Britain’s first Secret Ballot Box takes centre stage in national celebrations

​Date: 03/09/2015
Ref: PR 5045

Wakefield Council is celebrating British democracy by bringing Pontefract’s Secret Ballot Box to Westminster and talk about its significance in the history of British politics.

The Council is taking part in national celebrations for Parliament’s Festival of Freedoms to commemorate a series of major anniversaries in 2015.

Britain’s first secret ballot box is currently on display at Pontefract Museum. It is being loaned to the festival where is will go on display for Members of Parliament, Lords and the public at Westminster Hall and Portcullis House.

On Friday 18 September, 2pm – 3pm, the Council’s Museum Curators will give a fascinating talk on Pontefract’s secret ballot at Pontefract Library where members of the public are invited to see the box up close. The event is free but numbers are limited and tickets can be collected in advance at Pontefract Museum and Library from Friday 11 September.

The talk on this key milestone for British democracy will also be delivered by the Council’s museum curators at Portcullis House in Westminster on Monday 21 September.

Cllr Peter Box, Leader of Wakefield Council, said: “We are delighted that Pontefract is home to such an important piece in the history of British democracy and that thousands of people will have the chance to see the box from our museum collection when it goes on display at the Houses of Parliament.

“It is important that we celebrate these key milestones in the history of British politics and that we can showcase nationally the significant contribution that our district has made. Pontefract’s first secret ballot changed the way we vote and it is key to the British democracy we have today.

“I would encourage residents and visitors to come and see our museum collection at Pontefract and come along to our talk which tells the fascinating history of Britain’s first ever secret ballot in our district.”

Pontefract was centre stage in August 1872 when the first secret ballot in Britain was used to elect a Member of Parliament, allowing people to vote in secret by placing an ‘X’ on a ballot paper next to the name of their choice.

It represented a huge change in the way elections were arranged. Before the Ballot Act of 1872, those who were eligible to vote had to declare their choice in public, a system that was open to bribery and intimidation.

The ballot box is still marked with the wax seals used to ensure the votes were not tampered with. The seal was made with a liquorice stamp, used to make Pontefract cakes from a local liquorice factory.

Festival of Freedoms forms part of Parliament in the Making, which is a year-long cultural and education programme to bring to life the anniversaries of 750 years since the Simon de Montfort Parliament (1265) and 800 years since the sealing of Magna Carta (1215).

The Festival has a variety of events taking place to examine how the UK has built a powerful system of civil rights and representative government over eight hundred years.

Many of the events are open to the public, but booking may be required. For more information about the Festival of Freedoms visit  

Or for more information about Pontefract Museum and its collections visit