The Hunt

I had that dream again, you know
the dream I often dream …

There I am, standing in the crowd,
Some way to my left I see
the stoney pillars of the Friend’s House,
to my right, pennants and banners,
a multitude of colours, gently waving in the breeze
a sea of motion,
the murmur of fifty thousand expectant voices
punctuated by cries of victory, of Liberty, Fraternity
Ahead the hustings pulled into position as Orator Hunt climbs the steps to the stand
waving his oversized white hat,
to the assembled multitude
He dun’t half think a lot of himself, says Mary
threading her arm through mine

Faces turn to the rear now
Far behind us red coats gather in ranks
their bayonets glinting in the mid-summer sun
The Riot Act read from an open window
falls on deaf ears
arrest warrants handed to the constable
pleas for assistance dispatched to the Yeomanry and the Hussars

Mary’s grip upon my arm tightens
as the crowd suddenly surges forward

Pounding, the rhythm of horse’s hooves
upon the desiccated earth send
a shock-wave of panic across St Peter’s Field
speakers silenced, placards discarded,
faces etched with fear,
“Universal Suffrage” trampled into the dust
trampled beneath a hundred thousand feet
running for their very lives,
weeping in desperation for her unborn child,
Sweet Mary running beside me, falls, and cannot regain her stance

Assistance is useless
I cannot stand with the weight of the crowd upon me
So close now, the yelping dogs
the pounding of hooves
closer and closer
their baying bloodlust an augury
of the knife white teeth
each blast of the horn,
each bark of the riders,
a portent of death
ever closer, their scornful breath
until the hounds teeth tear
until the rapiers are brought down upon Mary’s flesh
the incisive canines cutting, lacerating
until flesh is no more,
her bloodied dress; the bloodied muzzles of the dogs
still barking, barking, barking!

I wake!
Throw open the window to catch my breath
the sky
bright with every light in the universe
has thrown out a mantle of white
across the cold, crisp night.
The only motion the blinking lights of an aircraft
circling in descent
And the russet flash of a fox
half hidden in the shadowed coppice, he barks,
his mournful, wicked bark
for a moment our eyes meet
then he turns and is gone
the two of us only somewhat reassured
that tonight the hounds are silent
the privileged riders confined to barracks
and for now, the fox and I are free

Mary Heys, a mother of six from Oxford Road, Manchester was one of eighteen peaceful protestors killed by the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry Cavalry at St Peter’s Field, 16 August 1819. 

It is estimated that between sixty and eighty thousand people had gathered in St Peter’s Field, Manchester to hear the radical speaker Henry Hunt and to protest against the limited suffrage afforded to working people and the North of England in general at the time. In 1819, Lancashire, with a population of over one million, was represented by two members of parliament; whereas so called rotten boroughs such as Old Sarum in Wiltshire, with one voter, elected two MPs, as did Dunwich in Suffolk, which by the early 19th century had almost completely disappeared into the sea.

Manchester Heroes, Sept 1819 Credit: The Art Archive / Eileen Tweedy Ref: AA327714 BBC History Magazine

The Manchester and Salford Yeomanry were an amateur militia of local businessmen and their sons, described at the time by the Manchester Observer as “the fawning dependents of the great, who imagine they acquire considerable importance by wearing regimentals” and also as “younger members of the Tory party in arms.” Their sabre charge of the crowd at St Peter’s Field left eighteen dead and hundreds wounded.

Mary Heys was pregnant at the time of her death. 

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