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Last updated:24 April 2017

A special constable is sworn in to help thwart a revolution...

December 2016 - A special constable is sworn in to help thwart a revolution…

The Chartist movement to reform Parliament grew out of the demands of working class people in industrial towns for better living and working conditions, and was at its height between 1838 and 1848.

A six-point Charter of Political Demands was drawn up in 1837:

* The vote for every man over 21

* Secret ballots

* No property qualification for Members of Parliament

* Payment of Members of Parliament (to enable working men to stand)

* Parliamentary constituencies of equal size

* Annual Parliaments

Kennington Common special constable swearing in documentIn 1848 a gathering on Kennington Common in London was arranged in support of a petition backing the Charter. The plan was that the crowd would listen to leading Chartists and would then to march to Parliament with the petition.

Due to recent working class unrest across the country, and revolutions in France and elsewhere in Europe, the authorities greatly feared that Kennington Common would become the start of a huge revolutionary uprising. They therefore implemented an extraordinary security operation in the days leading up to the demonstration. Thousands of troops were positioned on London's bridges and the Bank of England's walls were reinforced.

Bank of England guarded

The Bank of England guarded - from Illustrated London News, 15 April 1848

Some 85,000 special constables were enrolled – an extraordinary number.   Those sworn in were said to include William Gladstone, Sir Robert Peel and Prince Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, the future Emperor Napoleon III of France. 

Our new acquisition shows someone – a George Smythson? – who was sworn in on 8 April 1848 by magistrates in Croydon, a long way from central London but clearly caught up in the authorities’ jitteriness about potential unrest.

This item was purchased as part of our project Voting for Change, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.


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