Continuing in The Orkney News series on inspiring journalists.
Born in Bradford in 1788 James Wroe worked as a woolcomber before becoming a journalist. The English woollen industry was extremely important and vast profits were made by factory owners. Woolcombing was part of the process of producing worsted cloth. Like all workers in the textile factories, the wages were low.
In 1818 James Wroe along with John Knight, Joseph Johnson and John Saxton formed the Manchester Observer. James Wroe not only reported for the Observer but was also its editor.
It soon became a national success for its radical reporting. This came as a cost to all who worked for it and their families who were continually hounded with libel suits and threats.
Henry Hunt called the Manchester Observer “the only newspaper in England that I know, fairly and honestly devoted to such reform as would give the people their whole rights.” Spartacus Educational
James Wroe also wrote many pamphlets and distributed them to a population becoming increasingly discontented with the undemocratic society of 19thC UK and poverty after the ending of the Napoleonic Wars.
On Monday 16th of August 1819 a demonstration of 60- 80,000 people who had gathered to campaign for parliamentary democracy at St Peter’s Field, Manchester were brutally attacked by mounted cavalry and militia.
An estimated 18 people, including four women and a child, died from sabre cuts and trampling. Nearly 700 men, women and children received extremely serious injuries. All in the name of liberty and freedom from poverty. History of the Peterloo Massacre
In his reporting of the carnage it was James Wroe who called it ‘The Peterloo Massacre’, the name by which we have now come to know it.
Several journalists were arrested.
James Wroe who also wrote about the massacre in pamphlets (the 19th C version of online blogging) which had a huge distribution across the land, was arrested and found guilty of producing a seditious publication. He was sentenced to a year in prison and fined £100 – a huge amount in those days.
It was made impossible to continue with the Manchester Observer and he became a bookseller of radical books and newspapers. As you can imagine his family struggled with finances and when he died in 1844 they were left in very poor circumstances.
Reporter: Fiona Grahame
Also in this series: