banners, massacres, remembrance and justice

This tweet report from Fiona Rutherford about the Grenfell remembrance silent march on 14 December had some interesting pictures of the banners:

In particular, I was intrigued by this moving banner: (from her pics):

grenfell demonstration
photo by Fiona Rutherford, on twitter
I don't know anything about who made the banner or how it was made (please let me know if you know), and it's interesting that there appears to be a transparency of a ten pound note in the background of the scene of the burning tower in the centre, surrounding by the faces of those tragically lost.

It brought to mind parallels with the banners used by early 19th century radicals and later by the Chartists to commemorate and demonstrate against the Peterloo Massacre.

We don't have any surviving banners showing the Peterloo massacre, but plenty of descriptions of them from newspaper accounts of processions and demonstrations in the wake of Peterloo across the country (often as part of mock funeral processions to grieve the dead and protest against the actions of the magistrates and the yeomanry, and the government). They probably copied the famous caricatures done by Isaac (or possibly George) Cruickshank of the massacre, such as the 'Britons strike home!!!' caricature showing gross yeomanry cavalrymen striking down a classical-looking woman defending her child.

peterloo
Cruikshank, Massacre at St Peter's, or Britons Strike Home!!! (August 1819)


Banners are so integral to historic and modern protests. They have at least three different purposes:
  1. creating symbols, icons acting as shorthand for often complex grievances or ideas
  2. transmitting narratives of the event/injustice felt to both those involved and those who didn't know about it
  3. unifying different groups of people behind those symbols and narratives
Which is why the Tory government of 1819 banned them under the Six Acts as reaction to Peterloo.

But interestingly, the depictions of Peterloo were so powerful that the narrative that they came to represent, government and elite injustice against the poor, carried on to later social and political movements, both in Manchester and across the country. These included the anti-poor law movement from the mid 1830s, and importantly Chartism, who used Peterloo as a shorthand for attaching their movement to a longer radical heritage. And there were many banners depicting Peterloo at Chartist demonstrations. Here is an extract from the Northern Star's account of the mass procession to present the 2nd national petition of 1842, signed by 3.3m people, to the houses of parliament:

newspaper text
Northern Star, 3 May 1842

'Murder demands justice'.

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