Band in tune for Peterloo anniversary

A BAND that played at the meeting that turned into the Peterloo Massacre will mark its 200th anniversary with a special concert.

Stalybridge Old Band – the oldest surviving brass band in the world – fled as 11 people were killed and about 500 injured as yeomanry stormed the gathering at St Peter’s Field on August 16, 1819.

Now it will mark the anniversary by performing at the town’s Civic Hall on Saturday, August 17 with the bicentenary having special significance.

The present day band will be performing the Finale from Fantasia from British Sea Songs, which they performed on the day featuring Thine Be The Glory and Rule Britannia.

It is also hoped there will also be readings.

Old Band musical director James Atkins has been researching their role in what has proved to be a significant day in British, and particularly Mancunian, history.

Stalybridge Band, as it was known then, performed a concert at a meeting organised by the Manchester Patriotic Union Society, a political group that agitated for radical parliamentary reform and the repeal of the corn laws, and speaker Henry Hunt after getting in touch with him in January 1819.

A crowd estimated at 60,000-80,000 gathered to listen to speakers, with many wearing their Sunday best as they expected a peaceful occasion.

However, magistrates observing the meeting decided to stop it but when the reading of the Riot Act did not help, they gave orders to arrest the leaders.

Military aid was requested and magistrates sent for the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry. Sixty Yeomanry cavalrymen entered the field brandishing their cavalry sabres and charging towards the cart that served as the speakers’ stand.

When some demonstrators tried to stop them by linking their hands, they began to attack them with their sabres. When the cavalry reached the cart, they arrested a number of people. The Yeomanry then began to strike down the flags and banners with their sabres.

The band fled and is said to have played on its return to Stalybridge, ‘See The Conquering Hero Comes,’ and although members lost their 10 shillings appearance fee and their coach, they become viewed as patriots who suffered in defence of popular liberty.

200 years on, that feeling still exists and the pride has not dulled.

Mr Atkins said: “As it did in 1819, the brass band movement still prides itself on association with the working class members of society and the recognition of the importance of a sense of community has never changed.

“As the oldest brass band organisation in the world with a long and illustrious history, everyone associated with the Stalybridge Old Brass Band today is proud to be a part of historic national events and privileged to be able to pay our respects to the people who lost their lives at Peterloo 200 years ago.”

Given the bicentenary, much has been said and written about Peterloo, which featured many local people.

Activist John Knight from Mossley, who was a key speaker at the Peterloo Massacre, is to be honoured in his home-town with a prestigious blue plaque that will be placed on the house where Knight was born in Quickwood, Roughtown.

Knight, born in 1762, was a leading member of the Chartist movement and a campaigner for workers’ rights.

He was arrested and released for his role in the event but later spent two years in prison for continuing to pursue his reformist ideals.

A schoolmaster in Oldham, he married Elizabeth Andrew and they had six children. He died aged 75 in 1838 and 2,500 followed his coffin from Oldham to St George’s in Mossley.

Stalybridge Old Band was founded in 1809 by Thomas Avison and Billy Hall. An agreement was made that all members would pay 3d per week towards band funds.

At this time there was eight members, each of whom attended the home of William Oldham in Mottram for music lessons.

By 1812, the band had 13 members and rehearsed at the General Baptists in Spring Street, Stalybridge with its first outing at the local Pace Egging Parade which was on the Monday before Easter Sunday, 1814.

In the 1840s the band became the first Brass Band in Britain to have all brass piston-valved instruments.

And in 1868, Alexander Owen joined the band as principal cornet and conductor at the age of 16. It still has the cornet and baton which he won at the 1874 British Open.

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