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Tolpuddle Martyrs

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Title: Tolpuddle Martyrs  
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Subject: Dorset, History of Dorset, List of museums in Dorset, Labour movement, March 18
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Tolpuddle Martyrs

The shelter erected as a memorial in 1934.

The Tolpuddle Martyrs were a group of 19th century Dorset 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 are now considered to be the predominant role of trade unions. The Tolpuddle Martyrs were subsequently sentenced to transportation to Australia.

Historical events

Before 1824/25 the Methodist local preacher, met in the house of Thomas Standfield.

In 1834 James Frampton, a local landowner, wrote to the Prime Minister, Baron John Williams in R v Lovelass and Others.[1] They were found guilty, and transported to Australia.[2]

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 800,000 signatures were collected for their release.[3] Their supporters organised a political march, one of the first successful marches in the UK, and all, except James Hammett (who had a previous criminal record for theft) 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 Plymouth, a popular stopping point for transportation ships. A plaque next to the Mayflower Steps in Plymouth's historic Barbican area commemorates this.

Hammett was released in 1837. Meanwhile the others moved, first to St. Marys, Ontario. He died in 1902, having lived in nearby Blanshard Township since 1868. Hammett remained in Tolpuddle and died in the Dorchester workhouse in 1891.

Tolpuddle Martyrs Museum

The Tolpuddle Martyrs Museum, located in Tolpuddle, Dorset, features displays and interactive exhibits about the Martyrs and their impact on trade unionism.

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 Tolpuddle Martyrs Museum.

Martyrs' Day commemoration in 2005

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 courtroom where the martyrs were tried, which has been little altered in 200 years, in Dorchester's Shire Hall, is being preserved as part of a heritage scheme.[4]

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.[5]

There are streets named in their honour in:

In 1984, a mural was created off Copenhagen Street in Islington to commemorate the gathering of people organised by the Central Committee of the Metropolitan Trade Unions to demonstrate against the transportation of the Tolpuddle Martyrs to Australia. The mural was painted by artist Dave Bangs.

Image gallery

See also


  1. ^ (1834) 6 Carrington and Payne 596, 172 E.R. 1380; also reported in (1834) 1 Moody and Robinson 349, 174 E.R. 119
  2. ^ Anon (2009). Crime and Punishment in Staffordshire. Staffordshire Arts and Museum Service. 
  3. ^ Political Marching: What's at risk? BBC News, 27 November 2010
  4. ^ "Tolpuddle Martyrs courtroom to be centre-piece of new Dorset heritage centre". Western Gazette. 16 July 2014. Retrieved 20 July 2014. 
  5. ^ Comrades (1986) Internet Movie Database


  • 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
  • "TOLPUDDLE MARTYR; Pioneer Farmer, James Brine in Canada 1844 – 1902". Don Macintyre 2010. Privately published 71-page booklet available at St. Marys Museum and St. Marys Library, St. Marys, Ontario, Huron County Library, Ontario; Middlesex County Library, Ontario; London Public Library, Ontario; Dorset County Library, England. ISBN 978-0-9866023-0-6.
  • Hollis, Patricia, Class and conflict in nineteenth-century England, 1815–1850, Birth of modern Britain series, International Library of Sociology and Social Reconstruction, Routledge, 1973, ISBN 0-7100-7419-0
  • Tolpuddle Martyrs Mural Tolpuddle Matyrs Mural on London Mural Preservation Society
  • Dorset History Centre holds relevant books and original records (including the Dorchester prison register in which the Martyrs are listed)
  • Comrades is a 1986 British historical drama film directed by Bill Douglas and starring an ensemble cast including James Fox, Robert Stephens and Vanessa Redgrave. Through the pictures of a travelling lanternist, it depicts the story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, who were arrested and transported to Australia in 1834 for trying to improve their conditions by forming an early form of trade union. (See: http://articles/Comrades_%28film%29 ).

External links

  • The Tolpuddle Martyrs Museum
  • 2009 Commemoration of the 1834 Grand Demonstration in support of the Martyrs
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