Agricultural Hall Islington (Wikipedia)
It is 150 years since, on 11th February 1867, the Reform League led a demonstration from Trafalgar Square to the Agricultural Hall in Islington to demand an extension to the franchise.
The Reform League was a coalition of Liberal politicians and craft trade unions (the general unions we know today didn’t start to appear until the 1880s) together with a smattering of more radical political activists, often ex-Chartists, that went on in some cases to form the nucleus of the socialist and marxist movements in Britain, again from the 1880s.
The franchise had been reformed in 1832 but that had barely given any working people the vote. The Chartist campaign for adult male suffrage had failed but the campaign for reform continued. A Liberal Bill to give more people the vote (far still from universal suffrage) had foundered in 1866. The leading Tory Disraeli was in the process of bringing a further Bill. The Reform League took the decision that to achieve any change pressure from without- demonstrations- were needed.
That on 11th February 1867 was large enough to provoke complaints that the traffic (horse carts) had been stationery for an hour as it made its way to the Agricultural Hall. It had only been opened in 1862 and stands still as the Business Design Centre (the entrance to the old Hall is on Liverpool Rd N1).
After 11th February pressure continued. It was decided not to have a demonstration on Good Friday, the respectable Reform League not wishing to annoy religious sentiment. Instead one went ahead in Hyde Park on 6th May 1867. That is another story but the result was to force major concessions in Disraeli’s Bill so that it gave the vote to many more working men than had been intended.
The 1867 Reform Act, hurriedly passed, also created some new Parliamentary constituencies including Hackney which had 2 seats. In the 1868 General Election Hackney returned its first MPs, both Liberals.