The story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs – six farm workers imprisoned and transported to Australia for their attempt to prevent falls in their wages by forming a “friendly society” in 1834 – is the story of trade unionism’s birth in this country.
The six men who ignited a movement are remembered in books and museum – but a new site recently purchased for conservation will eventually give the public a unique insight into how, exactly, these humble men lived.
A grade II listed former Methodist Chapel built in 1818 in Tolpuddle, Dorset, and thought to be where at least four of the six Martyrs worshipped and three may have preached, was purchased last month by the newly formed Building Preservation Trust, supported by funds and advice from English Heritage.
Unite’s agricultural branch based in Tolpuddle was delighted at the news of the purchase.
Tony Gould of the Unite Tolpuddle branch noted that because the building will eventually be open to the public, a visit to Tolpuddle will be even more worthwhile.
“Although the TUC explains at the Martyrs Museum the industrial objectives the Martyrs had, their religious faith as Methodists underpinned their conviction as trade unionists,” Gould said. “This is also an important part of the story.”
Emergency repairs to stabilise the cob walls and to make the building wind and water tight commenced on February 17. Major conservation works are planned to be completed by 2018, in time for the 200th anniversary of the opening of the chapel.
Chairman of the Toldpuddle Old Chapel Trust (TOCT) Andrew McCarthy expressed gratitude to English Heritage and other partners for the support needed to preserve the chapel for generations to come.
“We look forward to consulting local people about possible future uses for the building once renovation work is complete,” he said.