Halifax to mark 180 years since 20,000 people took to town's streets over pay

Halifax is getting ready to celebrate one of the most important political events in the town's history.

By sarah fitton
Thursday, 4th August 2022, 12:56 pm

This year marks 180 years since more than 20,000 people took to the town’s streets to protest for better wages, improved working conditions and stronger democratic rights.

Their protest is likely to have been the first ever general strike in a capitalist country.

The strike began amongst North Staffordshire coal miners. By August 1, striking coal miners held a meeting in Halifax where they called for a general strike - meaning a spreading of the strike to other trades in the hope that all workers would join the struggle.

The strike happened in 1842

That Halifax gathering also the the miners making their first-known call for the establishment of a nationwide mine-workers union.

In the end, over 500,000 people across 32 counties would take part in the strike, with workers and communities across Calderdale at the heart of the events.

Women played a particularly important role in the strike and in some Calderdale mills, women and girls joined the strike while men remained at work.

Women also led the protest columns, marching right up to armed cavalry on Halifax’s North Bridge and demanding to be allowed through.

More than 20,000 people took to the streets

Prominent amongst the strikers was Ovenden Chartist Benjamin Rushton. He and other local Chartists backed the strike and ensured that it would call for democratic political reform as well as improved pay and conditions.

On August 16, 1842 - the same day as the Peterloo massacre in Manchester 23 years earlier - Halifax strikers had their own experience of violent reprisal from the authorities.

With over 20,000 protestors in the town, cavalry charged and cut at protestors with sabres, while riflemen fired on the crowd.

To mark the anniversary, Calderdale Trades Council are collaborating with other local groups to put on a series of commemorative events.

A series of events will be held in Halifax to mark the milestone anniversary

The council says the events have been inspired by Catherine Howe’s book Halifax 1842, and also owe a lot to Mark Metcalf, who has helped publicise this history and push for it to be commemorated properly.

On Friday August, 12, punk poet Attila the Stockbroker will perform at the Grayston Unity.

On Saturday, August 13 at 10.30am, a commemorative board will be unveiled at Lister Lane cemetery marking the details of the nine Chartists known to be buried there.

From 9.45am, local historian and member of the Friends of Lister Lane Cemetery David Glover will be running a guided tour of the cemetery.

At around 11.45am, a commemorative plaque will be unveiled by Catherine Howe on the side of Calderdale Industrial Museum. A new poem from Keiron Higgins, specially-commissioned by Michael Ainsworth of The Grayston Unity, will be read out at the unveiling.

From 2pm, there will be live music at The Grayston Unity marking the milestone. The pub is also launching a new beer, Great Strike, specially brewed in collaboration with Todmorden’s Eagles Crag brewery.

Daniel Whittall, Chair of Calderdale Trades Council, said: “180 years on, the Great Strike of 1842 is more relevant than ever as an example of how working people from diverse backgrounds and trades can unite in solidarity to push for economic and political change.

"As people rediscover the importance of trade unionism, we need to learn the lessons of our movement’s past and reflect on how state-sanctioned violence in 1842 spilled blood on the streets of Halifax in defence of lower wages, intolerable working conditions and a corrupt political system.

"We owe a lot to those who lost their lives, and those who survived, in the struggle of 1842. Learning the lessons of that year can make our own fights for better pay, decent and safe work, and political reforms against corrupt governance today all the stronger.”

Miles Harris, of Calderdale Industrial Museum, said: “The bravery, solidarity and determination of these men and women is an inspiration to us all to work for a better, fairer future.”