The Hyde Park Demonstration

In The Heiress Effect, Oliver and Free attend a demonstration in Hyde Park on May 6th. This demonstration actually happened; if you want to read a newspaper account of it, this is what The Daily News had to say of it on May 7th.


There was no obstruction to the Reform League demonstration in Hyde-park yesterday, and consequently the whole passed off without disturbance. During the morning and afternoon the inhabitants of the suburbs of the metropolis were surprised by immense van loads of policemen proceeding in the direction of the west end; the neighbourhoods of the vestry-halls were edified by the preparations made for the swearing in of special constables; and the young ladies in the vicinity of the chief barracks were blessed with the marching past their windows of several fresh troops from Windsor and elsewhere. Serious as must have been the prospect which daybreak presented to these gallant patriots, sunset brought them the mortifying reflection that their occupation was gone. The special constables particularly deserve the sympathies of an appreciative public. Extensive preparations were made for the enthusiastic crowds of middle-class patriots who were expected to besiege the vestry-halls and police courts in order to be duly enrolled as protectors of the public peace. At Clerkenwell, however, not a solitary person appeared at the opening of the court, and only about a dozen attended afterwards. At the Thames police-court, although the worthy magistrate entered upon the duties of his office at the early hours of nine o’clock, no would-be constables claimed his attention. At Wandsworth the chief incident appeared to have been the application of a brick-layer’s labourer to be admitted as one of the “specials,” but as his leading idea of the duties of the office was that there was a shilling to be received and a supper to be eaten, his office was for the time declined with thanks. It is said, however, that hundreds of special constables were actually sworn, but it is certain that the number fell far short of what the public had been led to expect. The impression of many of these volunteers was that they were to be led in a body to Hyde-park to immortalize themselves by an open attack upon the members of the Reform League; but when they found that the extent of their duties would be the preservation of their own shops and thoroughfares while the constable “on the beat” was drafted off to duty in the park, and that instead of a varnished truncheon with a small crown at the end, they were to be armed with a short length from a broomstick, their patriotism fell to zero.

The chief thing that would attract the attention of anyone entering Hyde-park yesterday afternoon would be the absence of the ordinary policemen. Many persons went there at an early hour to see the large detachments of military of which the morning papers had spoken, but no troops were visible. The park looked very quiet and very beautiful in its fresh spring dress. Towards four and five the visitors increased, and then they kept on increasing. Enterprising costermongers, all the way from the east end, on hawking cares intent, essayed to enter the gates, but in most instances they were refused admittance, and sent back bewailing their hard fate. A few, however, effected an entrance, and almost before they had commenced business a question was being asked respecting them in the House of Commons. The itinerant vendor of fluid and compound abominations found no difficulty in displaying his tray of wares to the thirsty and hungry; and the ballad singer, much to his own surprise, was not ejected when he struck up a new song in honour of the Reform League. At 5 o’clock the park looked gay with its thousands of men and women, and its wealth of sunshine. On the whole the assemblage was the most respectable in appearance and manner that we have seen at any of the reform demonstrations. The usual occupants of the Ladies’ mile forsook their accustomed haunts, and ventured into the more open drives, where they had a fine opportunity of eyeglassing the British public, and awing the common people with their grandeur. Young gentlemen of the type superfine strolled about at a safe distance watching the habits and customs of working folks. Working folks amused themselves by returning the compliment. There were to be seen upon the grass in various portions of the park considerable numbers of the evil-eyed, prison-cropped community termed “roughs.” They were looking out for a harvest which never came. Various games were indulged in the light-hearted. Several men, apparently politicians unattached, beguiled the time in making speeches on their own account, generally upon matters quite foreign to the Reform Bill. One painfully modest looking individual offered for sale a pamphlet, entitled “My Vote, and why I want it, by a member of the National Reform League.” At the end of the book the following notice was considered necessary: - “Friends who may not fully comprehend the principles contained in this little tract are requested to question the author in writing, enclosing a few stamps for reply.” The groups of young men lying on the sward here and there were so frank in the expression of their opinions, that the passerby could not avoid having the benefit of them. Now the subject of debate would be the tailors’ strike, now the political situation, and one man we heard repeating to his companions the curse recently uttered by a Fenian prisoner upon his informer. Occasionally groups might be seen listening to music, vocal or instrumental. The appearance in the distance of an unusually large concourse at first set people talking and thinking of police and soldiers, but the continued absence of either, and the immunity which all enjoyed, at length inspired entire confidence.

Shortly after six o’clock the first body of known reformers appeared, walking in twos and threes, but without any distinguishing mark. They were at once recognized, faintly cheered, and largely followed to the trees in the centre, where they halted. Gradually the miscellaneous groups broke up, and moved off towards the trees to swell the audience. No hindrance was offered now or on any subsequent occasion to the leaguers taking up their positions. Shortly before half-past six Mr. Beales, The O’Donoghue and Colonel Dickson passed into the park, and were immediately surrounded by a dense crowd who escorted them over the turf. They were loudly cheered. Shortly after this the “platforms” were occupied, the platform being simply the park seats. The League had never intended to erect an actual platform in the grounds. There were ten of these speaking places, each distinguished by a number, and the name of the speaker was in some instances written upon his hat. Number one platform was in the center, and was occupied by the president, The O’Donoghue, &c. This was the great centre of attraction, and here the crowd numbered some thousands. Very little speaking could be heard beyond a few yards of the speaker; in fact only sufficient of his voice to lead one to lament the fearful strain upon it which the circumstance necessitated. The principal feature of this part of the proceedings was the hearty and unanimous cheering that echoed from one to the other section. The speeches were of the usual kind, and can be literally more easily imagined than described. The turret and foundation-stone of course was hostile criticism of the Reform Bill and its authors. The government were denounced in unsparing terms, and although the speakers had been expressly requested to abstain from any exultant references to “the conduct and position of the government with regard to the Hyde-park question,” the sound of triumph was heard more than once when the speakers had warmed to their work. The audiences were indulgent and good humoured, and although sometimes they evinced more curiosity than decided interest, they did not in any instance attempt to interrupt the proceedings. The audiences varied much in size, one of the sections being so little patronized that the appointed leaders had to move off to a new position. By far the greater number of the people in the park avoided the platforms, and promenaded on the grass and under the trees, or joined in whatever amusements were being promoted. All this made up a very striking scene, such as has not been seen in Hyde-park for many years, and will probably not be seen for many years again. Dozens of men, seemingly of high respectability, as well as the roughs, were heard uttering one feeling in common- a feeling of disappointment, if nothing stronger, that after all, they had come out to see a peaceful gathering instead of the riot and tumult they had expected and would have preferred. The arrangements as to the speaking were materially the same as mentioned in yesterday’s paper. Each section before dispersing gave hearty cheers for the Queen, John Bright, and Mr. Gladstone, one of them adding three laughs for the special constables, of whose conduct some extremely contemptuous opinions were expressed. The chief attraction at one of the groups was the harangue of a woman in a sailor’s hat. She vigorously asserted woman’s rights, and, indeed, so far as could be gathered, the rights of everybody to everything. The resolution proposed and carried without opposition by the ten sections was the following:

That this meeting, whilst still adhering to registered and residential manhood suffrage, protected by the ballot as the only really sufficient measure of reform in the representation of the people, hail with satisfaction the withdrawal last Thursday evening of Lord Grosvenor’s proposed amendment, and the majority of 81 on the same evening against the two years’ residence clauses in the government bill, and earnestly call upon the House of Commons to make that bill a more full and honest measure for the extension of the franchise by expunging from it the ratepaying clauses, equalising the borough and county franchise on the principle of house-hold suffrage, and introducing a provision for giving a vote to lodgers, or else to reject that bill altogether.

While the government was meeting its supporters in Downing-street yesterday, and hearing what the Premier had to sat upon the course of the government respecting the demonstration, other and humbler meetings were being held elsewhere with a similar object. The executive council met at the League-rooms to make their final arrangements. Mr. Beales was there, also the O’Donoghue, M.P., Mr. Hughes, M.P., Mr. Taylor , M.P., and Mr. Whalley, M.P. The decision of the law officers of the crown that had appeared in one of the papers was the subject of long discussions, and its reservation for so long a period was severely condemned. The Clerkenwell reformers, too, held a meeting to debate the vexed question of banners and music. The council of the League, wishing to make the demonstration as inoffensive as possible, had clearly determined to have no flags, no bands, and no “fancy dresses” of any kind, and to conclude the proceedings within half an hour. The prohibition of banners and music had offended the Clerkenwell branch, who sent a deputation of one man to the League in the morning to confer with the council upon the subject. No concession resulting, the Clerkenwell members held a second meeting in the afternoon, and determined to act in defiance of the League council. Accordingly, after the speaking had been in progress some time, a band was heard in the direction of the Marble Arch, and a procession was seen approaching, headed by a blood-red banner, from the staff of which dangled the cap of liberty. This procession marched through the park to their position to the strains of the Marseillaise Hymn. Mr. Beales and his friends set the excellent example of breaking up by about a quarter-past sever, and the president, with the O’Donoghue and Colonel Dickson, were escorted out of the park by a crowd so dense that their safety was at one time very much a matter of doubt. The broad shoulders of the O’Donoghue and the tall stature of the gallant colonel gave them an advantage which Mr. Beales did not possess, and nothing but almost superhuman exertions prevented that gentleman from being forcibly separated from his colleagues. The remaining nine sections were slow to follow their leaders, and with that love of prolonged speech which has renders so many of their meetings tiresome, kept on talking until dusk. This was what the council had anxiously wished to avoid, knowing that when daylight had gone there could be no guarantee for order with such a miscellaneous crowd. Fortunately, however, the park was cleared without any disturbance or accident. The members of the Reform League carried out their determination to keep and preserve order; the government carried out what it is presumed was its determination, not to interfere; and the sum total was that the Hyde-park demonstration of the 6th of May was a gigantic out-door holiday for large numbers of the working classes.

The numbers present in the park have been variously estimated at from 100,000 to 150,000, and probably the last mentioned figure would be nearer the truth. In the absence of official information, and the assumed or real ignorance of the police officials, it is impossible to do more than repeat rumour regarding the arrangements made by the authorities. There were at any rate numerous bodies of troops and police kept carefully out of sight in Hyde-park Barracks, in the chief cavalry barracks, and in some of the livery stables near the Park. A statement made as to artillery preparations and military works within the park must be accepted as part and parcel of the many absurd things spoken of in connexion with the demonstration. Had there been a disturbance it is pretty certain it would have been promptly dealt with, but, as has been stated before, no occasion arose for testing the efficiency of the “reserves.” The only approach to a disturbance we saw was when a couple of policemen arrested a pickpocket and politely showed a too enterprising costermonger the nearest way into Piccadilly. A few boys, upon witnessing those ceremonies, considered themselves outraged, and performed a little harmless yelling, which died speedily of its own accord. We also heard of a few noisy incidents caused by the absence of the police in some of the low neighbourhoods.

Several deputations from the provinces took part in the demonstrations.