Britain’s first ballot box will go on show at Parliament’s Festival fo Freedoms

Coun Denise Jeffery pictured with the First secret ballot box at Pontefract Museum..SH10014260b..7th September 2015 Picture by Simon Hulme
Coun Denise Jeffery pictured with the First secret ballot box at Pontefract Museum..SH10014260b..7th September 2015 Picture by Simon Hulme

It may just be a simple wooden box – but it changed the history of democracy in Britain forever.

Pontefract was centre stage in August 1872 when the first secret ballot was used to elect a Member of Parliament.

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.

Britain’s first secret ballot box, marked with wax seals made from a liquorice stamp from a local Pontefract Cake factory, is usually housed in the town’s museum, but later this month will be exhibited in Parliament’s Festival of Freedoms.

It will be part of a year-long celebration of democracy marking 800 years since the signing of Magna Carta.

Wakefield Council leader Coun Peter Box 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.”

Museum curators will speak at Pontefract Library on Friday, September 18 from 2pm until 3pm. Tickets are required.

The ballot box will go on display in the Houses of Parliament as part of the Festival of Freedoms, which is part of Parliament in the Making.

The 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 system of civil rights and representative government over 800 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 visit www.wakefield.gov.uk