Pontefract's secret ballot box, 1872

Contributed by Wakefield Council Arts Museums Heritage

Ballot box used at the UK's first election by secret ballot in Pontefract, 15th August 1872.© Wakefield Council

Until 1872, the men lucky enough to be able to vote had to do so by a show of hands in public.Pontefract was centre stage in August 1872 when this ballot box was used for the first secret ballot in Britain to elect a Member of Parliament. It was the first time that people had voted in secret by placing an 'X' on a ballot paper next to the name of their choice - the system that we now take for granted.

It represents a huge change in the way elections were arranged. Before the Ballot Act of 1872 those lucky enough to vote, had to declare their choice in public. This system was open to bribery and intimidation.

The 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.

The votes were counted and the results announced at the Town Hall in Pontefract, where the Liberal candidate, H.C. Childers was elected MP for the town.

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