Britain’s first Secret Ballot Box takes centre stage in national celebrations
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
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 www.parliament.uk/festival-of-freedoms
Or for more information about Pontefract Museum and its collections visit www.wakefield.gov.uk/museums