May I, through your letters pages, make an appeal in connection with the commemorations of the Peterloo massacre? The late Ken Sprague (Obituary, 6 August 2004), in his inimitable style, made a graphic series of 24 large prints to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the massacre. They were exhibited together in the aptly named Peterloo Gallery in Manchester. They were then sold individually and dispersed. It would be an appropriate recognition of his work and of the 200th anniversary if the collection could be brought back together again and shown in Manchester. I know the People’s History Museum has one or two of the prints but have no idea where the others are. If anyone knows, please get in touch.
Secretary, The Ken Sprague Fund
• John Richardson (Letters, 30 October) refers to the Merthyr rising as being far bloodier than Peterloo. If one can call a demonstration against what was effectively enforced conscription political, and I can, then the Hexham “riot” of 1761 was bloodier still. The numbers of dead are uncertain but were at least in the forties, if not many more. There were also hundreds wounded after being fired on and bayoneted by the soldiers who were called upon after the reading of the Riot Act or hurt in the subsequent panic.
• I was very interested to read about the Merthyr rising of 1831 in which 24 protesters were shot dead by the British army. However, this was not the first occasion the red flag was raised as a symbol of workers’ struggle. The red flag was raised aloft during the Liverpool seamen’s revolt of 1775, during which sailors opened fire on the town hall.
• Fake news is not a modern phenomenon. Alan Braddock cites family history to conclude that “Southerners may have forgotten the Duke of Wellington’s most ignominious campaign, but in Manchester it is still part of our history” (Letters, 31 October). In fact the duke had nothing to do with the decisions taken at St Peter’s Field on 16 August 1819. He was on the continent at the time and didn’t return to England until after the riot; nor was he in command of any of the forces involved: being master of the ordnance, he was in charge of the Royal Artillery and the Royal Engineers. According to Rory Muir’s excellent biography of Wellington, “Like most soldiers, Wellington disliked the use of soldiers to deal with civil disturbances.” The Manchester Observer of 21 August coined the term Peter Loo and it seems the duke became associated with the massacre in the popular imagination merely because of the play on words.
• Your correspondent is right to highlight the significance of the Merthyr Tydfil rising of June 1831 where 24 protestors were killed and many more seriously wounded by the British army. The main contrast with Peterloo was that the level of organisation and resistance on the part of the town’s population was far greater and more intense than anything witnessed at Peterloo.
Against a background of a strike by thousands in the town’s ironworks, working people fought off the army and yeomanry on three occasions and held the town for four days before succumbing to a force of 450 soldiers with muskets. The significance of the uprising was not lost on local magistrates and national politicians. It certainly explains why it was in their interest that the nature and reality of the rising was kept from as many as possible, and not only in the immediate aftermath but down through the years. It was indeed “forgotten” and remains so to many even to this day. However, Gwyn Williams did attempt to remedy this in his detailed account of events in his 1978 book The Merthyr Rising.
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