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By Meg McHugh on

On This Day – John Bright at the Free Trade Hall

In the first of a new series marking significant dates related to items in our collection, Senior Curator Meg McHugh looks at John Bright, a popular politician during the Victorian era who was instrumental in bringing about electoral reforms.

Portrait of the Right Hon. John Bright, dated 1876


24 September 1866

John Bright addresses the masses at the Free Trade Hall

“On Monday afternoon at three o’clock, the greatest meeting that has ever hitherto been assembled in England was held at Manchester… Notwithstanding torrents of rain which continued throughout the day, the numbers assembled have been estimated … at between 100,000 and 200,000 persons”.

This is how The Observer described the scenes at Campfield, Manchester, 150 years ago today. The large open space, right on the doorstep of the museum’s site, was filled with protesters, and six platforms were erected to welcome members of the Reform League.

The headliner of the day was John Bright. Born in Rochdale in 1811, Bright was a popular politician who made his name as a champion of radical causes. In the autumn and winter of 1866, he travelled the length and breadth of the country campaigning for parliamentary reform. When he took the stage of the Free Trade Hall on the evening of 24 September 1866, he was greeted with rapturous applause.

Bright and his fellow activists sought electoral reform, striving for universal male suffrage. As Bright explained to the Manchester crowds:

“Our purpose tonight is to make the House of Commons, which professes to represent the people, a reality and not a sham. The facts as to our representation are simple… It is a fact worth knowing that five millions of men in the United Kingdom have no vote… I call it a stupendous fraud upon the people”.

John Bright was a captivating speaker and his ideas were met with cheers of delight by his Manchester supporters. This glass dish in the collections of the museum commemorates a politician who was committed to ‘Peace & Plenty’ for all.


Picture of a glass dish with an engraving of John Bright

Portrait image credit: Kodak Collection/National Media Museum/Science & Society Picture Library
Plate image credit: Museum of Science and Industry

One comment on “On This Day – John Bright at the Free Trade Hall

  1. Hi, Ed Glinert of New Manchester Walks here. Great piece, but a little confusing. I’ve read that John Bright spoke to reformers at the Free Trade Hall in front of 5,000 but you’re saying that The Observer described the scenes at “Campfield [a] large open space, right on the doorstep of the museum’s site.”

    Which is it? Free Trade Hall or open space?

    Can we have some clarity for those of us compiling The Manchester Encyclopaedia!

    Thank you

    Ed Glinert

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