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Potwallopers - Pontefract's Secret Ballot

Pontefract, August 1872. It's election time but you wouldn't know it. There's no rioting, no fighting and hardly any drinking. The only person shouting is the Mayor, and that's because he has to organise the first ever British election by secret ballot. Pontefract's voters (a few men) will elect their MP by putting an 'X' next to their chosen candidates name instead of declaring it to everyone in the pub. No bribe. No corruption. It's a big deal and lots of people hop it will catch on. All eyes are on Pontefract. At least that's what radical feminist Josephine Butler hopes; she's brought the first female-led women's right campaign to town. How will the Mayor cope?

Pontefract, August 1872. It's election time but you wouldn't know it. There's no rioting, no fighting and hardly any drinking. The only person shouting is the Mayor, and that's because he has to organise the first ever British election by secret ballot.
Pontefract's voters (a few men) will elect their MP by putting an 'X' next to their chosen candidates name instead of declaring it to everyone in the pub. No bribe. No corruption. It's a big deal and lots of people hop it will catch on.
All eyes are on Pontefract. At least that's what radical feminist Josephine Butler hopes; she's brought the first female-led women's right campaign to town.
How will the Mayor cope?

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‘They obtained the use of a large loft in

which to hold a meeting, attended chiefly by

women; but the rude rabble of Pontefract

covered the floor with pepper and, having

partly filled the place below with straw

they set fire to it. At the same time they

shouted the filthiest abuse at Mrs Butler

and threatened all sorts of things.

Nevertheless she faced them calmly and, having encouraged Mrs

Wilson beside her to lean entirely on God’s help, she leapt through

a trapdoor and escaped into the street, followed by her friend.’

‘The means of exit was through a window

which had been stripped of its framework,

and in order to pass through this opening

the voter had first to ascend a gangway of

rough planks, at an angle of 45 o , and then

to descend a similar gangway; and there

were evidently many voters, especially amongst

those of advanced years, who were thankful when they had safely

accomplished their first effort at voting by ballot.’

‘the desks at which voters

are to mark their ballots are

of quarter inch rough stuff,

not even planed. They are

most ingeniously bestudded with heads and points of nails,

cleverly intended for testing the fibre of broadcloth. Similarly

improvised spikes surround each compartment on all sides’

‘the consumption of beer and spirits was evidently slow

enough to put the landlady in a very bad humour, while

scarcely one case of drunkenness has been noticeable.’

‘a little procession of policemen emerged from the building,

three of them bearing on their

shoulders the long dismal-looking

boxes. The affair resembled nothing

so much as a funeral, and so

apparently thought the onlookers, for

there was not a cheer or a shout.’

What happened next?

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