Upon St Peter’s Field

By Richard Watkins

Location: St Peter’s Field (now Peter Street)

I can see the lads from Chadderton, their white and green hats standing out from the crowd.

‘Sithee Samuel,’ I say, ‘Can thee see t’ white and green flag? Our Frederick’ll be over there.’

Samuel tries, but cannot see, so I lift him onto my shoulders. He is a big lad, though not yet five, and proud to be here. Molly holds my arm; she looks bonny in her new yellow frock.

‘I’ve never seen so many folk.’

‘Aye, ‘tis summat t’ remember lad. They reckon sixty thousand, all told, an’ all come f’t stand for reform.’

‘Look, Pa.’ He points to a cart making its way, to cheers, through the crowd.

‘Which one’s Orator Hunt?’ I feel Molly standing on tiptoe to see as the cart reaches the hustings. The excited chatter of the crowd dies down, eager in anticipation.

‘Have at their flags!’

The cry comes from behind us. As I turn, a collective gasp issues in a wave coming back towards us; then screams fill the air.

Sabre blades glint in the sunshine, come slicing down and then return, crimson, into the air.

Molly screams.

Taking Sam down and into my arms, I pull Molly to me. The crowd moves backwards, pushing us along and then splitting apart as horses trample and swords slash.

And then they are upon us: drunken, cursing animals. Molly falls, pulling us down under the hooves. I cover them the best I can, but not before she takes a blow from the horse. Samuel is silent. Face white, his eyes screwed shut.

Dull pain bursts into my head. I see stars, and then blood flows into my face as I try to kneel. Vision dimming, I see the blade aloft ready to come down again.

I pray.

‘Enough!’ A shout from above. ‘Touch them again and I’ll strike you down, by God!’

The soldier looks down at us, face impassive, but eyes ablaze. As he comes between us and the Yeoman, I struggle to stand and pick Sam up. Molly, sobbing, pulls me away. Blood stains her pretty dress.

We flee.

Richard says: Married with four children (and dog), I have lived in various parts of Manchester for twenty years since coming down from the hills. I write in what little spare time I have.



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