When people talk about radical Manchester during the 19th century, they always talk about Peterloo, and rightly so. They talk about the Pankhursts or the first meeting of Trades Union’s Congress, about a proud industrial city. They forget about the many of Manchester’s lesser known reformers and their reform movements, such as the Blanketeers’ and the Chartists to name but a few.
Rob Hargraves and Alan Hampson have gone some way to changing that with this excellent book, Beyond Peterloo, which highlights one radical that people may have forgotten, although history has not, and he is more than a footnote. Elijah Dixon, often referred to as Manchester’s Ambassador, was a radical who had been imprisoned for the Blanketeers’ march in 1817 and who took an active part in Manchester politics for over 60 years.
The book examines the many imbalances and injustices that provoked many Mancunians to react and demand a new political settlement. This demand would eventually lead to the Yeomanry slicing the people of Manchester down on St Peter’s Field in 1819.
What you learn from this book is that Elijah Dixon was no political salon radical of privilege but was out on the streets. He was at the centre of a network of political agitators, demonstrators, and pamphleteers, a grassroots organiser. While others may have sat in nicely lit rooms with a polite audience, Dixon worked the slums, where the streets were mean and stray dogs went around in packs for safety.
While the book may sound like it is looking at only gloom, the authors have managed to bring all the characters, those earlier reformers, to life, from the serious to the comedic. There is also an appendix which provides pen portraits of some of the people mentioned within the book, some are known but the majority are not.
As someone who has been active in investigating Manchester’s history, I feel that this book will add to the historiography of the city. It will inform many and serve as a starting point for others to begin their own research. Manchester has been crying out for this book for years and is a very welcome addition to the history of the city.
Paul Diggett 5/5
Beyond Peterloo by Rob Hargreaves and Alan Hampson
Pen & Sword 9781526725097 pbk Jun 2018