Cavalry called out

The new trackbed for the Horndean Light Railway looking south across the bridge over Southwick Hill Road, Cosham, about 1903.

NOSTALGIA: Ready and waiting, the shiny new tracks climbing Portsdown Hill

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On this day in 1817 a great reform meeting was held on Portsdown Hill.

At this gathering a petition to parliament was adopted pleading for universal suffrage (which meant men over 21 at that time) and annual elections.

More than 20,000 people came from miles around to protest despite magistrates having posted warnings on toll gates and distributing handbills threatening all who valued their safety to keep away.

Employers also warned their workers not to attend if they knew what was good for them.

The Hampshire Yeomanry Cavalry was called out in force and ball cartridges issued. In Portsmouth the garrison guns were loaded and the town placed under virtual siege.

In the event it was reported that: ‘no animosity, no riot disturbed the proceedings of the day’ and the petition was presented to parliament.

If there had not been threat it was estimated that 100,000 people would have attended.

The town, and country, had to wait 15 years before the electoral franchise was extended, because of strong opposition from the Tories.

The Reform Act 1832 extended the vote to the middle classes, increasing the electorate to one in seven men – from John Sadden’s The Portsmouth Book of Days.