The best of Dorset in words and pictures

Tolpuddle – a photographic essay

Ken Ayres points his camera at the village where six working men were ostensibly prosecuted for swearing a false oath, but actually persecuted for forming an association to fight wage cuts

Tolpuddle may be known the world over as the home of trade unionism, but it was not the birthplace of the union movement (membership of trades unions had in fact been made legal the year before the Tolpuddle Martyrs were prosecuted), so much as the place where such a travesty of justice occurred that roused the fury of hundreds of thousands across England.
It was here that a local squire, James Frampton, sought counsel from the Home Secretary, Lord Melbourne, on how he could quash an attempt on the part of some local agricultural labourers to fight wage cuts. Melbourne responded by suggesting he make use of the little-known 1797 Act Against Unlawful Oaths, which had been enacted following a naval mutiny at Spithead.
Frampton, along with eight other local magistrates, signed notices warning that anyone swearing an unlawful oath could be transported for seven years. Two days after the notices were posted, six men were arrested. In March 1834 the men were tried in Dorchester according to charges established by the grand jury (which included Frampton, two of his relatives, Melbourne’s brother-in-law and some of the magistrate co-signatories of the notices). The petty jury of twelve local farmers – who had no desire to pay increased wages – followed the direction from Judge John Williams that ‘If you do not find them guilty [of an offence he compared to sedition and treason] you will forfeit the goodwill and confidence of the Grand Jury.’ The six men were duly convicted and sentenced on 18 March 1834 for transportation to Australasia.

In April 1834, 800,000 people signed a petition calling for the men to be reprieved; over 100,000 marched from Copenhagen Fields in London to Westminster to demand their pardon. Two years later, after an election, a new Home Secretary twice initially offered a conditional pardon before offering an unconditional pardon. The men were allowed to return home, although only one, James Hammett, remained in Tolpuddle. The other five moved to Essex and then Canada.

The church of St John The Evangelist in part dates back to the 12th century, but is believed to have been built on the site of an even earlier church. In the 1767 account of a visit to Tolpuddle by Bishop Secker (the then Archbishop of Canterbury), the village is described as ‘a large parish with no papists, a church three isles deep, with a tower and four bells and regular divine Sunday service.’

The church of St John The Evangelist in part dates back to the 12th century, but is believed to have been built on the site of an even earlier church. In the 1767 account of a visit to Tolpuddle by Bishop Secker (the then Archbishop of Canterbury), the village is described as ‘a large parish with no papists, a church three isles deep, with a tower and four bells and regular divine Sunday service.’

The grave of James Hammett, the only one of the Tolpuddle Martyrs to have stayed in Tolpuddle and the only one not to have been present at the meeting where the ill-fated oaths were sworn

The grave of James Hammett, the only one of the Tolpuddle Martyrs to have stayed in Tolpuddle and the only one not to have been present at the meeting where the ill-fated oaths were sworn

Thompson Dagnall’s powerful sculpture of George Loveless, from his recuperation time in Dorchester prison, while he was deemed too ill to be transported, after his five co-convicted martyrs had been placed on hulks ahead of being transported. The sculpture’s seat backs bear a quote from Loveless: ‘We will, we will, we will be free.’

Thompson Dagnall’s powerful sculpture of George Loveless, from his recuperation time in Dorchester prison, while he was deemed too ill to be transported, after his five co-convicted martyrs had been placed on hulks ahead of being transported. The sculpture’s seat backs bear a quote from Loveless: ‘We will, we will, we will be free.’

This old water mill was converted to a house after the mill was decommissioned. There are still remains of a milling wheel inside.

This old water mill was converted to a house after the mill was decommissioned. There are still remains of a milling wheel inside.

The beautifully tended garden (right) of the Manor House, Tolpuddle, a 1696 Grade II* listed building which was widely altered in the 18th century

The beautifully tended garden (right) of the Manor House, Tolpuddle, a 1696 Grade II* listed building which was widely altered in the 18th century

Looking west along Main Road, the village’s primary thoroughfare, showing a mixture of cob and thatch, Victorian brick-built cottages and  sympathetically designed new-build housing

Looking west along Main Road, the village’s primary thoroughfare, showing a mixture of cob and thatch, Victorian brick-built cottages and sympathetically designed new-build housing

This is not the original Methodist chapel where George Loveless preached as a minister, but built as a memorial to the Martyrs in 1862. Fifty years later a memorial gate was unveiled, bearing a quote from George Loveless’s defence: ‘We have injured no man’s reputation, character, person or property. We were uniting together to preserve ourselves, our wives and our children from utter degradation and starvation.’

This is not the original Methodist chapel where George Loveless preached as a minister, but built as a memorial to the Martyrs in 1862. Fifty years later a memorial gate was unveiled, bearing a quote from George Loveless’s defence: ‘We have injured no man’s reputation, character, person or property. We were uniting together to preserve ourselves, our wives and our children from utter degradation and starvation.’

The 19th-century schoolhouse is now the Tolpuddle village hall, wherein a whole range of local groups and societies meet. The annual Martyr’s Rally helps to finance the village hall’s operation thanks to impressive catering takings during the festival.

The 19th-century schoolhouse is now the Tolpuddle village hall, wherein a whole range of local groups and societies meet. The annual Martyr’s Rally helps to finance the village hall’s operation thanks to impressive catering takings during the festival.

Wonderfully colourful floral displays outside Bluebell Cottage – a recently built house which sits happily within the Tolpuddle vernacular style in terms both of its design and building materials

Wonderfully colourful floral displays outside Bluebell Cottage – a recently built house which sits happily within the Tolpuddle vernacular style in terms both of its design and building materials

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