Tolpuddle Martyrs

Tolpuddle Martyrs

The Tolpuddle Martyrs were a group of 19th century British 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.

The historical events

In 1824 the Combination Acts, which made "combining" or organising in order to gain better working conditions illegal, had been repealed, so trade unions were no longer illegal.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 England but did not grant universal suffrage, six men from Tolpuddle in Dorset 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 the UK, 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 Essex, then to London, Ontario, Canada, 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.

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, 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 Webb and Beatrice Webb wrote the "History of Trade Unionism" (1890) and continues with such works as Dr Bob James's "Craft Trade or Mystery" (2001).

The Tolpuddle Martyrs were portrayed in the 1987 film "Comrades", directed by Bill Douglas.

There are streets named in their honour in:
* Islington, north London
* Taunton, Somerset
* Allerton, Liverpool

Image gallery


* " [ Tolpuddle Martyrs' Story] " Tolpuddle Martyrs Museum Trust
* "History of Trade Unionism" (1890) 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

See also

* Peterloo Massacre
* Chartism

External links

* [ The Tolpuddle Martyrs Museum]
* " [ The Wrong End of the World] ", The stirring story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs: An epic documentary drama with traditional music, for Salisbury Playhouse, 1987, by Graham Padden.
* [ The Victims of Whiggery written by George Loveless on his return from transportation, an account of the trial and related educational resources]
* [ Lyrics from the acclaimed folk musical 'Tolpuddle Man' by Graham Moore ]

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Tolpuddle Martyrs — the name given to six farm workers from the village of Tolpuddle in Dorset, England, when they were found guilty in 1834 of illegal trade union activity. They were punished by being sent to Australia for seven years. There were many protests… …   Universalium

  • Tolpuddle Martyrs — Tol|pud|dle Mar|tyrs a group of six English farm workers who were put in jail for organizing a ↑trade union (=organization that represents workers) in Tolpuddle, Dorset, in 1833 4. The were sent to Australia as criminals, but many people… …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • Tolpuddle Martyrs — /ˌtɒlpʌdl ˈmatəz/ (say .tolpudl mahtuhz) plural noun a name given to six men from the village of Tolpuddle in Dorset, England, who were transported to Australia in 1834 for unlawfully administering oaths of loyalty to a union which they had… …   Australian English dictionary

  • Tolpuddle Martyrs festival — The Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival is an annual free festival held in Dorset, England, which celebrates the memory of the Tolpuddle Martyrs. The event is a celebration of trade unionism and labour politics organised by the Dorset Committee of the… …   Wikipedia

  • (the) Tolpuddle Martyrs — the Tolpuddle Martyrs UK [ˌtɒlpʌd(ə)l ˈmɑː(r)tə(r)z] US [ˌtɑlpʌd(ə)l ˈmɑrtərz] a group of 19th century English farm workers who formed a trade union (=an organization that represents workers in discussions with employers) and as a result were… …   Useful english dictionary

  • the Tolpuddle Martyrs — UK [ˌtɒlpʌd(ə)l ˈmɑː(r)tə(r)z] / US [ˌtɑlpʌd(ə)l ˈmɑrtərz] a group of 19th century English farm workers who formed a trade union (= an organization that represents workers in discussions with employers) and as a result were officially punished by …   English dictionary

  • Tolpuddle — is a small village in the southern English county of Dorset, situated in the Piddle valley, eight miles east of Dorchester and 12 miles west of Poole. The village has a population of 331 (2001).In 1999 the A35 trunk road, which cuts through south …   Wikipedia

  • Mártires de Tolpuddle — Conmemoración del día de los Mártires de Tolpuddle en 2005. Los Mártires de Tolpuddle fueron un grupo de trabajadores de Gran Bretaña que en 1834 fueron apresados y condenados por haber hecho un juramento secreto como integrantes de la Sociedad… …   Wikipedia Español

  • Billy Bragg — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Billy et Bragg. ██ …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Grand National Consolidated Trades Union — The Grand National Consolidated Trades Union of 1834 was an early attempt to form a national union confederation in the United Kingdom. There had been several attempts to form national general unions in the 1820s, culminating with the National… …   Wikipedia

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.