- Peterloo: The Story of the Manchester Massacre by Jacqueline Riding
Head of Zeus, 386 pp, £25.00, October 2018, ISBN 978 1 78669 583 3
I visited the set of Mike Leigh’s Peterloo last year. Jacqueline Riding, who was acting as a consultant on the movie and has now written an account of the event it commemorates, showed me round the recreated St Peter’s Field. Actors wore the military regalia of the 15th regiment of hussars and the 13th regiment of foot; there was a wood-panelled room, like the one from which the Manchester magistrates had looked out over the crowd. I walked away from the hustings to gauge whether it would be possible to hear a speaker from five hundred yards. As an exercise in historical accuracy, it was pretty impressive, even if this wasn’t Manchester but Tilbury Fort, on the Thames Estuary. The Victorians filled the area behind what is now St Peter’s Square with grand buildings such as the Free Trade Hall (now a hotel) and Manchester Central railway station (now a conference centre). Leigh’s set designers therefore built early 19th-century Manchester in an Elizabethan fort on the Thames. The post-production editor was busy on his laptop erasing the passenger ferries, power station and wind turbines on the horizon. I have never been in a place layered with so many structures ranging from the 16th to the 21st century. But after the crowds of extras assembled and the cavalry began to charge, I was transported to Manchester in 1819.
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