This paper considers the form of the square cloth of a handkerchief as a record keeper of individual experience. The enquiry originated as part of a commission at Bolton Museum archives in North West England to commemorate the people of Bolton who marched to St Peter’s Field in Manchester on 16 August 1819 to take part in a peaceful demonstration in support of parliamentary reform. Unprecedently cavalry charged into the large crowd which led to 18 people being killed and 400–700 battered and wounded. The event became reviled in Britain and took on the name of Peterloo Massacre. Included in the Bolton archives are the names of 23 Bolton people who were injured at the demonstration. I uncover an account of a 15-year old boy called Isaac Entwistle, who walked to St Peter’s Field from Affetside, just outside Bolton. It is a source into the past that inspires my own walk to Affetside with the aim to be receptive to the surface qualities I may discover there. One of the outcomes of the project is a set of four digitally printed handkerchiefs that introduces the handkerchief as a visual form to work through Entwistle’s narrative – made public in August 2019 at the Up Close Gallery, Bolton Museum. Through the use of procedures of archival research to create new ways for the public to engage with the heritage in their local area the exhibition calls for a re-assessment of the legacy of Peterloo Massacre to be confronted. The handkerchief has become a means to do this. Looking back at the original handkerchief produced and sold following the Peterloo Massacre, I hope to provide a reassessment of its commemorative capacity to engage in questions relating to the purpose of eye-witness testimony in conflict situations that continue to have relevance today.
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