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‘Our Sam – The Middleton Man’: Community needed to help bring Middleton’s most famous son back to life

“In ten minutes from the commencement of the havoc the field was an open and almost deserted space. The sun looked down through sultry and motionless air. Several mounds of human being still remained where they had fallen, crushed down and smothered. Some of these still groaning, others with staring eyes, were gasping for breath, and others would never breathe more…”

Samuel Bamford

These are words from Middleton born Sam Bamford’s first person account of the Peterloo Massacre in 1819. Sam was a radical reformer, poet, writer and handloom weaver who, on 16 August 1819, led 6,000 people on a peaceful human rights march from Barrowfields in Middleton to St Peter’s Field, Manchester, which left 18 people dead and six hundred injured at the hands of the cavalry. He was arrested on the day and spent a year in Lincoln Jail, writing poems and songs that became anthems, including ‘Song of the Slaughter’ which was sung all over the north of England, as Sam Bamford became nationally known. His funeral in 1872 was one of the biggest public events in Middleton’s history; a memorial obelisk was put up in Middleton Graveyard and stands to this day.

Sam Bamford was Middleton’s most famous historical son, yet few have heard of him these days. Now community media organisation REELmcr is going to put that right, with a huge Heritage Lottery community project and film to get ‘Our Sam’ back as a household name, with a grant of £65,000 made possible by the players of the National Lottery.

“I was lucky enough to learn about Sam Bamford at school during the 1960s and 70s” recalls Middleton born REELmcr Director Jacqui Carroll. “Everyone in Middleton not only knew who he was, but celebrated the great man’s work and legacy. It really shocks me just how few people know who he is today. I’m honoured to have an opportunity to change this.”

‘Our Sam The Middleton Man’ follows on from the success of the Heritage Lottery funded ‘Middleton Remembers’, a poem written by local people under the guidance of Manchester poet Tony Walsh, to honour their ancestors’ involvement in the first world war.

Anthony Donohue, Middleton resident, who took part in ‘Middleton Remembers’ with daughters Grace and Lauren is looking forward to the next project:

“We’d love to be involved with the Samuel Bamford project. There’s so much history right on our doorstep; in fact we pass Sam’s memorial stone every day on our dog walk, but we know hardly anything about him. They don’t teach you about him in school, do they?

He was one of Middleton’s most influential figures; one of our own who stuck his neck out and put his liberty on the line so that society could be a little fairer. By rights we should all be singing his name. Projects like this don’t come round everyday so it’s important to do it right and treat it with respect because it really does bring the community together as we find out about our shared history.”

A broad collaboration

‘Our Sam – The Middleton Man’ will be a highly collaborative project, with local partners including Link4life, People’s History Museum, Middleton Library, Working Class Movement Library, Touchstones Rochdale, plus local historians, academics and authors, musicians and actors.

Tom Besford, Arts and Heritage Manager of Touchstones, Rochdale, explained the political significance of the project:

“Through reasoned argument, skilled oratory and powerful poetry, Sam Bamford inspired thousands to demand more from their government. As the home of Rochdale Borough’s Arts & Heritage Service, we at Touchstones are delighted to be supporting and working with REELMcr and the people of Middleton to create new films to educate and inspire people today about the incredible work of one of the instigators of the march on St Peter’s Fields in 1819 and the subsequent Peterloo Massacre.”

The project has also gained the attention of local creatives. Neil Bell, who is playing Sam Bamford in Mike Leigh’s new film on Peterloo, has offered all his research notes and to deliver a workshop with the group, and Kaiden Nolan, a young musician in the Middleton band, Scuttlers had this to say:

“I welcome and support any project that involves spreading the word about Samuel Bamford. His words and wisdom have come a long way from his generation and for them to be forgotten would be a great shame; a loss of hope for our people…”

REELmcr’s Jacqui Carroll and Kallum Nolan at Touchstones Rochdale looking at signed first editions of Sam’s books

About REELmcr

REELmcr is a dynamic, not for profit, social enterprise, committed to giving a voice to the most alienated, deprived, underrepresented and vulnerable communities. It provides inter-generational community groups across the North West with the opportunity to produce personal or collective stories of individuals, heritage and communities. Groups are encouraged to focus on issues that affect all members of their community rather than individual difference. Promoting cohesion and social history is the goal that underpins all of their projects.

REELmcr have joined forces with Middleton film maker, Kallum Nolan of RKid Media, to launch ‘Our Sam – The Middleton Man’, via the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

Kallum described his excitement for the upcoming project:
“The news of funding from HLF for ‘Our Sam The Middleton Man’ is nothing short of monumental for the people of Middleton. I genuinely couldn’t be happier. We created this project to reignite the town’s rich heritage.”

Get Involved

REELmcr is inviting Middleton people of all ages to help research the life and work of Sam Bamford, with exciting investigative workshops, museum searches, archive delves and heritage trails. The project will culminate in a short drama film that will make Sam’s life relevant to young people, which will have a civic premiere and tour of the region. The film will also feature as part of the big Peterloo 2019 centenary commemorations.

The project is aimed at anyone with an interest in local heritage but also anyone who fancies acting or has an interest in filmmaking.

Historian and editor of Samuel Bamford’s diaries, Robert Poole, explained how Bamford himself would have strongly supported Middleton’s community coming together for a social history project such as this:

“The involvement of young people from all parts of the area would earn Bamford’s warmest approval, for he was a great advocate of education and investment in youth, and a believer in the importance of local history for community identity.  He was of one of Victorian England’s bravest men, and one of its greatest writers…and Middleton will rise again with him.”

Alice Toomer – McAlpine

An introductory workshop for all those interested will be held in the Sessions Room at the Old Boars Head, which Sam Bamford frequented, on Thursday 31st August at 6.30pm.

REELmcr is also inviting Middleton people to attend The Peterloo Names event on Sunday 20th August, commemorating the 18 people who died at Peterloo. It’s an outdoor event in Albert Square, Manchester, that stars actor Christopher Eccleston and many others. Should numbers suffice then transport from Middleton will be provided.

Anyone that wanrs to get involved in either event please contact Jacqui Carroll on 0793 1234 890 or email reelmcr@gmail.com.

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