The songs

Manchester rain

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As cotton from the American slave plantations is shipped into the factories and mills of Northern England, an industrial revolution is creating unprecedented wealth for a few. The working poor live in slums, crammed into damp cellar dwellings. Children work long days in appalling conditions and many won’t survive to adulthood. Only a tiny proportion of wealthy men are entitled to vote and the newly industrialised towns like Manchester have no Members of Parliament to represent them.

Nothing Less than Revolution

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Thomas Paine and Mary Wollstonecraft are two extraordinary thinkers whose radical ideas take the world by storm. Inspired by revolutions in France and America, they propose new ways of thinking in which everyone is born equal with ‘rights’. Wollstonecraft questions the place of women in society and calls for girls to been given education. They are both considered dangerous radicals and Paine is sentenced to death for his writing and has to flee the country.

Banners held high

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Suffrage (the right to vote) is a hot topic for debate in the mills and factories. Reform groups are formed and mass meetings held. In 1819 a group of Lancashire mill workers and their families, led by Samuel Bamford, join thousands more to march into Manchester on a hot August day to attend a mass meeting calling for reform. They take great pride in their beautiful banners calling for “Liberty” and “Unity”.

Dust of St. Peter’s Field

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60,000 people gather on St. Peter’s Field in Manchester to hear speeches from leading Reformers. But this is a time of growing establishment fear of ‘revolution’ and ‘mob’. A decision is taken to ban the meeting and local magistrates enforce this with fatal consequences. They use volunteer ‘yeomanry’ who charge the crowd on horseback yielding swords. 18 people die and between 400-800 are injured. This day will become known as the ‘Peterloo Massacre’.

Half a dozen demands

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The Reform Act of 1832 extends the right to vote but only to include a few more wealthy men. There was widespread anger at this and a movement was born called Chartism. Their charter – a piece of paper with six demands for voting change – captures the popular imagination and a new style of campaigning is born. Hundreds of thousands attended huge rallies and millions signed petitions calling for all men over 21 to have a vote. The Government rejects the charter, Chartist leaders are imprisoned and in 1839 the army opens fire on a Chartist crowd in Newport, killing 22 people.

Tear these railings down

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By the 1860s Chartism is a spent force but new groups like The Reform League continue to campaign hard for voting rights. The main political parties began to accept the inevitability of reform. However, the pace of change is cripplingly slow and attempts to push a Reform Bill through Parliament fail. In 1866, 200,000 people gather in London for a meeting in Hyde Park, to call for reform. Frustrations boil over but the Home secretary gives an order for restraint. Crucially no one is arrested or killed, but instead some railings are torn down. The Reform Act finally passes in 1867 extending the vote to some working class men.


Sung by Tracey Browne  | Read the blog about how this song was created

Huge public protests in 1884 lead to further reforms and 54% of adult men are given a vote. Despite attempts to pass legislation there are still no votes for women. Hannah Mitchell is one of many women who campaigns to change this. As a girl she had to watch her brothers go to school whilst she stayed home and did chores. After running away from home at 14 she becomes a socialist and a suffragist. She causes disruption at public meetings, goes to prison, becomes an inspiring speaker and a leading campaigner. But like many, she pays a high price as her health suffers.

The Sly suffragette

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Emmeline Pankhurst’s group Womens Social and Political Union (WSPU) move away from the rest of the Women’s Suffragist movment with a call for more militant tactics. They begin deliberate law breaking such as window smashing and arson attacks. They become known as ‘Suffragettes’. As more women are imprisoned they are turned into hate figures by the popular press.

Paint this prison

Sung by Tracey Browne  | Read the blog about how this song was created

Establishment opposition to women’s suffrage is strong. Like the reformers and Chartists before them, the Suffragettes felt the full force of the law. Many were arrested and imprisoned. They carry out hunger strikes and some are brutally force fed, a shocking act seen by some as torture against the women. Some women keep secret Prison Diaries that show not just the level of personal sacrifice but the strong sense of purpose and how the camaraderie of the other Suffragette prisoners spurs them on.

Election Day (1929)

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Following World War One, in 1918 the right to vote is extended to all men over 21 and to some women over 30. In 1928 the vote is finally equalised when all women over 21 are given the vote. The General Election of 1929 is the first one held when everyone has an equal vote. In our final song we meet an old man who is able to take his grown up sons and daughters to the polling booths for the very first time.

QL_MVMNothing less than revolution (slight return)

In 1969 the voting age was lowered to 18 where it has remained ever since. Today the fight for fairer representation continues. Some call for voting age to be lowered to 16 and others fight for a proportional representation system to be introduced to make votes fairer.


Quiet Loner

Through 2016 Matt Hill (aka Quiet Loner) was songwriter-in-residence at The People’s History Museum in Manchester, UK. This site contains the blog about the residency along with information about the show and album that sprang from it – The battle for the ballot.

The project was supported by a grant from Arts Council England.

The album

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