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The shelter erected as a memorial in 1934.

The Tolpuddle Martyrs were a group of 19th century English agricultural labourers who were arrested for and convicted of swearing a secret oath as members of the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers. The rules of the society show it was clearly structured as a friendly society and operated as a trade-specific benefit society. But at the time, friendly societies had strong elements of what we now consider to be the predominant role of trade unions. The Tolpuddle Martyrs were subsequently sentenced to transportation to Australia.

Historical events

In 1824/5 the Combination Acts, which made "combining" or organising in order to gain better working conditions illegal, had been repealed, so trade unions were no longer illegal. In 1832, the year of a Reform Act which extended the vote in Englandmarker but did not grant universal suffrage, six men from Tolpuddlemarker in Dorsetmarker founded the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers to protest against the gradual lowering of wages in the 1830s. They refused to work for less than 10 shillings a week, although by this time wages had been reduced to seven shillings a week and were due to be further reduced to six shillings. The society, led by George Loveless, a Methodist local preacher, met in the house of Thomas Standfield.

In 1834 James Frampton, a local landowner, wrote to the Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, to complain about the union, invoking an obscure law from 1797 prohibiting people from swearing oaths to each other, which the members of the Friendly Society had done. James Brine, James Hammett, George Loveless, George's brother James Loveless, George's brother in-law Thomas Standfield, and Thomas's son John Standfield were arrested, found guilty, and transported to Australia.

When sentenced to seven years' transportation, George Loveless wrote on a scrap of paper the following lines:

God is our guide! from field, from wave,From plough, from anvil, and from loom;We come, our country's rights to save,And speak a tyrant faction's doom:We raise the watch-word liberty;We will, we will, we will be free!

They became popular heroes and all, except James Hammett, were released in 1836, with the support of Lord John Russell, who had recently become Home Secretary. Four of the six returned to England, disembarking at Plymouthmarker, a popular stopping point for transportation ships. A plaque next to the Mayflower Stepsmarker in Plymouth's historic Barbican area commemorates this.

Hammett was released in 1837. Meanwhile the others moved, first to Essex, then to London, Ontariomarker, where there is now a monument in their honour and an affordable housing co-op / trade union complex named after them. They are buried in a small London, Ontario, cemetery on Fanshawe Park Road East. Hammett remained in Tolpuddle. He died in the Dorchester workhouse in 1891.

Cultural and historical significance

A monument was erected in their honour in Tolpuddle in 1934, and a sculpture of the martyrs, made in 2001, stands in the village in front of the Martyrs Museum there.

Martyrs' Day commemoration in 2005
An annual festival is held in Tolpuddle, organised by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) featuring a parade of banners from many trade unions, a memorial service, speeches and music. Recent festivals have featured speakers such as Tony Benn and musicians such as Billy Bragg and local folk singers including Graham Moore, as well as others from all around the world. The festival is usually held in the third week of July - see Tolpuddle Martyrs festival

The story of Tolpuddle has enriched the history of trade unionism, but the significance of the Tolpuddle Martyrs continues to be debated since Sidney and Beatrice Webb wrote the History of Trade Unionism (1894) and continues with such works as Dr Bob James's Craft Trade or Mystery (2001).

The Tolpuddle Martyrs featured in the 1986 film Comrades, directed by Bill Douglas.

There are streets named in their honour in:

Image gallery

Image:Tolpuddle_martyrs_museum.jpg|The Tolpuddle Martyrs' Museum.Image:Tollpuddle_Loveless_cottage.jpg|The cottage of George Loveless.Image:Tolpuddle_martyrs_festival.jpg|Tolpuddle Martyrs' Festival in 2004.

See also


  • Tolpuddle Martyrs' Story Tolpuddle Martyrs Museum Trust
  • History of Trade Unionism (1894) Sidney and Beatrice Webb
  • Craft Trade or Mystery (2001) Dr Bob James
  • The Book of the Martyrs of Tolpuddle 1834-1934, London : The Trades Union Congress General Council (1934) — Memorial Volume (printed by the Pelican Press) 240 pages. Modern reprint (1999) Tolpuddle Martyrs Memorial Trust, ISBN 1-85006-501-2
  • Marlow, Joyce, The Tolpuddle Martyrs, London : History Book Club, (1971) and Grafton Books, (1985) ISBN 0-586-03832-9
  • Tolpuddle - an historical account through the eyes of George Loveless. Contemporary accounts, letters, documents, etc., compiled by Graham Padden, TUC, 1984, updated 1997.
  • "The Martyrs of Tolpuddle - Settlers in Canada". Geoffrey R. Anderson 2002. A privately published 70 page booklet available at the London Public Library, and also at the Regional Collection, UWO
  • Dorset Pioneers: Jack Dwyer: The History Press: 2009: ISBN 978-0-7524-5346-0

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