James Wroe

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James Wroe (1788–1844), was the only editor of the radical reformist newspaper the Manchester Observer, the journalist who named the incident known as the Peterloo Massacre, and the writer of pamphlets as a result that brought about the Reform Act 1832.[1]

Early life[edit]

Wroe was born in Bradford, West Yorkshire. Trained as a woolcomber, after moving to Manchester he became involved in local politics.[1]

Manchester Observer[edit]

Main article: Manchester Observer

In 1818 Wroe, John Knight, Joseph Johnson and John Saxton formed the Manchester Observer. With Wroe as its editor, it pioneered radicalist popularist articles, and within twelve months was selling 4,000 copies per week to its local audience.[1] By late 1819 it was being sold in most of the booming industrialised cities - Birmingham, Leeds, London, Salford - that were calling for non-conformist reform of the Houses of Parliament.[1]

However, along with T. J. Evans and Saxton, Wroe was constantly being sued for libel, and often jailed for writing articles critical of Parliament's structure.[1]

Peterloo Massacre[edit]

Main article: Peterloo Massacre

At the start of 1819, Wroe, Knight, and Johnson formed the Patriotic Union Society (PUS). All the leading radicals and reformists in Manchester joined the organisation, including members of the Little Circle. At its first meeting, Johnson was appointed secretary, and Wroe became treasurer. The objective of the PUS was to obtain parliamentary reform.[1]

PUS decided to invite Henry "Orator" Hunt and Major John Cartwright to speak at a public meeting in Manchester, about the national agenda of Parliamentary reform, and the local agenda to gain two MPs for Manchester and one for Salford. To avoid the police or courts banning the meeting, PUS stated on all its materials as did the Observer in articles and editorial that it was "a meeting of the county of Lancashire, than of Manchester alone."[1]

Following the massacre, Wroe as editor of the Observer was the first journalist to describe the incident as the Peterloo Massacre, taking his headline from the Battle of Waterloo that had taken place only four years before.[1] Wroe subsequently wrote pamphlets entitled "The Peterloo Massacre: A Faithful Narrative of the Events". Priced at 2d each, they sold out each print run for 14 weeks, having a large national circulation.[1]

Closure of the Observer, jail[edit]

The Whig government wanted revenge, and went after the journalists, presses and publication that was the Manchester Observer.[1]

Wroe was arrested and charged with producing a seditious publication. Found guilty he was sentenced to twelve months in prison, plus a £100 fine.[1] Outstanding libelous court cases were suddenly rushed through the courts, and even a continual change of editors was not ufficet a defence against a series of police raids, often just on the suspicion of the newspaper writing a radical article. The result was that the Observer was almost continually shutdown form late 1819 onwards.[1]

In 1821, the 11 members of the first Little Circle excluding William Cowdroy Jnr of the Manchester Gazette decided to advance their liberalist agenda. They helped then cotton merchant John Edward Taylor form the Manchester Guardian, which he edited for the rest of his life and they all wrote for.[1]

With the arrival of the liberalist and non-conformist Guardian which proved commercially successful, the Observer decided to cease publication. In its last edition in February 1820, Wroe as editor wrote:

Later life[edit]

Wroe remained active in radical politics, although he did not join the Little Circle. Wroe became a bookseller in Great Ancoats Street, where he sold radical books and newspapers. In 1838 he was chosen as one of Manchester's delegates to the first Chartist National Convention. Wroe died in August 1844.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Stanley Harrison (31 Oct 1974). Poor Men's Guardians: Survey of the Democratic and Working-class Press. Lawrence & W; 1st Edition. ISBN 0-85315-308-6.