Tolpuddle Festival


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.
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.

The story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs and the campaign that freed them inspires us to fight on.
The annual festival reflects the spirit of those prepared to stand up and be counted and for those just learning about the history it is a joyful celebration of our solidarity.

The annual Tolpuddle Martyrs festival is held in the village in the third weekend of July.   

Dates for next year 18 - 20 July 2014
Tolpuddle Festival 2012

This year the festival took place over the weekend of 13, 14 & 15 July when thousands of people cheered for equality, justice and fair pay as they celebrated the Tolpuddle Martyrs’ actions 178 years ago.
With a strong turnout at the Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival despite the rain, the annual event was a fitting tribute to the six Dorset farm labourers whose actions laid the foundations for the first trade union.

Organiser and TUC secretary Nigel Costley said: “There has been such a great atmosphere, really friendly and welcoming to everyone.
“But we’re here for a purpose, to show people that there is an alternative to the misery that a lot of people live in.

 “Austerity doesn’t work and it’s not working and we want to stop the worst government cuts and damage.”


A crowd gathered on Sunday afternoon in St John’s Churchyard for a solemn wreath-laying ceremony at the grave of martyr James Hammett who remained in Tolpuddle and died in 1891.

The weekend reached a climax a few hours later when hundreds of trade unionists from around the world marched through the village with banners, drums and marching bands.
Following the procession a range of political and unionist figures gave inspiring speeches to the eager crowd of union members and festival-goers.

 James Hammett's Grave

 Veteran Politician Tony Benn

Headlining speaker, veteran politician Tony Benn, said the festival supports all the causes he believes in.  He said: “I come here every year to recharge my batteries.
“All the causes I believe in are taken up and fought for here, I wouldn’t miss it for anything.
“The problems the country is having at the moment are what makes people want to come to this great event.”

  The amazing Unison Samba Band 

 District Number 1 Banner with the names of each branch

 The Southern Region Banner based on the well know picture

 The Rail Maritime and Transport (RMT)

Our Friends from South London