• Dave Dutton

The Angels of St. Peter's Square

I've been working in Manchester quite a lot and frequently crossed the area in front of GMex and around St Peter's Square where the Peterloo Massacre took place on August 16th, 1819 when a large peaceful gathering of working class men and women were protesting for the right to have a vote. They came mainly from Manchester and the cotton towns surrounding the city, including, I am proud to say, my own home town of Atherton.

They were subjected to a cavalry charge by the yeomanry many of whom, witnesses reported, were drunk. These were part time "soldiers" mainly mill owners and wealthy land owners.

Figures vary but around 18 people, including four women and a child, were slashed to death with sabres and hundreds more were injured.

In recent years there has been a surge of interest in this terrible event and rightly so. You can read about the memorial campaign here.

It has always been on my mind, since first reading about it many years ago, so I wrote this poem.


It was on the eighth month of the year

A vision I remember clear

The sixteenth day and I will swear

I saw them there. I saw them there

as I sat in St. Peter's Square.

I saw them there. I saw them there.

Screaming, fleeing through the square

With bloodied ribbons in their hair

White dresses slashed and shoulders bare

And trampled banners everywhere

I saw them there. I saw them there.

Weeping in St. Peter's Square.

I sat in silence, filled with dread

Saw men with gashes in their head, leaving trails of deepest red

And carrying their martyred dead.

I saw them there. I saw them there

Fill with blood St Peter's Square

And as each person helped their neighbour, suddenly came men with sabres

Bloated slugs all giving chase, each one with a smirking face

It suddenly was clear to me. This was the drunken yeomanry.

I saw them there. I saw them there.

Fill with slime St Peter's Square.

Lashing out both left and right, piggy eyes ablaze with spite

Laughing at each sabre's bite.

For shame! For shame! Forbear! Forbear!

I saw them there. I saw them there.

Hunting in St. Peter's Square.

My heart was aching through and through but there was nothing I could do

To help the ghosts of Peterloo.

They'd only wanted what was fair: to have a vote, to have a share.

I saw them there. I saw them there.

Helpless in St Peter's Square.

Then all at once, this too I swear, I saw the dead rise in the air

Ribbons falling from their hair

On their tormentors standing there.

Was it a dream?

I do not care.

I only know I saw them there.

I saw them there. I saw them there.

The Angels of St. Peter's Square.