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50 Miles, 100 Voices, 200 Years
The Skelmanthorpe Flag Project
In July 2019, Commoners Choir and friends will be walking and singing to remember and celebrate people's solidarity, resistance and persistence, from 1819 to today.
The Skelmanthorpe Flag is one of the most impressive survivors from the early days of organised labour. It was made in Skelmanthorpe near Huddersfield in 1819 to honour the victims of the Peterloo Massacre who had been attacked and slain by the yeomanry during a peaceful demonstration at St Peter's Fields in Manchester.
The flag was paraded at mass meetings throughout the area, including a Chartist rally at Peep Green near Hartshead, which was attended by an estimated quarter of a million people. At a time when the government was increasingly worried at the prospect of a popular uprising, the flag was frequently kept hidden from the authorities (including, for a time, being buried underground) and only revealed at rallies and marches.
As part of the commemoration of Peterloo in 2019, Commoners Choir will create a walking, singing reminder of the reasons why the Skelmanthorpe Flag was first created and carried. The centrepiece of the project will be a near-exact facsimile of the flag which will be carried from the village of Skelmanthorpe, across the Pennines, to Manchester, where the Peterloo commemorations will be taking place.
The Choir have been hosting banner-making workshops with textile artist Catherine Long. Taking the Skelmanthorpe Flag and the movements at the time of Peterloo as a starting point, people have produced flags that express their own modern-day struggles and solidarity. These flags will also make the journey across the Pennines.
Together with Shepley Singers (from Skelmanthorpe) and She Choir (from Manchester) and with schoolchildren from primary schools in Skelmanthorpe, we are rehearsing a specially-written piece of choir music based upon the lines written on the flag:
‘May never a cock in England crow
Nor never a pipe in Scotland blow
Nor never a harp in Ireland play
Til Liberty regains her sway’
The piece sings of the history of the flag, tracing its journey up to the present day as a symbol of support, collaboration and solidarity, and features the repeated refrain ‘We’ve more in common than divides us’ in echo of the words of MP Jo Cox.
The walk begins on Thursday July 4that 4pm, where the song will be sung in the open air in the village of Skelmanthorpe before members of all three choirs set off to walk around 50 miles on footpaths across the Pennines to Manchester, carrying the flag. This will be a three-day walk with invitations for members of the public and supporters to join for as little or as much as they feel able. We'll post details of the route and the full itinerary soon.
The walk reaches central Manchester on Saturday 6thJuly, and on the following afternoon (Sunday 7thJuly) Commoners Choir, She Choir and Shepley Singers will perform a concert featuring the Skelmanthorpe Flag Song at the People’s History Museum (3pm). The flags will be on display and there will be a projected slide show of the walk. The People’s History Museum is displaying the original Skelmanthorpe Flag as part of its Peterloo Exhibition.
People’s History Museum:https://phm.org.uk/events/50-miles-100-voices-200-years/
There's a new section on the website – see the list of pages above now includes 'Study', which is exactly that: an academic study of Commoners Choir, its inception and its links to the radical history of singing and walking. It's written by Lisa Taylor (Leeds Beckett University) and is published in Leisure Studies, a collection of academic papers. It's called:
Real change comes from below: walking and singing about places that matter; the formation of Commoners Choir
...and is a detailed look at how this bunch of ne'er-do-wells came together almost three years ago to sing 'Get off your arse!' and walk up some big hills, all in the grand tradition of William Morris, the Clarion Clubs, and countless other determined folk.
C h o i r a l S c r a t c h
7" vinyl EP
Six singalong Protest Songs in a fold-out sleeve –
Available now: See SHOP for details