Friday, 8 August 2014

Kersal Moor, Salford

Kersal Moor is a scrubby bit of moorland, with the occasional rare heathland flower, where I used to play as a child. In the middle of the moor there is St Paul's Church (where my sister was baptised) and the old junior school was next door. There were the remains of wooden steps and laid out paths, where the people of Salford and the surrounding area used to walk on Sundays. I knew that it used to be the site of the original racecourse, for horse racing, but that was the sum total of my knowledge.

Here's a picture of the moor by William Wyld in 1852, looking out towards the chimneys of Manchester. Queen Victoria commissioned the painting, and it is now in the Royal collection. The moor was bigger then, running right down to the River Irwell in one direction, and spreading across Moor Lane to what is now the rugby ground - the race track encircled the rugby ground as well as most of the present moorland.

What I didn't know, until I got into a conversation on Facebook with an old school friend, is that a huge Chartist meeting took place there in 1838. According to the Morning Advertiser at the time "the meeting then was certainly the largest that has ever taken place in the British Empire. – not less than 300,000 people could have been present."
The movement was named for the People's Charter and the Chartists were protesting about the state of democracy in their time, and campaigning for various measures to make things fairer - such as extending voting rights to every man over the age of 21, rather than limiting the vote only to property owners, and equalising the size of constituencies so that each MP represented about the same number of voters - Manchester was particularly poorly served here, as the population had increased hugely because of the Industrial Revolution, but the representation in Parliament hadn't changed.
They also wanted MPs to be paid, so that poor men could stand for Parliament as well as rich men, the secret ballot and annual elections "the most effectual check to bribery and intimidation, since as the constituency might be bought once in seven years (even with the ballot), no purse could buy a constituency (under a system of universal suffrage) in each ensuing twelvemonth; and since member, when elected for a year only, would not be able to defy and betray their constituents as now."
This made them dangerous radicals in the eyes of the ruling classes.

As well as being a handy place to hold open air meetings (in 1818 a group of coal miners assembled there to protest about their pay and dangerous conditions - Agecroft Colliery isn't far away) the moor was used by the military for exercises and reviews. This was another bit of history I knew about, because of the disaster of Broughton Suspension Bridge. As the troops marched across the bridge back to their barracks, it began to vibrate in time with the marching feet, and the bridge collapsed before they reached the other side. No-one was killed, but 20 men were injured, and since that incident troops in the British Army have always broken step when they cross a bridge.

There have also been duels, and in 1790 a burglar and highwayman called MacNamara was hanged there, though it didn't seem to do much to lower the crime rate. Archery clubs have met there, and there was a golf course built in 1818, only the second to be built outside Scotland. There were also, in the eighteenth century, races where the men competed naked, so that women could eye them up and choose a husband!

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