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.
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.