Raves, riots and revolutions: Manchesters radical history of mass gatherings

From Peterloo to the MIF Procession, via Manchester Pride and acid house, Manchesters communal happenings have helped shaped the soul of the city

The opening event of this years MIF is a new work curated by Jeremy Deller, but created by the people of Manchester. What Is the City But the People? will see a cross-section of Manchester citizens parading down a giant catwalk as accompanying videos and music tell the stories of their lives, celebrating the diversity and character of this vibrant city. Its the second mass self-portrait of Manchester that Deller has overseen for MIF, after he marshalled a uniquely Mancunian procession of 1,700 locals down Deansgate in 2009, featuring everyone from Big Issue sellers to boy racers to Stretford rose queens.

The worlds first industrial city, Victorian Manchester was a hotbed of radical ideas, home to Anti-Corn Law League agitators and rioting Chartists. As a result, its history is steeped in mass gatherings that encompass politics, protest, music and celebration. Here are some of Manchesters most momentous get-togethers.

The Peterloo Massacre
1819, St Peters Fields
Over 60,000 peaceful pro-democracy and anti-poverty protesters gathered to hear speakers including famous orator Henry Hunt, but were attacked by infantrymen and Yeomanry on horseback, armed with sabres and clubs. Between 10 and 20 people died. The Peterloo protest was hugely influential in giving ordinary people the vote, as well as leading to the rise of the Chartist movement, trade unions, and the establishment of The Manchester Guardian in 1821.


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Peterloo Massacre, 1819, by George Cruikshank Photograph: Spencer Arnold/Getty Images

The Art Treasures of Great Britain exhibition
1857, Trafford Park
Inspired by Londons Great Exhibition of 1851,
the Manchester version was bankrolled by the citys cotton trade business owners. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert granted patronage and were among the 1.3m attendees who visited the exhibition during its 142-day run. It remains the largest art exhibition to ever be held in the UK and probably the world with over 16,000 works on display. The orchestra that played at the opening became the Hall.

The millworkers stand against slavery
1862, Free Trade Hall
In the 1860s, Manchester imported up to 75 per cent of all cotton grown on southern US plantations, but millworkers agreed, at great personal sacrifice, to support President Lincolns embargo. They refused to touch raw cotton picked by US slaves, endorsed by a noisy gathering at the Free Trade Hall on New Years Eve 1862. Lincoln wrote to them praising their stance and his statue now stands in Lincoln Square. Catch Jane Horrocks dramatisation of these events, Cotton Panic! at this years MIF.

Whit Friday Brass Band Contests
1884-present day, Saddleworth
The Saddleworth and Tameside Whit Friday Brass Band Contests, dubbed the greatest free show on Earth, have been running since 1884, when Whit Week was a rare holiday for local workers in the mills and factories. The contests were portrayed on the big screen in the 1996 film Brassed Off.


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The Saddleworth and District Whit Friday brass band contests, 2016 Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

The Battle of Bexley Square
1931, Salford
10,000 unemployed men and women marched on Salfords town hall in protest at the introduction of means testing at the height of recession. Those on the march included folk singer Ewan MacColl and author Walter Greenwood, who immortalised the incident in his book Love on the Dole.

Deeply Vale festival
1976-1979, Bury
Deeply Vale was a free festival held for four years in the hills between Bury and Rochdale. It grew from 300 people in 1976 to 20,000 in 1979, and was bigger and more organised than the nascent Glastonbury festival. Steve Hillage, The Fall and The Durutti Column all played. It inspired a whole generation of musicians, from David Gedge of The Wedding Present to Jimi Goodwin of Doves.

Moss Side riots
1981, Moss Side
Two days of rioting in the inner city district of Moss Side were fuelled by mass unemployment and racial tension, particularly between local youths and the police. The Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police at the time, James Anderton a controversial religious moralist was later lampooned in the Happy Mondays song Gods Cop.

Papal visit
1982, Heaton Park
Making the first visit to Britain by a reigning pope, John Paul II said mass at Heaton Park to a huge congregation of 250,000, including a 10-year-old Liam Gallagher. When Oasis headlined Heaton Park themselves in 2009, Liam told the crowd: Last time I was here I came to see the Pope. He was alright but he didnt have many tunes.

The Festival of the Tenth Summer
1986, Various venues
A music and arts festival organised by Factory Records to celebrate 10 years since the Sex Pistols played the Lesser Free Trade Hall, viewed by many as catalyst for a generation of Manchester musicians. The final gig at G-Mex was headlined by New Order and The Smiths.

Acid house raves
1986-92, The Kitchen, The Haienda and beyond
From 1986 onwards, acid house became the underground sound of the city, from warehouses and illegal clubs like The Kitchen to Factory Records legendary hangout
The Haienda. Manchesters 808 State and A Guy Called Gerald were among the first UK acts to take acid house into the charts in 1989 as the city fully embraced the communal nature of the rave revolution.

The Hacienda, 1989 Photograph: PYMCA/REX Shutterstock

Section 28 rally
1988, Albert Square
20,000 people descended on Albert Square for a rally against the Conservative governments Section 28 act, which decreed that councils should not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality. It featured Tom Robinson, Sir Ian McKellen and Jimmy Somerville, while a Section 28 fundraising gig at International 2 was headlined by The Stone Roses and James.

Manchester Pride
1989-present day, Manchester gay village
Manchesters annual LGBT festival and parade (which has changed names over the years, from Love Rights to Mardi Gras to its current incarnation as Manchester Pride) attracts thousands from across the UK to the citys gay village in and around Canal Street. The three-day celebration takes over the city every August bank holiday.

Piccadilly Gardens, site of What Is the City But the People?, Jeremy Dellers parade for Manchester International Festival Photograph: Jonathan CK Webb

1997-2007, Castlefield
Initially conceived as Manchesters response to the 1996 IRA bomb that injured 200 people and devastated the city centre, Dpercussion became a huge free urban music festival, with over 70,000 people pouring into Castlefield every August. The festival was a precursor to what became Parklife.

Jeremy Dellers Procession
2009, Deansgate
For MIF 2009, Turner Prize-winning artist
Jeremy Deller curated a unique mass procession of 1,700 locals, ranging from the third Davyhulme Scout and Guide Marching band playing The Falls Hit the North, to souped-up car enthusiasts putting a donk on it. I like what has happened in Manchester, historically, politically, musically, explained Deller. I wanted to try and make something a bit like a procession you would see on The Simpsons, a sort of social surrealist event full of bizarre, funny, wrong-seeming things.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2017/jun/07/raves-riots-and-revolutions-manchesters-radical-history-of-mass-gatherings

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