national trial. What unfolds isn’t just a compelling courtroom drama, but a riveting picture of a nation on the brink of revolution, and the way the forces of law and order worked to hide the truth. Documentary first broadcast in 2003.
Sir Robert Peel
Lawyer Harry Potter explains how Robert Peel, then Home Secretary, and his reform of the criminal justice system brought to an end the system known as The Bloody Code. With only the Riot Act as a means of restoring order, Peel now sought to reform how the law was enforced through the creation of a professional police force. Former Home Secretary Douglas Hurd explains why there was opposition to Peel’s Police force. Peel argued that the role of the police was to control crime rather than the people.
In Britain today all policemen are commonly referred to as ‘Bobbies’! Originally though, they were known as ‘Peelers’ in reference to one Sir Robert Peel (1788 – 1850).
Today it is hard to believe that Britain in the 18th century did not have a professional police force. Scotland had established a number of police forces following the introduction of the City of Glasgow Police in 1800 and the Royal Irish Constabulary was established in 1822, in large part because of the Peace Preservation Act of 1814 which Peel was heavily involved with. However, London was sadly lacking in any form of protective presence and crime prevention for its people as we entered the 19th century.
Following the success of the Royal Irish Constabulary it became obvious that something similar was needed in London, so in 1829 when Sir Robert was Home Secretary in Lord Liverpool’s Tory Cabinet, the Metropolitan Police Act was passed, providing permanently appointed and paid Constables to protect the capital as part of the Metropolitan Police Force.
The first thousand of Peel’s police, dressed in blue tail-coats and top hats, began to patrol the streets of London on 29th September 1829. The uniform was carefully selected to make the ‘Peelers’ look more like ordinary citizens, rather than a red-coated soldier with a helmet.
The ‘Peelers’ were issued with a wooden truncheon carried in a long pocket in the tail of their coat, a pair of handcuffs and a wooden rattle to raise the alarm. By the 1880s this rattle had been replaced by a whistle.
To be a ‘Peeler’ the rules were quite strict. You had to be aged 20 – 27, at least 5′ 7″ tall (or as near as possible), fit, literate and have no history of any wrong-doings. Ben Johnson Historic UK