It was a lovely weekend last weekend and we decided to go to the Tolpuddle Festival. (Sunday 16 July). Brilliant weather, masses of people, great bands good food (the Village Hall committee did a fantastic job – cakes, sandwiches, quiches, flans, salads (fund raising for the village hall) – and of course there were excellent food stalls in the fields themselves.
Perhaps you don’t know the story of Tolpuddle so I am quoting here “
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.
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.
We spent about four hours wandering around the fields of people. So many Union Stands. singing, and then a long procession. And we met Jeremy Corbyn as he arrived . Nice low profile man. But made a brilliant speech at the end of the procession.
I think there is a lot that is relevant in the Tolpuddle rebellion. In those days an 800,000 petition was amazing. Perhaps there is a message somewhere in all this for us.