Published: 6 July, 2012
• THE annual festival for the Tolpuddle Martyrs will be held in the village of Tolpuddle in Dorset on July 13-15.
In the 1830s the protest of a small group of Dorset agricultural workers was directed against gross exploitation by their employers. They held secret meetings at which they took an oath of loyalty.
Such meetings were not illegal since trade unions had been legalised.
But the Mutiny Act of 1797 forbade the taking of “unlawful oaths”, so the government used this as a pretext to arrest them. Six were sentenced to seven years deportation to Australia.
On their arrival in New South Wales and Tasmania the men had harsh experiences. Meanwhile, in Britain there was great agitation about their cause.
In April 1834 more than 30,000 people assembled in Copenhagen Fields, then a cattle market near King’s Cross. After further pressure the men won a free and full pardon.
As government austerity measures and greedy employers cause deterioration in the conditions of the poor today perhaps such protest can be seen as justified.
Highbury Hill, N5