A CAMPAIGN has been launched to recognise the work and life of a Mossley-born 19th century political reformer.
For 180 years since his death, John Knight’s place in British social history has largely been overlooked or forgotten.
But the release of Mike Leigh’s acclaimed movie Peterloo has prompted a call for the radical reformer Knight’s contribution to the fight for universal suffrage to be recognised.
Fifteen people died and up to 700 were injured when armed Government militia charged on the assembled masses at St Peter’s Field, Manchester on August 16, 1819.
Knight was one of four men on the hustings at the time of the bloodshed, known as the Peterloo massacre and the subject of Lee’s film which premiered in Manchester in October.
Acclaimed actor Philip Jackson portrays Knight, who was born on December 19, 1762 at Quickwood and for a time lived at Little Haigh Farm on Quickedge Road.
He escaped with his life and was later acquitted of any offence connected with the Peterloo rally.
However, he subsequently served two years in jail for attending an unlawful meeting in Burnley in 1819.
A former handloom weaver and schoolmaster, Knight, who continued his trade union activities after release from prison, lived in Oldham at the time of his death in September 1838.
But with his wife and five of his six children already buried at St George’s, Knight’s funeral, attended by an estimated 2,500 mourners, took place in his home town.
A sixth child died later the same year as his father and was also interred in the family plot.
During the 1970s, St George’s Churchyard was cleared under ‘operation clean up’ and many headstones, including the Knight family memorial, were moved.
It is unclear what happened to the headstone though the inscription was recorded before its removal.
No images of Knight are thought to exist. However, police records of 1812 when he was 50 years old describe him as 5ft 7in, pale complexion, short grey hair, right eye a little defected in sight, a large mole on the right cheek, and a large scar on his upper right arm.
Thanks now to the work of John Fletcher, who grew up on the Fox Platt council estate in Mossley and now lives in Springhead, attempts are being made to ensure Knight’s work and legacy isn’t forgotten.
He does not expect anything quite as grand or expensive as the statue to suffragette Annie Kenney but John hopes a physical memorial can be erected.
He is also again searching for descendants of Knight after an appeal at the start of the noughties failed to trace any relatives.
“One thing that has come out in the many interviews with Mike Leigh about his film is that he has been shocked by the lack of awareness of Peterloo and the history surrounding it,” said John.
“My experience was the same. I carried out a small survey among friends and while most said they had heard about Peterloo, they were not aware of any details about what had happened other than it was a massacre. Not one person had heard of John Knight.
“Next year’s 200th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre will provide an ideal chance to put the record straight and honour the life’s work of this wonderful Oldhamer.
“John Knight worked tirelessly at great peril to his own safety and freedom for Oldham and all the other towns and cities in the country, to get fair representation in Parliament.
“Let’s encourage our educators to give some of their precious time to sharing the story of Peterloo with our young people.”
Already Mossley Town Team has indicated a willingness to add to its extensive blue plaque trail throughout top and bottom Mossley in memory of Knight.
Father David Warner, vicar of St George’s, Mossley, has also confirmed he is conducting his own research into Knight’s ‘missing’ headstone.