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.

Thank you

Anthony Youngman
(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.

Description of Joseph Harrison

Few pictures exist of Joseph Harrison and 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.
Make:-   Stout
Visage:-   Longish
Complexion:-   Fresh
Eyes:-   Grey
Hair:-   Light Brown

Various newspaper accounts mention that he “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.”

Read more about his Early Life…

10 thoughts on “Rev. Joseph Harrison (1779 – 1848)

  1. John Youngman says:

    Very well researched and engaging writing style. Looking forward to movie PETERLOO but feel this period of history deserves more indepth treatment possible with TV mini series.


  2. Jean Bailo says:

    Hello I found this really interesting, I am a tour guide and am researching the story of the Female reformers in Stockport, ,I am not clear on hat exactly as the battle of Sandy Bro?


  3. Ray says:

    An excellent read which has brought to light a little known piece of Stockport history. No doubt the Rev Harrison and my GGGGrandfather, from Bullock Smithy, who was wounded at Peterloo, would have crossed paths at some point.

    Having seen Mike Leigh’s film, I was disappointed at the lack of reference to Stockport although those parts of the story which did feature seemed mostly accurate – but, clearly, not the whole truth.

    I would recommend Graham Phythian’s recent book “Peterloo: Voices, Sabres & Silence” on the subject.


    1. Anthony Youngman says:

      Hi Ray,

      Thanks for your kind comments!!

      Yes, I too was pretty disappointed with the lack of reference to Stockport as it had the most interesting characters and was at the heart of the action.

      I have a feeling the Peterloo Graphic Novel that comes out next year will fill in the gaps.

      Thanks for the tip, I’ll give it a read.

      Kind regards,




    Hi Anthony, I’ve been looking at your site for some time but didn’t realise there was a comments section. I am the 4xgt grandson of James Moorhouse of Stockport who was arrested at Peterloo, but eventually acquitted, and who was long-time radical. Your site has helped publicise both of our ancestors.


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