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Encyclopedia > Tolpuddle Martyrs
The shelter erected as a memorial in 1934.
The shelter erected as a memorial in 1934.

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 is the predominant role of trade unions. The Tolpuddle Martyrs were subsequently sentenced to transportation to Australia. Alternative meaning: Nineteenth Century (periodical) (18th century — 19th century — 20th century — more centuries) As a means of recording the passage of time, the 19th century was that century which lasted from 1801-1900 in the sense of the Gregorian calendar. ... A friendly society (sometimes called a mutual society, benevolent society or fraternal organization) is a mutual association for insurance-like purposes, and often, especially in the past, serving ceremonial and friendship purposes also. ... A benefit society is an organization or voluntary association formed for mutual aid, benefit or insurance to provide for mutual relief. ... The Lawrence textile strike (1912), with soldiers surrounding peaceful demonstrators A trade union or labor union is an organization of workers who have banded together to achieve common goals in key areas such as wages, hours, and working conditions, forming a cartel of labour. ...


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the Combination Acts, which made "combining" or organising in order to gain better working conditions illegal, had been repealed, so trade unions were no longer illegal.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. The Combination Act of 1799, titled An Act to prevent Unlawful Combinations of Workmen (short title 39 Geo. ... Tolpuddle is a small village. ... Dorset (pronounced DOR-sit or [dɔ.sət], and sometimes in the past called Dorsetshire) is a county in the south-west of England, on the English Channel coast. ... // Electromagnetic induction discovered by Michael Faraday Evolutionary theorist Charles Darwins expedition on the HMS Beagle. ... A Methodist local preacher is a lay person who has been accredited by a Methodist church to lead worship on a regular basis. ...

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. Year 1834 (MDCCCXXXIV) was a common year starting on Wednesday (link will display the full calendar) of the Gregorian Calendar (or a common year starting on Monday of the 12-day slower Julian calendar). ... The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is, in practice, the political leader of the United Kingdom. ... Arms of Lord Melbourne William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne, PC (15 March 1779–24 November 1848) was a British Whig statesman who served as Home Secretary (1830-1834) and Prime Minister (1834 and 1835-1841), and a mentor of Queen Victoria. ... 1797 (MDCCXCVII) was a common year starting on Sunday (see link for calendar) of the Gregorian calendar (or a common year starting on Wednesday of the 11-day-slower Julian calendar). ... This article does not cite any references or sources. ...

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. Year 1836 (MDCCCXXXVI) was a leap year starting on Friday (link will display the full calendar) of the Gregorian Calendar (or a leap year starting on Wednesday of the 12-day slower Julian calendar). ... John Russell, 1st Earl Russell, KG, GCMG, PC (18 August 1792 – 28 May 1878), known as Lord John Russell before 1861, was an English Whig and Liberal politician who served twice as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in the mid-19th century. ... The Secretary of State for the Home Department (the Home Secretary) is the chief United Kingdom government minister responsible for law and order in England and Wales; his or her remit includes policing, the criminal justice system, the prison service, internal security, and matters of citizenship and immigration. ...

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. Queen Victoria, Queen of the United Kingdom (1837 - 1901) 1837 (MDCCCXXXVII) was a common year starting on Sunday (see link for calendar). ... For other places with the same name, see London (disambiguation). ... Co-op redirects here. ... Former workhouse at Nantwich, dating from 1780 A workhouse was a place where people who were unable to support themselves could go to live and work. ...

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. Year 1934 (MCMXXXIV) was a common year starting on Monday (link will display full 1934 calendar) of the Gregorian calendar. ... This article is about the year. ...

Martyrs' day commemoration in 2005.
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, as well as others from all around the world. The festival is usually held in the third week of July - see Tolpuddle Martyrs festival Image:TradeUnionsCongress20050108 CopyrightKaihsuTai. ... Anthony Tony Neil Wedgwood Benn (born 3 April 1925), formerly 2nd Viscount Stansgate, is a British socialist politician. ... Stephen William Bragg (born December 20, 1957 in Essex, England), better known as Billy Bragg, is an English musician who blends elements of folk music, punk rock and protest songs. ... Billy Bragg in 2004. ...

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). A self-portrait Sidney James Webb, 1st Baron Passfield PC (13 July 1859 – 13 October 1947) was a British socialist, economist and reformer, normally referred to in the same breath as his wife, Beatrice Webb. ... Beatrice Webb Martha Beatrice Potter Webb (January 2, 1858 - April 30, 1943) (also called Beatrice Webb) was a British socialist, economist and reformer, usually referred to in the same breath as her husband, Sidney Webb. ...

The Tolpuddle Martyrs were portrayed in the 1987 film Comrades, directed by Bill Douglas. Bill (William Gerald Forbes) Douglas (April 17, 1934 - June 18, 1991) was a Scottish film director. ...

There are streets named in their honour in:

For other uses, see Islington (disambiguation). ... For other uses, see Taunton (disambiguation). ... Allerton is a suburb of Liverpool, England. ...

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

Print of the Peterloo Massacre published by Richard Carlile The Peterloo Massacre of August 16, 1819 was the result of a cavalry charge into the crowd at a public meeting at St Peters Fields, Manchester, England. ... Chartism was a movement for political and social reform in the United Kingdom during the mid-19th century between 1838 and 1848. ...

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.
  • Tolpuddle Martyrs Online



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