It’s the Tolpuddle Festival Weekend

Posted by The Skibbereen Eagle | July 16, 2015 0


This weekend from 17-19 July 2015 is the Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival and what a weekend it will be as once again a Tory Government tries to repress organised labour and their Trade Unions, the largest democratic institutions in the UK.

Appearing in 2015 you have a stellar line up supporting the values of honest labour – Billy Bragg, The Beat, Seth Lakeman, Curtis Eller’s American Circus, The Hurriers, Neck, Naomi Bedford and Paul Simmonds featuring Justin Currie, Jonny & The Baptists, Alex Yeandle, Thee Faction, Benny Mayhem, na-mara, The Tuts, Funke and the Two Tone Baby, Chris T-T and the Hoodrats, Bemis, Efa Supertramp, The Skimmity Hitchers, the darwins, Dana Immanuel and the Stolen Band, Stick In The Wheel.

tolpuddleMartyrs colour

The speakers for 2015 also impress – Frances O’Grady (TUC General Secretary), Steve Turner (Unite the Union Assistant General Secretary), Leslie Manessah (TUC President), Nigel Costley (South West TUC Regional Secretary) and many more.

Leafy rural Dorset in the West Country of England seems an unlikely place to associate with many things we take for granted in the developed world these days – weekends, no child labour, 5 day week, healthcare, pensions, safe places to work, being paid in real money, employment rights etc. etc. – you know the things which organised labour has won for us all through sacrifice, struggle and solidarity. But it was here that six farm labourers changed the way we all work today. On 24th February 1834, six labourers from Tolpuddle were arrested on a charge of taking part in an illegal oath ceremony. The real offence was that they dared to form a trade union to defend their livelihoods. For this they were sentenced to seven years’ transportation to the penal colonies of Australia. The sentences provoked an immense outcry, leading to the first great mass trade union protest. The campaign won free pardons and the Martyrs’ returned to England. It was an historic episode in the struggle for trade union rights in Great Britain and around the world.

Hammet Grave unveiled 1934

Unveiling a headstone to George Hammet by Eric Gill in 1934

As the sun rose on 24th February 1834, Dorset farm labourer George Loveless set off to work, saying goodbye to his wife Betsy and their three children. They were not to meet alone again for three years, for as he left his cottage in the rural village of Tolpuddle, the 37-year-old was served with a warrant for his arrest. Loveless and five fellow workers – his brother James, James Hammett, James Brine, Thomas Standfield and Thomas’s son John – were charged with having taken an illegal oath. But their real crime in the eyes of the establishment was to have formed a trade union to protest about their meagre pay of six shillings a week – the equivalent of 30p in today’s money and the third wage cut in as many years.

With the bloody French Revolution and the wrecking of the Swing Rebellion fresh in the minds of the British establishment, landowners were determined to stamp out any form of organised protests. So when the local squire and landowner, James Frampton, caught wind of a group of his workers forming a union, he sought to stamp it out.

Workers met either under the sycamore tree in the village or in the upper room of Thomas Standfield’s cottage. Members swore of an oath of secrecy – and it was this act that led to the men’s arrest and subsequent sentence of seven years’ transportation. In prison, George Loveless scribbled some words: “We raise the watchword, liberty. We will, we will, we will be free!” This rallying call underlined the Martyrs’ determination and has since served to inspire generations of people to fight against injustice and oppression.

Transportation to Australia was brutal. Few ever returned from such a sentence as the harsh voyage and rigours of slavery took their toll. After the sentence was pronounced, the working class rose up in support of the Martyrs. A massive demonstration marched through London and an 800,000-strong petition was delivered to Parliament protesting about their sentence.

Harold Wilson speaks 71

Labour Leader Harold Wilson speaking at the Festival in 1971

After three years, during which the trade union movement sustained the Martyrs’ families by collecting voluntary donations, the government relented and the men returned home with free pardons and as heroes.

Main stage at the festival

Tolpuddle Festival 2015 17-19 July

The Tolpuddle Festival is an annual gathering of trade union members to celebrate the work of the trade union movement. It is an opportunity to celebrate victories and push on going campaigns. It is also a chance to meet new people and catch up with old friends with the social events. And, as ever 2015 will have a great mix of music to suit all tastes. Tolpuddle -1766

Karen Hatch Photographybanner (3)

With family friendly events throughout the weekend Tolpuddle is an ideal event to take the kids to.

For full listings for the weekend visit;

I’ll probably be in front of the RMT stand enjoying the free cider, say hello! Whilst in the village visit the Tolpuddle Martyrs Museum tells the harrowing tale of the Martyrs’ arrest, trial and punishment, leading to the foundation of modern day Trade Unionism.

The museum is a modern, informative, and educational exhibition; using interactive touch screen displays new graphic panels telling the story in text and images. The museum sets out the Martyrs’ story in four sections: Before the arrest, The Oath and Betrayal, Transportation, and the Homecoming. Come to Dorchester posterBilly in TSSA train

Tolpuddle Martyrs Museum

We can never take for granted what we owe to these six ordinary labourers who stood together for the rights of workers. Nor in modern Britain can we cease the struggle against the reactionary ideological heirs of Squire James Frampton who constantly belittle the role of labour as the source of honest values in Society and constantly seek to attack workers hard earned rights.


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In 1898, to widespread bemusement, a small Provincial Newspaper in an equally small town in the South West corner of Ireland sonorously warned the Czar of Russia that it knew what he was up to and he should be careful how he proceeded for “The Skibbereen Eagle” was wise to his game and in future would be keeping its eye on him! It is doubtful that Nicholas II, Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias, even noticed the Eagle’s admonitions but as history soon proved he should have paid closer attention to the Eagle’s insightful opinions!

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