Harrison and Liberty for ever!
This site covers the life and times of the Reverend Joseph Harrison of Stockport, England who achieved fame as a Radical Reformer between the years 1818 to 1832.
It consists of a great deal of information I have collected over the years from newspaper reports, Home Office archives, family letters, prison records etc. I apologise for the hastily thrown together look and feel of the site and the somewhat unprofessional transcription and referencing. It’s a part time hobby so I try my best. Anyhow the aim is to show researchers what’s available out there and leave it up to them to follow up the proper primary sources.
If you just want to get a quick outline of Harrison’s Radical career, I highly recommend reading the Summary Page. It only takes about half an hour to read.
If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to ask by using the comments section below or e-mail me. Also, if you have any new information, I’d love to hear about it.
(5 x Great Grandson of Rev. Joseph Harrison)
Did you know that Henry Hunt attended a massive Reform Meeting at Smithfield, London just one month before Peterloo? In a provocative move by the Government they arrested Reverend Joseph Harrison on the hustings mid way through Hunt’s speech. With his great skill in oratory and persuasion Hunt was able to calm the people and prevent a bloodbath. Had it been otherwise we might be commemorating Smitherloo today.
Do you recognise the name Arthur Thistlewood above? He was the leader of a plot to murder the government ministers in 1820 and form a new provisional government. This plot became known as the Cato Street Conspiracy.
The Cap of Liberty
Putting together the summary it dawned on me how important a role the Cap of Liberty played in the lead up to the Peterloo Massacre. It almost seems a symbolic struggle between the Radicals’ right to hoist it and the Loyalists’ desire to crush it. For the likes of John Lloyd, Captain of the Stockport Troop of Cheshire Yeomanry, it is evident from his sycophantic reports to the Undersecretary of State that the Loyalists had been humiliated long enough and the time had come for vengeance.
The Radicals had declared they would defend the Cap with their lives. When the Loyalists tried to seize it at Sandy Brow, Stockport on February 15, 1819 the order of the day was “STAND FIRM” and the Loyalists were defeated.
Then shall we scourge, while justice nerves each hand
Those filthy vermin from our happy land;
Their pride pull down, their insolence subdue,
And teach them, England is not Waterloo.
The Loyalists dressed in their Yeomanry uniforms were playing soldiers, it was like a game to them. Their aim was to wrest the enemies’ Colours at any cost in a pathetic emulation of the brave soldiers of Waterloo.
At St. Peter’s Field on August 16, 1819 the hustings and the many flags on display were protected by a cordon of Radicals with linked arms. As the soldiers made their charge toward the hustings Henry Hunt cried out the same words that had been yelled six months earlier at Sandy Brow “STAND FIRM!” This time though the Yeomanry had the backing of the Government Magistrates and unleashed their fury on the poor Radicals. The Loyalists could now boast their Waterloo like victory but instead of dead Frenchmen on the field it was scattered with the dead and injured citizens of England.
The Radicals termed this dark day Peterloo.
Mike Leigh’s Peterloo Film
I’ve received news that Mike Leigh plans to direct a movie about the Peterloo Massacre. I hope he finds the information in this site useful and plead that he considers including the Stockport characters in the story.
Update: With the release of the Peterloo trailer I’m delighted to see that John Bagguley, Samuel Drummond and John Johnston (the Blanketeers) have been included in the film. Read about them on the summary page. Harrison was a good friend and supported them with legal advice, correspondence, and subscription money during their imprisonment throughout 1818/1819. You can find transcriptions of their letters on this site.
Update: Got my tickets booked and looking forward to seeing Peterloo at the BFF18 in Brisbane on 11th November.
Update: Just seen the film. A bit disappointed that the most colourful characters – Harrison, Lloyd, Birch, McInnis, Mitchell and Wolseley weren’t in it but I guess there’s only so much you can pack into a feature film.
Also not happy with the way Henry Hunt was portrayed. Yes Hunt was egotistical, vain and didn’t suffer fools gladly but he was no snob and was proud to associate with all classes of society and sacrificed a great deal for the workers’ cause. (I recommend a read of John Belchem’s excellent book – ‘Orator’ Hunt.)
To me the film wasn’t too bad but had an unfinished feel to it. With some decent editing and a new inspiring soundtrack the film could be resurrected. Perhaps this could be done before the US and DVD releases.
Description of Joseph Harrison
There are a few pictures of Joseph Harrison on this site but unfortunately they lack detail and are mostly drawn in caricature. From his prison records we know he had the following characteristics:
Height:- 5 foot 7 inches.
Hair:- Light Brown
Various newspaper accounts mention that he was “was decently dressed; he had on a black coat, with his hair combed straight down his forehead, like the Field-preachers of the beginning of this century.” (Chester Chronicle, Sept 10, 1819.) and that in court his speech was “given with a violent methodistical twang, which occasionally excited risibility.” At one point the “orator stamped emphatically with his foot. He then wiped his forehead , at leisure, with his pocket-handkerchief, and continued.”