Thirteen years after the Peterloo Massacre in 1819, the mill owner that led the murderous Yeomanry, Hugh Hornby Birley, the most hated man in Manchester, still casts a dark shadow over the impoverished area. His workers include the nine-year-old Mary Burns, whose family relies on her wages to survive. She will mature into a radical Chartist, fighting to change her world.
James Hull is sent into the midst of the deprivation as a missionary but, faced with such misery, he abandons his spiritual mission to save lives. His wife, Elizabeth, is devastated by the portentous death of their eighteen-year-old daughter, consumed by such guilt that it threatens to overcome her.
When the Chartists strike across the north-west in 1842 the harsh memories of Peterloo are rekindled. James and Mary support the strikers, confronting Birley, who is determined to resist the cries of working people. Each faces their own tragedy along with all the people, searching for the means and the will to survive.