Henry Hunt – a local Wiltshire radical hero

by Di Harris

200 years ago this August, two men local to Devizes were right at the centre of the dreadful Peterloo Massacre in Manchester. Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt, a gentleman farmer born and raised near Enford and married to a woman from Devizes, was a radical campaigner for political reform. He had been invited to Manchester to speak at a public meeting about his passion for equal rights, the vote for all, parliamentary reform and an end to child labour. 

His views were a threat to the establishment and it was perhaps no surprise that the government wanted to prevent him from speaking. Attempts were made to arrest Hunt and the hussars were sent into the crowd when a riot erupted. Eighteen ordinary, unarmed, working people were killed, whilst 500 were injured. Devizes MP Viscount Sidmouth was Home Secretary at the time.


Devizes hasn’t remembered Henry Hunt in the way it has Viscount Sidmouth, who paid for the Market Cross to be installed and of course has a street named after him. But a performance walk held this year on the anniversary of the massacre, 16 August, introduced local people to Hunt’s family home and early influences.  

Henry Hunt and his fight for parliamentary reform must not be forgotten. He must be remembered whenever we are given the opportunity to vote or we see injustice around us or we see democracy under threat. We owe it to those people who died or were injured just for supporting his right to speak. And we owe it to Hunt himself who should finally be acknowledged and recognised locally for what he stood for.


Do you know Wiltshire's connection to Peterloo massacre?

Joanne Moore 28th August

PETERLOO was remembered by people who met at All Saints Church, Enford and walked to the Ship Inn at Upavon.

The Peterloo massacre had happened 200 years earlier in Manchester when a gathering calling for the vote for working people ended in violence. The orator on the day was Henry Hunt a gentleman farmer from near Upavon. He was arrested and later imprisoned.

The walk was organised by Devizes labour Party and chairman Rachael Ross said: “Peterloo took place 200 years ago on 16th August 1819 in Manchester at St Peter’s Field. The gathering there sought political reform - giving working people the vote.

“The meeting was planned as a peaceful protest, with men, women and children wearing their Sunday best and holding laurel leaves representing peace and friendship. It ended in tragedy as the yeomanry and hussars were sent in to the crowd of 60,000, causing panic and mayhem, with 18 killed and many more injured.” 

Rachael Ross

Chair, Devizes Constituency Labour Party