The neatly trimmed gardens of an English village give more than a hint that the middle-class has moved in.
However it was once dominated by near peasant, rural and agricultural workers who probably tended in their daily toil much more land than the current incumbents have in their now perfectly presented homesteads.
The seat of what became the first ever trade union in the small Dorset village of Tolpuddle is today much removed from what the six agricultural workers lived in back in 1834. Central heating, double glazing was unheard of by those who were in very much the lower classes of that time and dared to question their farmer bosses and ended up paying the price of transportation to Australia.
What was once the main road heading west through what was a little more than a hamlet the village of Tolpuddle now sits 400 yards away from the main east west trunk road leaving it by-passed and quiet. Now just a smattering of tourists seeking trade union’s roots or tracking down the historic venues around the tiny rural village.
A retirement hotspot in the present day for those placed in financial class that was unachievable by the six now seem to be in the majority, but the working class still have a foothold and a retreat there. They are housed in the TUC cottages built in memory of the Tolpuddle Martyrs at the western end of the village by the TUC .
Part of the complex is a museum dedicated to the men and flanked by 3 cottages on each side that are given to retired trade union’s members to live in. In front of the trade unions homes annually is held on the third weekend of July one of the largest trade union rallies in the UK.
Colourful marchers of all ages with banners and bands wind their way to the eastern end of the village. Returning for speeches and music the weekend culminates after wreaths have been laid at the grave of the only one of the Martyrs to return to his home village James Hammett.
The tiny chapel where some of the 6 attended and the tree on the village green where they all conspired are still there and are a focus for those on the trade unions trail.
The local pub the, Martyrs Inn, is today the main hub for the village and passing visitors. Providing a modern menu that the Martyrs themselves would have only been able to dream of in terms of quality, presentation and taste. There is no shop or post office so that requires a short drive to the nearby village of Puddletown, maybe some things just don’t change that much?
WE WILL, WE WILL BE FREE!
George Loveless and five of his fellow workers, his brother James, James Brine, James Hammett, Thomas Standfield, and Thomas’s son John were all charged with having taken an illegal oath.
However in the eyes of the establishment and local Squire James Frampton it was really that they had formed a trade union to protest about their paltry pay of six old shillings a week. In todays money 30p ($0.50c) so they felt they had to make a stand.
They were tried and sentenced in the law courts in Dorchester (which can still be visited) and ‘transported’ to Australia, leaving their families penniless.
Supporters around the country helped them and after a massive protest in London the Martyrs were freed and pardoned. James Hammett returned to the village, worked as a builders labourer, the remainder opted because of continuing anti-union pressure and lack of work to headed for Canada, where they became farmers in Ontario.
The rally weekend is a very colourful affair with throngs of trade unionists, supporters and distant relations of the martyrs descend on the village, camping in the surrounding fields ensuring the memory of the six who started the world’s first trade union and their sacrifice for social justice lives on.
The temporary three-day festival draws hundreds of international visitors as well as thousands from the UK along with the political angle of course to event it does attract some great musicians and performers making it an relaxed all round family day out but with a social message too.