The annual Tolpuddle Festival, usually held on the 3rd weekend of July
As spring brings good weather and longer days, many of us are missing simply wandering outdoors but don’t let that stop you from exploring. Why not take a look at my Tolpuddle Martyr Walk. In a few weeks you will hopefully be able do it in person.
Tolpuddle is a small village in the Piddle Valley, around 8 miles from the county town of Dorchester. Tolpuddle derives name from Tola wife of Orcus who owned the land at the time of Canute king of England from 1016-1035. Orcus was one of the kings officers bequeathed tolpuddle to the monastery of abbots bury. Second part of name piddle referred to the river. The story goes that the names were changed from “Piddle” to “Puddle” because Queen Victoria was visiting this area as a young girl, and the locals thought that the word “piddle” might have been slightly offensive, so they changed the names to “puddle.
The village was made famous by the Tolpuddle Martyrs, a group of local men whose trade union activities in the 1830s led to their transportation. In 1830s Tolpuddle was populated mainly by agricultural workers who survived on pitiful wages.average wage for a farm labourer was 10 shillings a week, but the Tolpuddle men had seen theirs drop as low as 7 shillings a week, thanks to introduction of Enclosure Acts and mechanisation of agricultural methods. Following several years of political unrest and the Swing Riots, a local Tolpuddle man George Loveless formed the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers with other agricultural labourers. They used an oath of solidarity to bind themselves to their cause of fair wages.
Their union so unsettled local wealthy landowner, James Frampton, that he wrote to the Prime Minister, determined to suppress any kind of uprising that threatened his wealth and power base. The Prime Minister quickly had the men arrested and transported to Australia using an obscure law intended for members of the Navy,They were sentenced to seven years in a penal colony in Australia.There was such public outrage at the sentence, that the men were eventually given a free pardon and four years later returned to England.
Tolpuddle village plays host to a annual festival organised by the Trades Union Congress (TUC). The festival, usually held in the third week of July, features parades, a memorial service and speeches and music.
Tolpuddle has not changed much since 1834 and as you walk around the village there are many reminders of the martyrs.
The best place to start is at the western outskirts of the village at the museum.
Toilets. No parking but can park along Dorchester Road.
Opening Times: Winter (1st October to 29th March): Tuesday – Friday : 10am – 4.30pm; closed Saturdays, Sundays & Mondays except local half terms.; closed 2 weeks Christmas and New Year Last admission and gates close at 3.00pm.
Built in 1934, by TUC, it recounts the harrowing tale of the Martyrs’ arrest, trial and punishment, leading to the foundation of modern day trade unionism.The museum sets out the Martyrs’ story in four sections: Before the arrest, The Oath and Betrayal, Transportation, and the Homecoming.
Next to the museum there are six cottages which accommodate retired agricultural trade unionists. The Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Memorial Trust owns the cottages. Run and supported financially by the TUC, the charity trustees agree the terms for future residents. Back in 1934 many farm workers faced eviction from tied accommodation when they retired. So it was fitting to provide cottages for those who were “aged and poor” because of trade union activities. A farthing per member was collected from unions and land was bought on the edge of the village. The TUC had electricity brought to Tolpuddle and a new well was dug
There is also a modern commemorative sculpture, designed by Thompson Dagnall, which was erected in 2000. The sculpture, made from Portland stone, portrays George Loveless in Dorchester Prison, where he suffered a period of severe ill health, before being transported to Australia. Please feel welcome to take a seat next to George and ponder on what is your want. On the back of the six seats are words from the trial at which George Loveless said: “We will, we will, we will be free.”
Take a seat with George Loveless
A field adjacent to the museum offers camping space and a marquee housing the workers beer company bar and stalls. In keeping with the spirit of the original martyrs the festival is often attended not just by British Union Leaders but by union leaders from across the globe,
On leaving the museum grounds, turn left and walk into the village. Look out for the k6 red telephone box that is tucked into the hedge.
After a few minute stroll you will arrive at St Johns Church.(opposite side of the road)
St John the Evangelist
This is the oldest building in Tolpuddle. It is of 12th Century origin but believed to stand on the site of a much earlier church. Inside the church a 12th century Purbeck marble effigy of Philip the priest.
It is infamous for a fracas that occurred in 1581 when the incumbent, William Turner, died. During his burial service the parishioners seized the vicarage and locked the church doors because they wanted the to name their own vicar.
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 leader of the Martyrs was George Loveless, a Methodist lay preacher. Loveless asked the vicar, Dr Thomas Warren, to witness an agreement between labourers and the local landowners, setting new standards for pay rates. The landowners went back on their promises, and Dr Warren denied that any agreement had been made allowing the labourers wages plummeted. Warren’s betrayal helped widen the rift between the church and the local community.
The church was restored in 1855.
The churchyard is full of old gravestones, the earliest of which commemorates Sarah Pope, who died in 1669. There is also a 1788 gravestone for the Standfields, the relatives of Thomas and John Standfield who were both martyrs. Just west of the church is the grave of James Hammett (1811-1891) the only Tolpuddle Martyr to return to the village to live after transportation. Hammett’s inscription was carved by Eric Gill, a popular designer associated with the Arts and Crafts Movement.
Resting place of James Hammett, these wreaths were laid after the annual festival
From the graveyard take a peek over the thatched boundary wall and you will see the beautifully tended garden of the Manor House, a 1696 Grade II listed building.
Once you leave the churchyard carry on down the road. You will pass West Farm Barn (now a residential home). This is late 17th century. Their are several ex barns dotted around the village, showing us how agriculture was so important to this village.
Just past West Farm Barn is the stable block for the Manor House which has now been made into a lovely home.
In front of the old stables is the village green.
If you need a breather, why not take a rest at the thatched Martyrs Seat. This was erected in 1934 by a wealthy London draper called Sir Ernest Debenham.
Behind this seat, on the Green, is the world famous Martys Tree.
This 320 year-old Sycamore tree has become a symbolic birthplace of the Trade Unions movement. This is where George Loveless first held his meetings to inform other Tolpuddle agricultural labourers about the legal use of trade unions.
George Loveless was also a lay methodist preacher and before the building of the chapel, it was here that some of the methodist services were held.
The Sycamore Tree was introduced by the Romans. Since then, it’s colonised woodland becoming a source of food and shelter for wildlife including aphids that leave behind their tacky honeydew.
The National Trust looks after the Martyrs Tree and is thought to be the largest Sycamore in Dorset.
Just past these buildings is the old watermill which was converted to a house after the mill was decommissioned. There are still remains of a milling wheel inside. This is where villagers would go with their grain to be milled into flour. The water and pond has now been filled but the River Piddle runs near by.
River is a bit of an exaggeration–at the widest point, this is maybe 12 feet. It’s a gentle stream The Piddle (or Trent) flowing from the chalk downlands in central Dorset to the sea at Wareham. Piddle,” in old Dorset language means pidelle, which is water coming out of the ground, like a spring.
Head back on to the main village road, Dorchester Road. Opposite the Green is the village hall that was once the Victorian School.
Village Hall/Victorian School
The poor were initially introduced to school thanks to the Sunday school.
This all changed in 1870 with the passing of the law and schools began to cater for the rich and poor alike.
Village schools, like this one, had small classes with mixed age groups. it became regimented and adopted a significant amount of repetition. Usually this would consist of the classroom teacher writing on the chalkboard and the children copying this down. Teaching lacked creativity and it was a strict place for children and discipline was harsh.
It wasn’t uncommon for children to be beat by canes made from birch wood. Boys were typically caned on their backsides whereas girls would take the punishment on their legs or hands.
The school days in Victorian times were structured slightly different to those of today with the morning introduction session consisting of prayers and religious instructions.. Following this was a lunch period when children usually went home. Afternoon classes began at approximately 2pm and finished at 5pm. The roots of the the six week summer holiday were laid during this Victorian time as the children were taken out of school to help with harvest.
Today the village hall is the focal point for the local community.
The old Victorian School
As you carry on down the street lots of the cottages give a hint at their past. For example one cottage is named Forge and Spring Attached is a 17th century barn.
Soon you will arrive at the local waterhole.
This was opened 1971 by the TUC General Secretary. It is on the former site of the Crown Inn that burnt down in the mid 20th century.
At the time of the Tolpuddle Martyrs there were around three inns in the village. As four out of the six matters were methodists I am not sure how many of them would have drunk in these establishments.
James Hammett lived in tenements at the rear of the Crown.(these have since been pulled down). James Brine is known to of lived in a cottage opposite the Crown. It is possible it is one of the Manor Cottages which are 17th century.(Extension to the right is 18th century).
Further on down the street from the Martyrs Inn and on the same side is where Thomas Standfield lived.
The trade union usually met in the cottage that Thomas Standfield lived . Thomas was the brother in law to George Loveless and also a methodist. This cottage and the adjoining, semi-detached cottage were listed for preservation as Grade I in 1956 as the Martyrs’ Cottages. They have since been merged to form a single residence. Lie most of the cottages in 1830 using a mix of plastered brick and cob.
Trade Union meetings were held here in the upstairs room and it was one of the first meetings here in the autumn of 1833 that a oath was uttered and led to their arrestThe Standfields lived here for five generations.
The Martyrs Cottage
Next to Martyrs cottage is the old Methodist Chapel.
The former chapel is listed as Grade II* by Historic England and built in 1818
It is likely that George Loveless and Thomas Standfield were actively involved in the construction of this unique cob building.
Its first service was met with an angry mob throwing stones at the preacher from Weymouth. Read the article below which illustrates the suspicions of the local community towards Methodists
On Tuesday last, a Methodist Chapel was opened in the village of Tolpuddle, Dorset, … During the Evening Service, when the chapel was much crowded, some little disturbance was made on the outside, but the peace was soon restored. About 8 ‘clock, when the Ministers and their friends were preparing to return, a mob of about 100 persons were found assembled near a chaise and another carriage, which were in attendance to convey them. These persons behaved in a most turbulent manner. A lady belonging to the Ministers’ party, before she could get into the chaise, was pushed down a bank into the road; the horses were much frightened by the tumult and noise, and the driver was for a considerable time unable to proceed. The ladies were under the necessity of walking a great distance, exposed to the most brutal insults. For more than two miles, in a very bad road, the drivers, horses, and carriages were pelted with stones, mud &c. the windows of the chaise were broken, and even the side of the chaise was pierced by a stone; one lady who rode by the side of the driver had a severe blow on her head: and at Piddle Town, two miles from Tolpuddle, the driver received a blow in his neck, of which he is now confined, and which, had it not been for a large neck cloth, would have proved fatal. Mr Bailey, of the Golden Lion, Weymouth, to whom the chaise belongs, has effected five guineas reward for a discovery of the offenders.
Extract from the Salisbury Journal, 19th October 1818,
The chapel played an important part in developing the education and understanding of deepening social injustices within the membership, which resulted in their forming an agricultural workers friendly society.
The continued existence of the chapel can be confirmed through to 1843, and it may well have remained in use until a new village Methodist chapel was built in 1862-63. The former chapel then became an agricultural building and store.
The building is mainly built of cob on brick and stone/flint bases and was originally thatched. The roof structure was later replaced with slate and is now covered with double roman clay tiles. The original door leading from the road is blocked with an infill window with a boarded hatch above it. The east and west windows have been bricked up to enable the insertion of a hay loft. In February 2015 the building and site were purchased by a newly formed Building Preservation Trust – The Tolpuddle Old Chapel Trust (TOCT). And is hopefully to be restored as “a quiet place” to sit and think, in honour of the structure’s little known role in British trade union history.
The old Methodist chapel
Past the chapel and on the south side of the road is a play and picnic area Orchard meadow.
Orchard Meadow is described in the 1842 Tithe Map as an orchard. Today it is an area offering opportunities for play, sport, quiet sitting, picnicking and events within a site that benefits the environment and wildlife. Highlights include: a willow tunnel, meadow area with a wealth of wild flowers including bee orchids ,he planting of 6 new standard traditional variety of apple trees to complement the two remaining old orchard trees and an adjacent stream and a variety of habitats including hedgerows and trees. Please supervise children. Current play equipment includes a play tower with slide, climbing net, pole and rope bridge, roundabout, large nest swing, kick wall and grassed play area, and a fenced toddler play area. The site also has a petanque area with boules available to borrow from the adjacent Martyrs Inn.
As you head to the Eastern end of the village your will find the current Methodist chapel.
Methodist Chapel and Arch
In front of the current Methodist chapel (built in 1862), stands a memorial arch from 1912, 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.’ Methodist Chapel has recently been renovated and contains a renewed display of the Methodist faith and history of the Martyrs. At the 2013 Tolpuddle Festival, a large wall hanging illustrating the story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs was unveiled.
You are now heading to the end of the village but there is one final building that may be of interest to you.
Biographer, Andrew Norman, in his book The Story of George Loveless, discusses how he has come to the conclusion that Pixies Cottage is where George Loveless lived.
Pixies Cottage is an ancient listed building and is the oldest cottage in the village. It is mentioned in the 1845 Tithe Map.
I hope you have enjoyed the walk around Tolpuddle and look out for my Tolpuddle Martyr walk around Dorchester which will be coming soon..