16 August 2019 marks the 200th anniversary of the 1819 Peterloo Massacre where 60,000 people demonstrated in St Peter’s Field, Manchester demanding parliamentary reform. Eighteen people were killed and hundreds injured when the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry and the 15th Hussars were sent in to disperse the crowd and arrest the leaders.
Politician, Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt, a principal speaker at the St Peter’s Field meeting, was born at Widdington Farm in Upavon, Wiltshire on 6 Nov 1773.
Hunt was educated at Tilshead on Salisbury Plain by a Mr Cooper and later in Hampshire. In his memoirs Hunt recounts he was ‘sent to boarding school at Tilshead in Wiltshire, at five and a half years of age… This school, which was situated in a healthy village upon Salisbury Plain, consisted of a master and an usher, who had the care and instruction of sixty-three boys. The scholars were better fed than taught’.
Although his father hoped he would go into Holy Orders, he was inclined towards farming, and began work on the farm aged 16. His experience of the local poverty and rural administration is what has been posited as the driver towards his radical views.
He married a Miss Halcomb, daughter of the innkeeper of the Bear Inn, Devizes and had two sons and a daughter, but the couple separated in 1802, and he eloped with a friend’s wife, Mrs Vince.
He farmed at various locations in Wiltshire, Sussex and Shropshire, and became involved in politics and became a noted public speaker. His rousing speeches at the mass meetings held at Spa Fields, London gained him his ‘Orator’ nickname.
He was invited by the Patriotic Union Society to be one of the key speakers at the scheduled meeting in Manchester on 16 August 1819.