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Railways, the telegraph and public order 1837-1848

There is a connection between the development of technology and maintaining law and order. The possible threat of a revolution still existed in the minds of the well-to-do, but technical advances of the industrial revolution made peace-keeping easier. The army was the main peace-keeping force because of the weakness of the police. Railways enabled the speedy concentration of troops:

This technology hindered the Chartists but helped the Anti-Corn-Law League Railway companies were anxious to help the government. Many managers were retired army officers, and stations were offered as barracks. Railway workers were often special constables.

The telegraph was patented in 1837 by Sir Charles Wheatstone and ran along side the railways. By 1848 there were 1,800 miles of telegraph. Between 1837-1857 the telegraph was owned by private companies. The telegraph could not be/was not used by Chartists


As Mather says (History, 1953), 'The transmission of official messages by electric telegraph enabled the government to control more effectively the actions of the magistrates, and ensured the observation of a more uniform code of action in the repression of disorder'.

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Last modified 4 March, 2016

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