Friday, 21 September 2012

Putting on my white hat...


On 24 September 1819, little more than a month after the Peterloo Massacre, feelings in the Manchester area were still running high as can be seen from this broadsheet produced by the Committee of the Anglican Sunday Schools in Manchester and Salford. Worried by working-class unrest, they had called a special meeting to consider what they could do to stop children from attending Sunday School wearing the "white hats or other badges which are now used by the disloyal & disaffected as expression of their political sentiments". 

The reformers had adopted the 'white hat of liberty', after their spokesman Henry Hunt, who had become known for his distinctive white hat. In his book Radical expression, James Epstein includes the account of Isaac Johnson, a Stockport Chartist, who remembered being 'turned out' from Sunday School because his father 'obliged him to wear a white hat with crape and green ribband at Peterloo time'. 

Another anti-reform broadsheet in the Library makes this link between the symbolic white hats and Henry Hunt plain. Titled "The White Hat" it compares Henry Hunt to Oliver Cromwell and concludes 'Now march, my boys, in your radical rags; Handle your sticks, and flourish your flags; Till we lay the Throne and the Altar flat, With a whisk of Harry the Ninth's White Hat!'