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The Tolpuddle Martyrs (TUC 150th)

Today, the 2nd June, is exactly 150 years since the first steps were taken to set up the Trades Union Congress, and 2018 is the organisation’s 150th anniversary year. The TUC has a line up of events for this special year and these can be seen here.

In a nutshell the TUC had its origins in a convention planned for May 1868. This was to be organised by the Manchester and Salford Trades Council, and was headed under the title ‘Proposed Congress of Trades Councils’ in a paper dated 21st February 1868. By April it was envisaged more time was needed to arrange the proposed congress, “in order to afford sufficient time for all the various trade organisations to send delegates and prepare papers,” hence it was deferred to 2nd June 1868.

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From: Trade Union and Social History By A. E. Musson 1974

The TUC wasn’t actually formed in name on June 2nd 1868 however the date is acknowledged as being the first important step for the new congress, and therefore its a defining moment in the history of Britain’s Trade Unions.

This post is more about a small but specific bit of TUC history. In 1934 the TUC specially commissioned a book for the 100th anniversary of the Tolpuddle Martyrs.

The Martyrs of Tolpuddle 1834 – 1934

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The book is entitled The Martyrs of Tolpuddle 1834-1934, and it is a fantastic and well researched work. The scans on this page are from my own copy. Its quite a substantial volume, consisting of well over 250 pages, with contributions from George Bernard Shaw, Sidney and Beatrice Webb, Sir Stafford Cripps, Professor Harold J. Laski, G. D. H.Cole, the Rt. Hon. Arthur Henderson M.P., Andrew Conley, President of the TUC, and others.

Although the book in question printed was bound in green (with a paper cover,) some were bound in blue instead and the copy I have is one of these. It maybe that someone realised blue wasn’t an appropriate colour for the book! The book was printed by Pelican Press so perhaps they had discretion on the binding. Other than that I don’t know whether one (eg the blue) was a first print run and the other a second print run but nevertheless both blue and green bound versions were printed in 1934. In 1999 the TUC commissioned a reprint with a new pictorial cover.

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Contents & contributors. George Bernard Shaw wrote the ‘Shavian Commentary on Martyrs.’

The following is an extract from the foreword by Andrew Conley, the then president of the TUC.

“On behalf of the Trades Union Congress General Council it is my duty and pleasure to thank all the contributors to this Memorial Volume. Its production has involved a tremendous amount of research. It contains valuable historical material never before concentrated in a single volume, illustrating the social, political and economic conditions out of which Trade Unionism arose.”

The introduction to the book is by Sidney and Beatrice Webb who were noted socialists. Sidney Webb, known as the 1st Baron Passfield, was a co-founder of the London School of Economics and the Fabian Society (as too was his wife.) Both wrote a major work – The History of Trade Unionism, 1666-1920 which was published in 1920. Beatrice Webb was considerably influential in her work, which led to the welfare state being set up 1948. Both are interred in Westminster Abbey. Here’s the first part of their introduction to the TUC’s book:

“It is fitting that the British Trade Union Movement should commemorate the judicial martyrdom of the Dorchester Labourers a hundred years ago. Many other Trade Unionists have suffered, both before and after 1834, at the hands of police and magistrates, juries and judges. There are many other incidents in Trade Union history in which the notorious ambiguities of the England and Scottish law have been used by the Government of the day as the instruments of a policy of repression and deterrence. But the case of the Dorsetshire Labourers stands out in the record, alike in the gentle innocence of the victims, and in the ruthlessness of the determination of the governing class to strike down an organisation which threatened to encroach upon the profits of capitalist industry.”

The Martyrs – six Dorset men who were served a gross injustice

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The Tolpuddle Martyrs, James Brine, James Hammett, George Loveless, James Loveless, John Standfield and Thomas Standfield were farm labourers from Tolpuddle in Dorset, convicted of collaborating in trade unionism. In what was clearly a travesty of justice, based simply upon the fact the men had sworn to be part of such a union (which was in fact a friendly society) the six men were sentenced to transportation. After three years in Britain’s penal colony down under, five of these men finally returned home as heroes. The sixth, James Hammett spent a further year in the penal colonies but too was hailed a hero on his eventual arrival back home.

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The Martyrs’ tree, Tolpuddle, as it once looked

The Martyr’s tree in Tolpuddle was where the mens’ friendly society was originally set-up. Recent findings suggest the tree dates from the late 17th Century and was at least 150 years old when the men convened underneath. Guardian.

“Why should not we form a Trade Union”? he urged. “We know it is vain to seek redress from employers, magistrates or parsons.” His proposals were received with acclamation, and, in October, 1833, with the help of two delegates from London, the “Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers” at Tolpuddle was established. Rules and an initiation ceremony, common to the Trade Unions of the period, were adopted and regular meetings were held, usually in the upper room of Thomas Standfield’s cottage. Trade Unionism had come to Tolpuddle.”

The mens’ new movement was most disapproved of. The wealthy landowners claimed their society was illegal and demanded justice be served. It was indeed served – except it wasn’t what one could call justice but a gross injustice.

The magistrate, James Frampton, had made up his verdict long before before he had even examined the six men in court:

“He had been for weeks past urging upon the Home Secretary the dangerous consequences that would ensue if the Union was allowed to spread. He had shown great alacrity in issuing the warrant for the arrest. His name and that of his half-brother, C. B. Wollaston, are the first to be found on the ‘caution.’ Proud of his ancestry dating back to the time of Edward III, and accustomed to subordinating all to his own will, he resolved to crush the nascent organisation among the labourers.”

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The Dorchester Court House

The six men were hauled before Dorchester Court, on 17th March 1834, accused of swearing to an oath. The court consisted of judges and officials who were biased. Landowner James Frampton was one of those and he was determined to see a distorted brand of justice served upon the men. The leading judge, Baron Williams, too was biased and true justice was the last thing on his mind.

George Loveless was the men’s leader and therefore is the most prominent character throughout the story of the martyrs. This is his plead on behalf of all the six to Judge Williams:

“My Lord, if we have violated any law, it was not done intentionally; 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. We challenge any man, or number of men, to prove that we have acted, or intended to act, different from the above statement.”

Judge Williams was no sort of impartial judge. Sir Stafford Cripps, writing in a later section of the T.U.C’s book, describes Williams as a ‘violent advocate for the prosecution in his determination to secure a conviction.’ The Judge’s bias was plain as daylight:

“If these men had been allowed to go on with their wicked plans they would have ruined their masters, stagnated trade, and destroyed property.”

George Loveless wrote the following observations on the Judge:

“The greater part of the evidence against us on our trial was put into the mouths of the witnesses by the Judge. And when he evidently wished them to say any particular thing, and the witness would say, ‘I cannot remember,’ he would say, ‘Now, think, I will give you another minute to consider,’ and he would then repeat the words and ask ‘Cannot you remember?’ Sometimes by charging them to be careful what they said, by way of intimidation, they would merely answer ‘yes.’ The Judge would set it down as the witness’ words.”

Sir Stafford Cripps said of the sentencing:

“It is clear that the punishment was aimed not at the taking of an illegal oath, but at the objects of the combination itself, that is the maintenance of the right of the labourers to combine against the tyranny of their employers.”

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Assize register with details of sentences for each of the six men. March 1834

Mr. B. Ewett, one of the attorneys who attended Dorchester court during the Tolpuddle Martyrs’ trial, wrote of the bias being exercised against the men by the establishment. This is an extract of the letter he sent to Daniel O’Connell, M.P. on 21st April 1834:

“Right from the beginning the six labourers had no chance of being justly tried. The Home Secretary was against them. He was out to destroy their Trade Union. The entire Government were against their Union. This is clearly revealed by the statements in the House of Commons, to which I shall refer later. The Magistrates were against them. So were the Judge and the Grand Jury. The King was against them. William IV wrote to Lord Melbourne a fortnight after the men were tried, lamenting the activities of the Unions and urging that the law should be amended and ‘strengthened against them.”

Some of the contemporary news reports about the Martyr’s trial March/April 1834:

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The men were sentenced to transportation and they spent three years as convicts down under (excepting James Hammett who served four.) The leader, George Loveless, was sent separately to Van Diemens’ Land (now Tasmania.) Loveless was clearly viewed as an agitator and the mens’ separation was no doubt to avoid any chance of mutiny en route or rebellion in the main penal colonies.

All the time they were away many people tried to secure an overturn of the unfair trial they were dealt. Notable parliamentarians and campaigners sought to secure the men’s early release. A huge demonstration was held in London, on 21 April 1834, with people marching from Islington to Kennington.

The Martyrs’ departure and the homecoming are illustrated as follows – and these are the only two full colour pictures in the whole book. There are other illustrations too but in a faded watercolour style (such as the one of Hammett’s grave shown later.) All these were by W. G. Easton, specially commissioned for the book. There’s little to find out about Easton – other than he was an ‘artist of note’ and had done illustrations for an edition of Edward FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat.

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George Loveless on the coach at Salisbury, shackled for the long journey to Tasmania

Over 800,000 people signed various petitions for the mens’ release. A conditional pardon was achieved in the summer of 1835, but it was not sufficient. Full pardons were demanded. This was achieved on March 14th 1836.

Things took a long time in those days. The distance to Britain’s penal colonies was practically unimaginable. The sea journey to the other side of the world took at least five months. Someone sending a letter sent out to the penal colonies would not expect to receive a reply until practically a year had passed.

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Pardon for George Loveless

Thus a year and a quarter passed between the pardons being sent out and the first of the men, George Loveless, finally returning to England. This was in June 1837. Between then and 1838, George Loveless used his time to campaign for workers rights. It’s not mentioned in the book however other sources document this.

Hammett’s whereabouts in Australia were unknown and it took sometime to trace him. He missed the journey home with the other four and it would not be until August 1839 when he returned to England.

“The voyage home, despite boisterous weather, was much more comfortable than the journey out, as may easily be imagined. As they approached the shores of England they looked forward with eager expectation to the day of their approaching reunion with the loved ones from whom they had been separated so long. The vessel cast anchor in Plymouth Sound on St. Patrick’s Day, Saturday, March 17, 1838, exactly four years from the date of their trial. They came back quietly, without ostentation, but as soon as it was known that they were in the vicinity, the people flocked down to the quay to greet them. The jovial landlord of the “Dolphin Inn,” on the Barbican Quay, Mr. Morgan, spared no effort to make them feel really at home.”

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The men return home. Plymouth Quay 17th March 1838

The other four left for home in September 1837. Upon a tumultuous arrival at Plymouth on 17th March 1838, crowds of people from the town flocked to greet the four of the five men and welcome them home. Within a day or so all the five men were back together in Tolpuddle once again but that was not to be for long.

The five men spent just a few days in Tolpuddle before being whisked off to London. This was because their home village was now an issue that had to be contended with. Despite the men’s popularity, it was quite obvious they would once again become the targets of the usual adversaries. Thus the men had to begin new lives, and that is why they were taken to London.

“Long before the Dorsetshire labourers had returned to England, mature consideration had been given by the Central Dorchester Committee in London to ways and means of permanently removing the six men from the power of their former persecutors. It was felt that if they returned to Tolpuddle, sooner or later they would be exposed to the petty tyranny which squire and farmer knew how to impose so dexterously.”

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New House Farm, Greensted, where George & James Loveless and James Brine, lived

The Dorchester Committee set up a fund, called the Dorchester Labourers’ Farm Tribute, to help the Tolpuddle Martyrs begin new lives on farms that would be their own. Eventually the men along with their families were settled down at farms in the villages of Greenstead and High Laver in Essex. Thomas Standfield was married at Greenstead church on June 20th 1839. During this time it was often discussed whether they should once again return to their Dorset roots.

Upon the return to England, James Hammett initially joined the others at New House Farm, but he eventually returned to Dorset. Mindful of the previous circumstances there, Hammett instead became a builder and was most active in this new trade until he retired.

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The Hammett cottage at Tolpuddle

After James Hammett had gone back to Tolpuddle, the five other men pondered their future and wondered if England was really the country for them.

“In those conversations round the Essex fireside, someone had spoken of Canada, the new country full of hope and prospects beyond anything that appeared possible in England to men of initiative and resource. Why should not they, too, go to Canada?”

Eventually James Brine, George and James Loveless, John and Thomas Standfield emigrated to Canada. The TUC’s book discusses their lives in Canada, even though history has not left much detail of the Martyrs’ later years. The difficulty in tracing the mens’ lives in Ontario was in part because the men were under oath not to reveal their former lives.

More recent research has found those who went to Ontario sometimes had ‘TM’ pencilled in next to their names on public records. Although most did not know what those initials stood for, the TM obviously meant ‘Tolpuddle Martyrs.’

The men lived with their families a few miles from each other in the villages around London, Ontario, including Blanshard, Bryanston, Fanshawe, Siloam and St Mary’s. The TUC’s book reflected current knowledge of the time and in 1934 few even knew the exact names of the mens’ villages, so London was given as the generic location. Even now its quite difficult to work out who actually lived where in mid nineteenth century Ontario.

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James Brine’s house depicted in the book

Brine’s house as pictured in the book may possibly be that in Blanshard, Ontario. It would have been a mile or so from the other house Brine had which is pictured at the bottom of this page.

“Where they landed cannot be definitely stated. The present descendants of the Standfields assert that the families all came to New York, travelled from thence by train to Buffalo, and then by ship to Port Stanley, from where they trekked by ox-team to London, Ontario.”

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The older church of 1892 at Siloam, Ontario, on the site of the one Loveless helped to build

George Loveless began work on a farm near London, Ontario. James Loveless became caretaker of Siloam church. James Brine initially set up a farm at Bridgewater (now Homesville), near Clinton in Ontario before moving to another near St Mary’s, Ontario.

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The home where George Loveless died was located on what was then known as Concession Five Road but is now Fanshawe Park Road East. Records indicate the dwelling stood until at least 1955. I think the location might have been where Fanshawe Optimists’ Little League Park is now.

“George Loveless settled on a farm about two miles from the site of the first Methodist Church at Siloam, London. This church which he ‘helped to build, was burnt down, being a wooden frame building, and the present church was erected in its place on: the same site. Although he moved later to another farm, he always resided at London, and lived happy and contented until he passed into his last sleep on March 6, 1874. To the end he was true to his principles and never disguised his outspoken views. He was equally firm in his adherence to his religious faith, and regularly held bible classes at the house which he had built. He preserved his love for flowers and his garden was a blaze of colour, regarded with good-natured envy by his immediate neighbours.”

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Tolpuddle church with James Hammett’s grave – the only Martyr to have stayed in England

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The Martyr’s Chapel in Tolpuddle is depicted much later in the TUC’s book. Although there is no mention of this, records elsewhere show both Loveless and Standfield most likely built the chapel in 1818. Its last use as a place of worship was when the Martyrs were arrested in February 1834. The chapel has been derelict for years however the grade II structure is to be restored as these recent reports from the Guardian and BBC News show.

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The endpiece: Printed by the Pelican Press with the guidance of A. H. Meaden

The Tolpuddle Martyrs – Postscript

This is some extra research I conducted for this post. I felt it would not be otherwise complete for even now there is still little history on the lives of the Tolpuddle Martyrs in Canada.

In emigrating to Canada it had been agreed the five men and their families should make no mention of any previous lives. Thus the Martyrs lived in almost total obscurity. This explains why it is hard to find much history with regards to the Canadian side of the story.

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The Winnipeg Press June 1912

In June 1912, as a tie-in with the festival being held at Tolpuddle, all was revealed. The Winnipeg Free Press, which had access to George Loveless’ journals, plus other detail gleaned at interviews with H. J. Brine of Chicago, the grandson of James Brine, was able to publish an article which officially revealed the existence of the Martyrs in Canada.

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Hammett’s grave in Tolpuddle. Source: Wikipedia

From other sources it is known that John Standfield built a house in Bryanston. This was known as Dorset Lodge. The reference is quite obvious! In the same village too he built his stores at its one and only cross roads. The first store stood on the south east corner. Standfield later built a much larger store on the south west corner. Afterwards he moved to London where he became a hotelier. Part of the site where Standfield’s former Dominion Hotel was is now the Western Fair Raceway.

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Bryanston crossroads where Standfield once had his stores, the first on the left and a later one on the right

One of the houses that belonged to George Loveless still stands. Although it seems there are no records to indicate which property it is, with a bit of detective work I found it on Google maps. Examination of the building for clues shows it is indeed Loveless’ house. Its been slightly modified and extensions have been added at the rear.

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Still standing – One of George Loveless’ farmhouses in Ontario – later given to his son Robert

Likewise I also found James Brine’s home.This and the Loveless home are built in a similar style and shows the same builder was used. Brine’s house is also considerably modified though there are sufficient clues to conform it as the one shown in old photographs.

I have not given details of the properties’ exact locations for reasons of privacy.

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Still standing – James Brine’s farmhouse in Ontario

Standfield and Loveless are buried in the Siloam cemetery near Fanshawe (see main picture at top of page.) James Brine is buried in the old cemetery at St. Mary’s, Ontario.

The introduction and the first few chapters (pages 1 to 102) of the TUC’s book The Martyrs of Tolpuddle 1834-1934 (the sections written by Walter Citrine, plus contributions from G. B. Shaw and the Webbs) can be downloaded as pdfs from here.

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2 Comments

  1. Author

    There must be some mistake, this is a UK based blog I dont live in Ontario!

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