Ballads and songs of Peterloo

Author: Alison Morgan

This book is the first edited collection of poems and songs written in the immediate aftermath of the Peterloo Massacre in 1819. Of the seventy or so poems included in the anthology, many were published as broadsides and almost half were published in radical periodicals, such as the moderate Examiner and the ultra-radical Medusa with many from the Manchester Observer. Although I have provided headnotes and footnotes to support the reading of the texts, I intend them to stand alone, conveying as much of the original publication as possible, in order not to dilute the authenticity.

Following an introduction outlining the events before, during and after the massacre as well as background information on the radical press and broadside ballad, the poems are grouped into six sections according to theme, rather than chronologically or by publication because I want the reader to note the similarity between so many of the poems. Grouped in this manner, one cannot avoid the voices echoing down the centuries, speaking to us of the horrors of the time in texts that can no longer be ignored. Shelley’s Masque of Anarchy is included as an appendix in acknowledgement of its continuing significance to the representation of Peterloo.

This book is primarily aimed at students and lecturers of Romanticism and social history. With the bicentenary of the massacre in 2019 and Mike Leigh’s forthcoming film, I envisage the potential for a wider readership of people interested in learning more about one of the most seminal events in English history.

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‘Morgan’s background in English literature shows through in her insightful analysis of the texts, but the avid historian will not be disappointed. These songs, written at the time and sometimes as eyewitness accounts, often contain references to contemporary cultural touchstones and political figures, many of which may be unknown to present-day readers. But through the incredibly detailed and comprehensive footnotes, the ballads help to provide a deeper understanding of the political and emotional landscape than could be gained from a history book alone. This is a work of which Roy Palmer would have been proud.
Folk Music Journal
January 2020

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