Peterloo: drama, poetry, music and songs

Still proud of their role in playing music at the St. Peter’s Field demonstration there are accounts of the  Stalybridge Old Band’  experience on the day of the Massacre on.

The aftermath of the Peterloo Massacre led to many pieces of poetry and songs, as commemorative ceramics. The most famous is Shelley’s The Masque of Anarchy. This has inspired Kirsty Martin’s Rise Like Lions

Although not written until after the events of the day the episode featuring the Massacre in the Lancashire Cotton Pageant in 1932 featured a man reading from the poem from the platform.

Peterloo has continued to inspire cultural production and will be a key part in the activities in Manchester this year. Alison Morgan’s book Ballads and songs of Peterloo being published in May will provide a rich source for those who wish to play them.

Matthew Arnold’s Peterloo Overture

In the lead-up to the 150th Anniversary Matthew Arnold composed Peterloo Overture for orchestra in 1967. In 2009 it was arranged for choir and orchestra by Ben Parry, and first performed on 13 September 2014 on the Last Night of the Proms. Sir Tim Rice wrote the programme notes: ‘When honoured with an invitation to write some words to Sir Malcolm Arnold’s beautiful and moving Peterloo, I turned to Shelley’s ‘The Masque of Anarchy’ as an inspiration. …. Not surprisingly, the poem was supressed and was not published in Britain until 1832, ten years after Shelley’s death.’ Rice goes on to mention the massacre of  the entire 150 Jewish community in York in 1190 , and the mass slaughter at Passchendaele in 1917. ‘Sir Malcolm’s wonderful music superbly portrays the conflict between patriotism and liberty and the hope and failure of ideals, so often destroyed by wilful incomprehension of the unfamiliar.’

The music has also been transcribed for brass bands.

In July 2010 the Lancashire Youth Symphony Orchestra performed The Peterloo Overture at the Music for Youth Festival in Birmingham.

The Oldham Tinkers

North West musicians Pete Coe, Brian Peters and Laura Smyth  have been working on a music project The Road to Peterloo to bring the importance of this event into the public eye.

Their Facebook page contains the beginnings of 2019 events at which they will be playing.

Peterloo. Track on the Oldham Tinkers CD. The words are at:

The group will be supporting a talk by Alison Morgan on 2 August in Stockport.

Recordings of pieces about Peterloo


Waterloo:Peterloo 1968 (Argo ZFB 68) featuring Frankie Armstrong, John Faulkner, Brian Pearson, Denis Turner and Terry Yarnell with Sandra Kerr, Jim O’Connor and Peggy Seeger

Peterloo Massacre by the Manchester based group Peterloo Massacre

Peterloo. Edward Genereux’s parody of ABBA’s Waterloo can be seen at:

Peterloo Massacre lyrics are on Raymond’s Folk Song Page website:

Peterloo. Track on Edward II’s album, Manchester’s Improving Daily (of Manchester Ballads!/Manchesters-Improving-Daily-16-track-CD-and-book/p/60238179/category=0

St Peter’s Field on Disc 2 of Anticapitalist Roadshow CD

In 2016 Matt Hill (Quiet Loner) discussed ‘Writing a song about Peterloo has proved difficult.’

John Peel and Peterloo


The Tractor CD (OZITCD118; August, 2011) features tracks from various artists including Tractor, Geoff Higginbottom, Mark Dowding and Chris Harvey and the Oldham Tinkers.

‘In 1973, John Peel paid for Tractor to go into the studio and start recording various songs about the Peterloo Massacre, something close to John’s heart as he had worked in a cotton mill in Rochdale before becoming a DJ.

Another one of John Peel’s favourites was the Peterloo song performed by The Oldham Tinkers. Jump forward to 2003 and John Peel and Chris Hewitt start working on finishing the Peterloo project started in 1973 expanding it to become a Various Artists CD.

Sadly, John Peel died before the project is finished, but Chris Hewitt continued to put the project together.’

Other cultural activities

It is inevitable that over the decades the emphasis on remembering Peterloo has been based in Manchester.

In 1994, for example, Mike Harris was commissioned to write a play for the City’s Drama Programme. He researched the events at the Working Class Movement Library. In September the play The Peterloo Massacre was performed by volunteers. The audience found themselves being ushered here and there about the auditorium which became the stage. The period of the play was extended to cover the exciting years of 1817-1820, not just the episode of the Peterloo Massacre. At one moment they became a crowd of hungry hand-loom weavers and at another, part of the admiring throng watching Queen Caroline set out on the coronation journey.

This was a history re-lived, performed in modern (or almost!) dress which allowed the similarity between many of the episodes of that period to become recognisable as part of our own experience. ‘ (Edmund and Ruth Frow. The Peterloo Massacre: A Community Play. Working Class Movement Library Bulletin No.5. 1995. pps. 72-3)

29 October 2008. The Black Sheep paid homage to the Peterloo martyrs by singing protest songs on the site of the massacre.

  1. The Red Saunders’ Hidden Project sought to re-create the Peterloo Massacre in photo tableaus. Fundraising events were held.

November 2018. Red Flag Walks featured events commemorating Peterloo up to 2017.


About seancreighton1947

I have lived in Norbury since July 2011. I blog on Croydon, Norbury and history events,news and issues. I have been active on local economy, housing and environment issues with Croydon TUC and Croydon Assembly. I have submitted views to Council Committees and gave evidence against the Whitgift Centre CPO and to the Local Plan Inquiry. I am a member of Norbury Village Residents Association and Chair of Norbury Community Land Trust, and represent both on the Love Norbury community organisations partnership Committee. I used to write for the former web/print Croydon Citizen. I co-ordinate the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Croydon Radical History Networks and edit the North East Popular Politics history database. I give history talks and lead history walks. I retired in 2012 having worked in the community/voluntary sector and on heritage projects. My history interests include labour, radical and suffrage movements, mutuality, Black British, slavery & abolition, Edwardian roller skating and the social and political use of music and song. I have a particular interest in the histories of Battersea and Wandsworth, Croydon and Lambeth. I have a publishing imprint History & Social Action Publications.
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