University of Salford archaeologists, alongside community volunteers, are to excavate the Manchester cavalry barracks which housed the troops sent out to disperse protesters in the notorious Peterloo Massacre of 1819.
The dig between 1 and 13 July will investigate Hulme Barracks, which were occupied by the army from approximately 1804 until 1915 and were the base for the Peterloo cavalry of the 15th King’s Hussars who also fought at Waterloo.
Currently the St Georges Park playing fields and community centre, the archaeologists hope to discover a wide selection of finds on the site, which in 1839, was reported to house 399 men and 20 officers. There has been no building work on the site since it was demolished in 1915, so there are high hopes of recovering soldiers’ equipment and everyday items from over 100 years of continuous occupation, which spanned Manchester’s development from a garrison town into one of the world’s greatest industrial cities.
In 1819 the 15th King’s Hussars, alongside the part-time Manchester and Salford Yeomanry, mobilised to disperse up to 80,000 protesters who had gathered in St Peter’s Field to demand political reform. The resulting sabre charge left approximately 15 dead and up to 700 injured. The Hussars were responsible for charging in to break up the crowd, but one officer was also heard trying to restrain the Yeomanry who were further in near the hustings.
The event was popularly dubbed the Peterloo Massacre in reference to the 1815 battle of Waterloo.
Several written accounts of the barracks survive, including this from Manchester journal, The Sphinx, written in 1868: “The main approach to the Hulme Barracks…is through a street, which owing to dirt or dinginess, is neither good for the sight or nose. Marine stores, rag and bone shops, public-houses of the lowest class, and tumble-down buildings give the neighbourhood anything but a pleasing appearance.
“But step into the barracks and see the soldier at home. It is literally a step, and a step only, from dirt and wretchedness to the very perfection of cleanliness and order. True, the barrack buildings are old and dingy, but military neatness works wonders, and there is plenty of space for such sun and breeze as can be coaxed into a region so near cottonopolis.”
Hulme Barracks ceased to be used by the cavalry in 1895 and were instead used by infantry battalions. In 1914 the site was bought by Manchester Corporation which demolished almost all of the buildings and converted the site to playing fields.
The main building which had housed the officers’ quarters and mess in the later 19th Century was retained in 1914-15 as it was being used as a headquarters of the East Lancashire Territorial Division. It was later used as a bowling green clubhouse. In the late 1970s the St George’s Community Association successfully campaigned to have the building saved and converted to a community centre. It is now a Grade II listed building.
The Hulme Barracks dig is part of the Dig Greater Manchester Project, run by the University of Salford and supported by Manchester City Council and the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities. During the four year project, each borough of Greater Manchester will host an excavation, with local community members given full training to assist the professional archaeologists.
Councillor Rosa Battle, Manchester City Council Executive Member for Culture and Leisure, said:“Dig Greater Manchester provides a fantastic chance for local residents to help uncover the region’s past and reveal the history hidden beneath all our feet.
“Manchester has a fascinating history and this project will give a glimpse into the lives of the people that took part in the Peterloo Massacre, a defining moments of its age that had reverberations around the world.“
Brian Grimsditch, senior archaeologist from the University of Salford, said: “This is an extremely high profile excavation of one of the principal historic sites in Manchester, and one that would not normally feature public participation.
“However, due to the way Dig Greater Manchester is structured, members of the community will be able to find out more about a site that spans over 100 years of the city’s explosive development, and that was part of many of the great events that shaped Manchester throughout the Industrial Revolution.”
For more information or to volunteer, email Brian Grimsditch at firstname.lastname@example.org