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The Tolpuddle Martyrs - the Struggle for Free Trades Unionism Preface by George Loveless


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HISTORY

Our History No. 6

R U O

Communist Party www.communist-party.org.uk

Pamphlet No. 6

New Series

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The Tolpuddle Martyrs the Struggle for Free Trades Unionism CONTENTS page Preface by George Loveless Introduction Economic depression Attempts at alliances of unions Oath of allegiance to a union An illegal oath? Who were the martyrs? Charges, trial & punishment The campaign to free the six! And afterwards? Remembering the martyrs Sources

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Martyrs’ portrait in the Unite the Union education centre in Eastbourne.

God is our guide! from field, from wave, From plough, from anvil, and from loom; We come, our country's rights to save, And speak a tyrant faction's doom: We raise the watch-word liberty; We will, we will, we will be free!

George Loveless

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Preface by George Loveless Text by George Loveless from his: “The victims of Whiggery: being a statement of the persecutions experienced by the Dorchester labourers, their trial, banishment, &c., also reflections upon the present system of transportation with an account of Van Dieman's Land, its customs, laws, climate, produce and inhabitants� In the year 1831-32, there was a general movement of the working classes for an increase of wages, and the labouring men in [Tolpuddle] the parish where I lived gathered together, and met their employers, to ask them for an advance of wages, and they came to a mutual agreement, the masters in Tolpuddle promising to give the men as much for their labour as the other masters in the district. The whole of the men then went to work, and the time that was spent in this affair did not exceed two hours. No language of intimidation or threatening was used on the occasion. Shortly after we learnt that, in almost every place around us, the masters were giving their men money, or money's worth to the amount of ten shillings a week - we expected to be entitled to as much - but no, nine shillings must be our portion. After some months we were reduced to eight shillings per week. This caused great dissatisfaction, and all the labouring men in the village, with the exception of two or three invalids, made application to a neighbouring The Tolpuddle Martyrs and the struggle for free trades unionism


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magistrate... I was one nominated to appear, and when there we were told that we must work for whatever our employers thought fit to give us, as there was no law to compel masters to give any fixed sum of money to their servants. In vain we remonstrated that an agreement was made... From this time we were reduced to seven shillings per week, and shortly after our employers told us they must lower us to six shillings per week. We consulted together what had better be done, knowing it was impossible to live honestly on such scantly means. I had seen at different times accounts of Trade Societies; I mentioned this, and it was resolved to form a friendly society among the labourers, having sufficiently learned that it would be vain to seek the redress either of employers, magistrates or parsons. I inquired of a brother to get information how to proceed, and shortly after, two delegates from a Trade Society paid us a visit, formed a Friendly Society among the labourers, and gave us directions how to proceed. This was about the latter end of October 1833. On the 9th December, 1833, in the evening, Edward Legg [a labourer], who was witness against us on our trial, came and desired to be admitted into the Society... Nothing particular occurred from this time until the 21st of February, 1834, when placards were posted up at the most conspicuous places, purporting to be cautions from the magistrates, threatening to punish with seven years' transportation any man who should join the Union. This was the first time that I heard of any law being in existence to forbid such societies. I met with a copy, read it, and put it into my pocket. February the 24th at day break, I arose to go to my usual labour, and had just left my house, when Mr James Brine, constable of the parish, met me and said, "I have a warrant for you, from the magistrates." ... Accordingly I and my companions walked in company with the constable to Dorchester, about seven miles distant, and were taken into the house of a Mr Woolaston, magistrate... Legg was called upon to swear to us, and we were instantly sent to prison... In this situation the chaplain of the prison The Tolpuddle Martyrs and the struggle for free trades unionism


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paid us a visit, to pour a volley of instruction in our ears, mixed up, however, in the cup of abuse. After upbraiding us and taunting us with being discontented and idle, and wishing to ruin our masters, he proceeded to tell us that we were better off than our masters, and that government had made use of every possible means for economy and retrenchment to make all comfortable. He inquired if I could point out anything that might be done to increase the comfort of the labourer. I told him I thought I could; and began to assure him that our object was not to ruin the master, but that, for a long time, we had been looking for the head to begin, and relieve the various members down to the feet; but finding it was of no avail, we were thinking of making application to our masters, and for them to make application to their masters, and so up to the head; and as to their being worse off than ourselves, I could not believe it, while I saw them keep such a number of horses for no other purpose than to chase the hare and the fox. And besides I thought gentlemen wearing the clerical livery, like himself, might do with a little less salary. “Is that how you mean to do it?” said he. “That is one way I have been thinking of, Sir.” - “I hope the Court will favour you, but I think they will not; for I believe they mean to make an example of you.” And saying this he left us. On the 15th March we were taken to the County-hall to await our trial... As to the trial, I need mention but little; the whole proceedings were characterised by a shameful disregard of justice and decency; the most unfair means were resorted to in order to frame an indictment against us; the Grand Jury appeared to rack heaven and earth to get some clue against us, but in vain; our characters were investigated from our infancy to the then present moment; our masters were inquired of to know if we were not idle, or attended public-houses, or some other fault in us; and much as they were opposed to us, they had common honesty enough to declare that we were good labouring servants, and that they never heard of any complaint against us; and when nothing whatever could be raked together, the unjust and cruel judge, John Williams, ordered us to be tried for mutiny and conspiracy, under an Act 37 Geo. III, Cap. 123, for the suppression of mutiny amongst the marines and seamen, several years ago, at the Spithead The Tolpuddle Martyrs and the struggle for free trades unionism


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Communist Party History Group and the Nore (offshore naval anchorages outside Portsmouth and London). The greater part of the evidence against us, on our trial, was put into the mouths of the witnesses by the judge...

I shall not soon forget his address to the jury in summing up the evidence: among other things, he The Captain Swing hay rick-burning protests told them, that if such Societies were allowed to exist, it would ruin masters, cause a stagnation in trade, destroy property, - and if they should not find us guilty, he was certain they would forfeit the opinion of the Grand Jury. I thought to myself, there is no danger but we shall be found guilty, as we have a special jury for the purpose, selected from among those who are most unfriendly towards us - the Grand Jury, landowners, the Petty Jury, land-renters. Under such a charge, from such a quarter, selfinterest alone would induce them to say, “Guilty.” ...At the time when so much incendiarism was prevailing [the ‘Captain Swing' protests; see contemporary imagined picture above] in so many parts of the kingdom, a watch was set in our parish for the protection of property in the night, and I and my brothers, among others were chosen to watch some property. Will any reasonable man believe, if we had been rioters, that we should have been so chosen?... But the secret is this: I am from principle, a Dissenter [see editor’s note on page 8], and by some in Tolpuddle it is considered as the sin of witchcraft; nay, there is no forgiveness for it in this world nor that which is to come; the years 1834-35 are not forgotten, and many a curious tale might be told of men that were persecuted, banished and not allowed to have employ if they entered the Wesleyan Chapel at Tolpuddle... How long will it be ere they cease to grind to dust, trample under foot, and The Tolpuddle Martyrs and the struggle for free trades unionism


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tread down as the mire of the streets the hardworking and industrious labourer? ... never no, never will (with a few honourable exceptions) the rich and the great devise means to alleviate the distress, and remove the misery felt by the working men of England. What then is to be done? Why the labouring classes must do it themselves or it will be left undone; the laws of reason and justice demands their doing it. Labour is the poor man's property, from which all protection is withheld. Has not the working man as much right to preserve and protect his labour as the rich man has his capital? But I am told that the working man ought to remain still and let their cause work its way 'that God in his good time will bring it around for him'. However this is not my creed. I believe that God works by means and men, and that he expects every man who feels an interest in the subject to take an active part in bringing about and hastening on so important a period ... Let no one expect that another will do it for him. Let every working man come forward, from east to west, from north to south; unite firmly but peaceably together as the heart of one man. Let them be determined to have a voice in, and form a part of, the British nation. Then no longer would the interest of the millions be sacrificed for the gain of the few, but the blessings resulting from such a change would be felt by us, our posterity, even to generations yet unborn ... Let the working classes of Britain, seeing the necessity of acting upon such a principle, remembering that union is power, listen to nothing that might be presented before them to draw their attention from the subject, alike despising and conquering party disputes and personal bickerings, and they will accomplish their own salvation, and that of the world. Arise, men of Britain and take your stand! Rally round the standards of Liberty, or forever lay prostrate under the iron hand of your land and moneymongering taskmasters! Transportation has not had the intended effect on me, but after all, I am returned from my bondage with my views and principles strengthened. It is The Tolpuddle Martyrs and the struggle for free trades unionism


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indelibly fixed in my mind that labour is ill-rewarded in consequence of a few tyrannising over the millions; and that through their oppression thousands are now working in chains on the roads, abused by overseers, sentenced by the comitants and punished by the flagellator ... is this the plan to reform men? I say A contemporary satirical cartoon warns against no. if they were bad before, “General Associations”, or unions. Note the black they are tenfold the workers attending the meeting – meant to be a highly children of Hell now ... the negative sign. groans and cries of the labourers ere long will bring down vengeance on the heads of those who have been and are still the authors of so much misery. I believe that nothing will ever be done to relieve the distress of the working classes unless they take it into their own hands. With these views I left England, and with these views I am returned. Nothing but union will or can ever accomplish the great and important object, namely the salvation of the world. Let the producers of wealth firmly and peaceably unite their energies and what can withstand them?

George Loveless [note re page 6] Editor’s note: the term dissenter (from the Latin dissentire, “to disagree”) means someone who does not follow the state approved Church of England. Originally, the term included Catholics but increasingly began to be applied to Protestant Dissenters who founded their own churches. During the 19th century, such independent bodies increasingly (but not always!) acted sympathetically to developing trades unionism.

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Introduction As the industrial revolution grew apace, for nearly a quarter of a century until 1824, British and Irish trade unions had been forcibly banned by the Combination Acts, prohibiting workers from combining against their employer. Yet, despite the legislation, unions grew stronger. Where an apprenticeship was needed to learn a skill, it proved easier to organise. In some trades, although illegal, national coordination of local societies had been achieved, e.g., in brushmaking, coach making, iron founding, and amongst mechanics (or what we would call fitters), smiths, and steam engine making This Act was clearly A tinplate craft workers’ society flag becoming inoperable – the bosses simply found it impossible to properly use. Some MPs, using their intelligence, reasoned that giving a stake in the system might defuse the potency of these trade societies. Unions wanted to expand, become stronger and certain strong “trade clubs” in London focused on lobbying a handful of sympathetic MPs continuously, so as to end the Act. In fact, it was the forming of civil ‘friendly’ societies that uniquely marked the British Isles out as an early emerging democracy, so legalisation of all sorts of beneficial bodies was a useful development. By 1825, the repressive acts were gone and trade unions began to be formed all over the British Isles; building workers’ unions became especially significant. The Tolpuddle Martyrs and the struggle for free trades unionism


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Unions were quickly changing an early union design emphasises the membership of female workers

The National Association for the Protection of Labour was founded in July 1830 as an initial attempt at creating a national trade union. This brought together mostly textile related unions, but also iron founders, miners, mechanics, blacksmiths, and others joined up. NAPL expanded, reaching around one hundred thousand members but by the middle of 1832, for many complex reasons, it floundered.

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Economic Depression Only shortly after unions were given some legal footing, within five or six years, economic depression caused massive unemployment and put pressure on the new and more repressive system, introduced at the instigation of the new manufacturing masters, to relieve poverty. The problem was especially acute in rural areas, where the economy had yet to become industrialised, although the arrival of new threshing machines further weakened the position of farm workers. Even after the 1832 Reform Act, only about 5% of the population could vote at elections, so working people were excluded from the corridors of power. Well-off people were reluctant to allow political rights since they were very worried that ordinary people, given some leverage, would extract severe revenge for the degradation that they were routinely placed in. When ordinary people campaigned for democratic rights, their efforts were ridiculed by ‘polite’ society.

Brushmakers’ apprenticeship certificate

Nonetheless, manufacturing bosses agitated fiercely for the elimination of any societal relief for the poor; their factories would be empty if the destitute were allowed financial support. Thus, changes to the system of poor relief took place, although the cuts that followed were met with protests across the South West of England, in particular.

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Attempts at Alliances of Unions In the towns, especially in the industrialised north, unions in many different trades got together to fight these developments. A successful alliance was created, called the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union. When it was agreed that this new body could An illustration imagining a recruit and organise unskilled workers, scene in a Captain Swing attack. massive numbers began to pour into unions in a way that would not been seen again for almost six decades, towards the end of the 19th century. Skilled workers unions affiliated to GNCTU direct, either as a national society (a little like today’s TUC), or in local branches. Most of the craft societies joined up – tinplate workers, brush makers, masons, and others. From this base strength, GNCTU branches began to be organised in towns, a little like today’s trades councils, or local TUCs, but as if they began recruiting unorganised workers direct. All over the country, women, young people, and unskilled men in many diverse jobs joined GNCTU. Many different kinds of workers joined, such as, chimney sweeps, button makers, gardeners, textile A modern play, with Zoe Wanamaker and Corin workers, and – yes! - farm Redgrave, celebrating the Captain Swing revolt workers, also.

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Oath of Allegiance to a Union Union branches, or ‘lodges’, often met in pubs, as the only place available for them to meet, sometimes associated with their trade (e.g. Plumbers Arms, or Masons Arms); as they were not yet recognised legal entities, they kept their money, accounts, minutes, etc., in a locked chest in a club room in the pub. Joining a union was a big deal; even after the repeal of the Combination Acts. A new member would be required to swear before God to keep the secrets of the society. It is difficult to understand today just how important an oath was. (Perhaps those facing perjury charges out of certain highly-publicised inquiries today may grasp it A contemporary satirical illustration of the campaign a little!!) But oath-taking was then very important in maintaining all forms of contract where standards of literacy were low. Very old traditions had it that a certain amount of dressing up and ceremony was necessary to enforce the solemnity of the event. Almost every kind of society or club used oaths to confirm new members, involving very similar ceremonies. Even charitable bodies, or early The Tolpuddle Martyrs and the struggle for free trades unionism


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insurance clubs, followed the same practices. There would be the use perhaps of a club flag or banner, some kind special item of clothing to wear, maybe some unusual plant to put on the lapel (as we do at weddings), and insignia of office for the person presiding over the affair. These could be special aprons, sashes, or neck ribbons, often cheaply 'bejewelled'. Today we make fun of the supposedly unknown and odd rituals used by Masons when approving the joining of their new recruits. Yet, pioneer trades unionists also employed such devices at their lodges. Oddly, it was the secrecy of these practices that enabled reactionary forces to seek to turn the clock back to before the rise of trades unionism. The blood-curdling promise made by new applicants to join a union not to tell lackeys of the master about the society and its workings was pounced on as being illegal. During the ceremony, which has been compared to a marriage vow, an old and often blunt and rusty sword would be held with the point hovering over, the heart of the new applicant and placed right on the bared skin on reaching the word “plunge�. An oath like the following would be read out piecemeal to the applicant who would repeat it, rather as is done in the marriage ceremony. The Plumbers Arms, like most such designations, were originally a union insignia attached to particular pub where the trade gathered.

"I do before Almighty God, and this Loyal Lodge, most solemnly swear that I will not work for any master that is not in the Union, nor will I work with any illegal man or men, but will do my best for the support of wages: and most solemnly swear to keep inviolate all the secrets of this Order; nor will I ever consent to have any money for any purpose but for the use of the Lodge and the support of the trade; nor will I write, or cause to be wrote, print, mark, either on stone, marble, brass, paper, or sand, anything connected with this Order, so help me God, and keep me steadfast in this The Tolpuddle Martyrs and the struggle for free trades unionism


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my present obligation. And it further promise to do my best to bring all legal men that I am connected with into this Order; and if ever I reveal any of these rules, may what is before me plunge my soul into Eternity." Note: This is a promise not to work for an employer who does not recognise a union; “illegal men” are those not trained to work to the quality standards expected of a good worker; “legal men” are properly trained workers who are not currently within the union.

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An Illegal Oath? On senior judges declaring themselves scandalised by such oaths, the media of the day, i.e. newspapers, were wound up to a hysterical level as they reported the rise and rise of unions in every town and city. It was now suddenly ‘discovered’ that the preamble to an Act of 1797 Act, intended to prevent mutiny in the Royal Navy at a time of war with revolutionary France, also applied to trades union oaths. That is to say, making an oath of allegiance to anyone other than the king was an act of treason! Attacking the secret oath implied that sinister forces were behind the innocent idiots that were new members of unions. In a A contemporary satire on the union oath period so close to end of war with what had once been revolutionary France, patriot appeals were made to consider the ultimate aims behind these dreadful oaths. Yet, in reality, the oath was fairly innocent, the member swearing not to work with non-unionists and to keep from the employer the secrets of the lodge. In fact, GNCTU had already tried to abolish secret oaths. The use of one in Tolpuddle was not actually an approved practice! They should have assigned passwords to new members (rather like with today’s internet The Tolpuddle Martyrs and the struggle for free trades unionism


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services) which could use as membership; a necessary caution in a society where only a quarter of the population could read. Almost certainly, it was the virtual 9-month GNCTU general strike in Derby over union rights, beginning in late 1833, that worried the establishment. Basically, workers there were starved back to work but only months after the Tolpuddle case was heard. There had been similar set piece battles elsewhere. GNCTU organised massive solidarity collections to keep the battles going. Employers were asking the government to bring back the Combination Acts but this would only embolden GNCTU and enable it to call a massive national general strike. This had never happened before but some on the left thought it might be enough to smash the state and herald a revolution. The government planned to frighten off the new unskilled workers and divide them from the trade craft workers. The Swing revolt had probably been more immediately frightening for the ruling class but it had been easily contained, despite spreading across the south of England and parts of the Midlands just a few years before. The revolt had seen machine breaking, arson and violence against overseers and justices. Wiltshire and Dorset were especially badly hit and incidents in Puddletown and other Dorset villages probably involved farm workers, some of whom must have sought to join a union, even then. Since the Tolpuddle Martyrs also sought to join GNCTU as an affiliated trade society, they will have consciously favoured the mass action that characterised trade unionism as distinct from underground anarchistic destruction.

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Who Were The Martyrs? Thus it was that, in October 1833, six agricultural labourers living in the Dorset village of Tolpuddle first got together and formed a Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers. Their main concern was to resist wage-cutting and lift wages in the area from seven shillings per week to ten shillings. Amidst worries that a cut was imminent to six shillings, some forty men promptly joined the self-formed union. George Loveless, who we met in the preface, was 37 and a Methodist lay preacher. He was, thus, an articulate leader, yet he was also a ploughman earning nine shillings a week. Married to Betsy, he was the father of three children at the time of the trial and two more in later life. (Note: some 19th century accounts use the alternative family spelling of ‘Lovelace’) James Loveless

James Loveless was born in 1808; married with two children, he was also a Methodist preacher. A founder member of the Tolpuddle Union, he was singled out by Dorchester landowner and magistrate, James Frampton, the local squire, as a particularly troublesome agitator. He had suspected James a few years back of involvement with the Swing movement, a development that was of serious concern to the squire after dozens of men in Lulworth went on strike as well as firing ricks. Frampton kept soldiers to guard his house for some time and two men were sent to prison. John Standfield, born 1813, was the

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Our History No. 6 nephew of the Loveless brothers and his father, Thomas, was their brother-in-law. The families and the men were all very close; along with George and James Loveless, the Standfields worked on the same farm in Tolpuddle. Thomas Standfield, born in 1789, was the oldest of the men at 44 at the time of their arrest and married to the Loveless brothers' sister, Dinniah, born in 1798. They had five children, including John who was the oldest, and another on the way. Thomas was also a Methodist and many of the early union meetings were held in the upstairs room of his cottage.

James Hammett was born at the end of 1811 and was married with a baby John Standfield son when arrested. Not being at the supposedly illegal initiation, he may have accepted arrest on behalf of his newly-married brother, John, who was present and whose wife was about to give birth. James Brine was the next youngest after John Standfield and was arrested shortly before his 21st birthday. At the time he was also the main breadwinner for his mother and brother and sisters, his father having died when he was 16, and he had probably never travelled further than the outskirts of the village.

Thomas Standfield

All of these men were cited as the prime movers in the founding of a union and, on hearing the

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Communist Party History Group details, Frampton personally wrote to Lord Melbourne to complain about the move. [William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne, (1779-1848) Home Secretary (1830-1834) and Prime Minister (1834, 1835-1841)].

A firm believer in aristocratic government and a Whig, Melbourne was hostile to middle class, or even working class, reforms. He was also prime minister for several brief spells in the late 1830s, when he was first confidante and adviser to the young Queen Victoria. His wife Lady Caroline Lamb had an infamous affair with James Hammett Lord Byron, which is better remembered than Melbourne's political role. He was edged out of the leading political role by the Tory, Peel, and died in November 1848. The Tolpuddle ringleaders were arrested under the preamble to the 1797 Act on 21st February 1834, for supposedly taking an illegal oath. A Grand Jury first had to decide if there was a case to answer (now a task usually managed by a brief hearing in the magistrate’s court). The Grand Foreman was William Ponsonby MP, brother-in-law to the Home Secretary, Lord Melbourne. We now know that Melbourne boasted in private correspondence with the King, who detested the very idea of unions, especially in rural areas, that transportation would strike a mortal blow at the root of trades unionism. James Brine The Tolpuddle Martyrs and the struggle for free trades unionism


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Our History No. 6 A Grand Jury now only applies in the USA but determines whether a criminal indictment will be issued. It is named ‘Grand’ (Norman French for ‘big’) because it has a greater number of jurors than a Petit Jury, (the only sort we now have) of twelve citizens.) Members of the jury included James Frampton, his son Henry, his step-brother Charles Wollaston and several of the magistrates who had signed the arrest warrant. The trial was presided over by Judge Baron Williams.

The first page of the 1797 George III law

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Charges, Trial & Punishment Thus at the Dorchester assizes, on the 17th of March 1834, charges were preferred against James Lovelace, George Lovelace, Thomas Stanfield, John Stanfield, James Hammett and James Brine. They were indicted for 'administering and causing to be administered, and aiding and assisting, and being present at, and consenting to administer, a certain unlawful oath and engagement, purporting to bind the person taking the same not to inform or give evidence against any associate or other person charged with any unlawful combination, and not to reveal or discover any such unlawful combination, or any illegal act done or to be done, and not to discover any illegal oath which might be taken.' The case against them was put Mr Gambier, who stated that either all together, or one of them supported by the others, administered an unlawful oath to Edward Legg, the informer. Gambier is likely to have been related to Baron Admiral Gambier of Dorsetshire, himself the founder of a wealthy dynasty. The aim of the oath was to commit Legg to agree never to disclose the combination which had been formed, not to inform or give evidence against any person associated with them. Gambier’s argument to the judge was that, although the preamble of the relevant act related to seditious meetings, the rest of it was more general and was intended to cover “confederacies not formed merely for seditious purposes, but for any illegal purpose whatever�. The legality or otherwise of a combination, or union, would depend on whether any member was required to take any oath that the law did not authorise. He would show that the practice of the association to administer oaths that bound men to obey the secret commands of men not formally legally constituted was in itself illegal. The facts of the case were that Legg and others had been conducted to the house of Thomas Stanfield at Tolpuddle and, after waiting a short time, were blindfolded and taken into a room, when certain papers were read The Tolpuddle Martyrs and the struggle for free trades unionism


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over to them whilst they were helped to their knees. On the bandage being taken from their eyes, they saw the figure of a skeleton with the words 'Remember your end' written over it. James Loveless, officiating, was dressed in something like a surplice, a sort of white linen or cotton tunic with wide sleeves normally worn by clergy. The joining members were then sworn to obey the rules and regulations of the society, and not to divulge its secrets or proceedings. They were to pay a shilling on entrance, and a penny a week afterwards as a contribution to a dispute fund. This would support those men working for one or more masters who would be brought out on tactical strike until wage rises were won. In this way, each farm across the district would be gradually brought out, unless the masters combined, which would escalate the conflict. It seems as if the Tolpuddle men were consciously trying to anticipate the problems that had arisen at Derby, whereby all local unionists were on strike at once and had to rely on external support. There were even anticipations of such in the rules. Rule 21 of what was to be called 'The Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers' read that “… if any master attempts to reduce the wages of his workmen, if they are members of this order they shall instantly communicate the same to the corresponding secretary, in order that they may receive the support of the grand lodge”. Rule 22 read: “That if any member of this society renders himself obnoxious to his employer solely on account of taking an active part in the affairs of this order, and if guilty of no violation or insult to his master, and shall be discharged from his employment solely on consequence thereof, either before or after the turn-out, then the whole body of men at that place shall instantly leave the place, and no member of this society shall be allowed to take work at that place until such member be reinstated in his situation.” The defence was simply that there was no offence in law. Although friendly The Tolpuddle Martyrs and the struggle for free trades unionism


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societies had no body or form in law they were not in themselves illegal any more. The oath-taking charge was not relevant, since it was really about mutiny in the armed forces. But uncertainty about the law and the way the British constitution worked was against the defence. The judge, displaying a mind completely already made up, could interpret his way to guiding a guilty judgement from the jury all too easily. Only in 1871 were unions actually and clearly decriminalised; four years later, some four decades after the Tolpuddle case, legislation firmed up the principle that a trade union could not be prosecuted for acts which might be legal if conducted by an individual. That is to say, unions were given ‘bodily’ status in law The precise formality of the oath was not the issue, the judge thought. It was whether it was secret enough and with enough damaging intentions that it came within the meaning of the act. The surplice worn by James Lovelace and the representation of a skeleton seemed also, he thought, A public warning notice about the oath to have been intended to strike appeared on February 24th awe on the minds of the persons to whom the oath was administered. The jury, after about five minutes' consultation, found all the prisoners 'Guilty', and they were sentenced to be transported to Australia for seven years, a really serious punishment back then. The judge said he was making an example of these men to warn others attempting such crimes. Transportation was a brutal punishment. Few sent to the penal colonies ever returned, either because they did not The Tolpuddle Martyrs and the struggle for free trades unionism


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survive the ordeal, or because they could not afford the journey home following the end of their sentence. Famously, on being sentenced, George Loveless wrote the following prophetic lines on a scrap of paper: God is our guide! from field, from wave, From plough, from anvil, and from loom; We come, our country's rights to save, And speak a tyrant faction's doom: We raise the watch-word liberty; We will, we will, we will be free! Five of the Martyrs were shipped in appalling conditions to Botany Bay, a dreadful Australian penal colony in New South Wales, where they were assigned as convict labour to landowners. James Brine was robbed of all the bedding and clothes allocated by the authorities on his way to his assigned master. George Loveless, delayed by illness after the trial, later went in chains to Tasmania. After the transportation of their husbands, the wives of the Tolpuddle men had to apply for parish relief, the social welfare of the day, to Squire Frampton and the Justices. Predictably, Frampton thought that if the families could afford for their men to join a union they could now afford to keep themselves. Trades unionists from all over Britain knew differently and a campaign headed by the London Dorchester Committee to raise money for the families soon brought relief. .

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The Campaign to Free the Six! The harshness and injustice of their treatment caused massive public outcry and there were huge protests. Thousands of workers demonstrated in London on April 21st 1834 in Copenhagen Fields, later to be the site of a massive cattle market on the Caledonian Road in Islington, past King's Cross. Estimates of attendance varied but there would have been up a hundred thousand perhaps (given the smaller population equivalent to a million, say today). The assembled crowd marched to Kennington Common, Lambeth, and a wagon carried a petition of over 200,000 signatures The Copenhagen Fields demonstration seeking a pardon. Melbourne refused to accept the petition but it was later delivered anyway. It was perhaps too early. For one thing, GNCTU did not have enough money to support unskilled workers in their strikes and resistance to lock -outs, as in Derby. Yet some activists pressed for an escalation of the conflict, arguing that the ruling class was weaker than it looked. This was especially so in Birmingham, where James Morrison, the building workers’ leader, had nurtured the strongest financial support base for Derby. He was now also projecting a vision of a syndicalist transformation of society, which rejected the hostile parliament in London as even worthy of attention, especially after Melbourne’s contempt for the Copenhagen Fields rally and petition. The Tolpuddle Martyrs and the struggle for free trades unionism


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But Morrison died within the year and, although his wife, Frances, pioneered a remarkable feminist initiative, citing his name, support for radical union tactics began to fade. Masons and other builders retreated into their craft societies and radicals began to contemplate the building of a movement for political reform that would enable a measure of electoral influence. There is no doubt that the strength of feeling against the state for its hostility to free trades unionism, so strongly personified by the Tolpuddle Martyrs worried many in the elite. The Turnout in Derby had been more massive, more radical and more significant but in the longer run that struggle would be largely forgotten, nationally at least. But distaste about the Tolpuddle affair lingered on, a constant sore on the already hundred-year old claim that Britons would ‘never be slaves’. Whilst sections of the ruling elite now began to strategise a way to include segments of the working class within the new industrial system, the working class stage was set for Chartism, the campaign for universal suffrage – the most successful single issue campaign ever conducted. Before that, believing the radical movement beaten, at least for some time, a more amenable mood to modest reform emerged amongst some in government. The campaign for release, which quietly continued, eventually bore fruit when the then Home Secretary, Lord John Russell, recognised the level and force of its support and granted “Imploring mercy !!!! of their King” - a cynical and hostile satire conditional pardons on the campaign to free the Six. The Tolpuddle Martyrs and the struggle for free trades unionism


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in June 1835, followed by full pardons on March 14th 1836. Russell, an early Whig -Liberal, supported religious freedom, electoral and other reform, although he is mainly known for beginning the process of democratisation of local government in British provincial cities. The Six found out about their pardons entirely by chance, since no-one in Australia told them. Between January 1837 and August they returned home to a welcome fit for heroes. Four of the six disembarked at Plymouth, a regular stopping point for transportation ships. A plaque next to the Mayflower Steps in Plymouth's historic Barbican area commemorates this. Hammett was released only in 1837, probably due to his previous conviction for theft. He returned to Tolpuddle to work in the building trade.

Poster for a fund-raising dinner for the Tolpuddle Martyrs, held in 1836

On his return to England, James Brine married Elizabeth Standfield, daughter of Thomas and sister of John. They had 11 children, four born in England, the others in Canada. Not only did George Loveless write an account of their affair, he became a delegate to the Chartist Convention in 1839. Some of the Martyrs moved to Essex, to work farms leased for them by the London Dorchester Committee. But they did not feel welcome there and only stayed two years when they emigrated to Canada. The Tolpuddle Martyrs and the struggle for free trades unionism


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And Afterwards? Despite their ordeal most of the Martyrs lived a good length of life. Thomas Standfield died aged 74 in early 1864 and his wife Dinniah (Loveless) died the following year. Their graves are next to those of Dinniah’s brother George, who died in died in 1874 at age 77, and his wife, Betsy. James Loveless died aged 65 in February 1873. James Hammett died in the Dorchester workhouse in 1891, to which he had voluntarily gone. John Standfield died in 1898 at the age of 85. James Brine died in 1902, in his 90th year. His wife, Elizabeth Standfield, daughter to Dinniah and Thomas, died in 1908 also aged 90. History books tell us that, with the “Tolpuddle Martyrs” the trade union movement “collapsed.” But this is simply not true. Whilst the decline of GNCTU after the twin hammer blows of Derby and Tolpuddle was as rapid as its growth, speeded up by a bitter right-left dispute, unions simply retreated into their craft or industry shell and bided their time. That same year as Tolpuddle, a national boilermakers’, union was formed (it had loyalty oaths and passwords, some of which survived until the 20th century). Amalgamations took place among pottery workers, tailors, shoemakers, print workers and others. Big battles began in the mining and textile industries. For the next 40 years unions consolidated their growing national organisation, membership and funds. By the middle of the 19th century, cross trade union co-ordination, in the shape of an initially small but rapidly growing TUC, had been achieved. By the end of it, socialism was back on the agenda of many unions and organisation of the unorganised was going ahead apace. Amongst other things, a conscious celebration of the sacrifice of the Six began.

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Remembering the Martyrs The men have been well-served by the movement they only briefly joined. For they have never been forgotten. First off, the tree (right) where the men first gathered was honoured and kept in the long-term so that we still might see it.

Then, in 1912, a ceremonial arch (left) was paid for and erected. In 1934, one hundred years after the trial, the TUC sponsored many events to mark the centenary. A play by a renowned author went on a national tour and the TUC introduced its “Tolpuddle Medal� for good works in recruitment. Agricultural workers from the South West rightly revelled in their own history. It is now a very long time ago when a large gathering of NUAW branches from the SouthWest (see right) travelled all the way to London by charabanc to attend a radical May Day 1948 demonstration in London. But the spirit of lively adherence to socialist values has never faded. The Tolpuddle Martyrs and the struggle for free trades unionism


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In a delicious moment of revenge on Squire Frampton, the NAUW even founded a branch based on the village of Tolpuddle (see banner, right). Who now remembers Squire Frampton? True reflection on this sage fact may be had under the shelter of the Martyrs seat (left) in the village. Whilst this must surely always follow a large draught of Martyrs beer, downed at the Martyrs Inn, (below right) on a walk past the TUC memorial cottages in the village on the way to the Martyrs Museum! Even more memorials followed on the 150th anniversary, with the TUC pointedly noting the Thatcher government’s removal of union rights from workers at the GCHQ communications centre – an injustice also later rectified. Every year, thousands trek along the Piddle River, passing through all the Puddle towns until they reached Tolpuddle. You might even still pick up a 150th anniversary badge, or plate, or tea towel, or any one of dozens of pieces of memorabilia. A mural was even painted to mark the site of the massive 1834 national demonstration in London. (see page 3) Badges and mementoes of all kinds followed, as unions fell into the practice of honouring the Martyrs every single year – this year as ever. Long may it continue to be so! The quiet dignity of the Dorset labourers finally won out after all. The Tolpuddle Martyrs will never be forgotten! The Tolpuddle Martyrs and the struggle for free


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Sources Camden Pelham (pseudonym) “The chronicles of crime; or, the new Newgate calendar, a series of memoirs and anecdotes ...” (1861) p384n “Derby Mercury” issues from 1833-4 “Encounter Magazine” February 2nd 1986 “Family Herald and Montreal Star” (1986) “The Crisis”- issues from 1833-4 “The Pioneer – or trades union magazine”– issues from 1833-4

The Tolpuddle Martyrs and the struggle for free trades unionism


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