Unite banners bring history to life

Unite Dorset branch supports Tolpuddle Martyrs play

Reading time: 4 min

A Unite branch from Dorset is supporting the revival of a 90-year-old play about the Tolpuddle Martyrs.

Six Men of Dorset was originally commissioned by the TUC as part of the centenary events held in 1934, which marked 100 years after the arrest of the Tolpuddle Martyrs for forming a union, one of the most important events in working class history.

The New Hardy Players are reviving the play this June and taking it back to its roots, with the first act held at its original venue, Dorchester’s Corn Exchange. They will then form a procession up to Shire Hall Museum for the second act in the very courtroom where the Martyrs were tried on trumped up charges.

The play’s cast is from the local community and is directed by Tim Laycock and Emma Hill.

When Tim approached the Unite Tolpuddle Branch to see if they could help provide union banners for some filmed segments of the production, they were only too happy to help.

Working with the Unite South West office in Bristol, they arranged for a selection of old agricultural union banners, along with new Unite flags, which were whisked down to Dorset to take part in the filming.

Branch chair John Burbridge said, “It was fantastic to be asked to be involved with the revival in Dorchester of Six Men of Dorset, and we were only too happy to arrange for some banners from local agricultural branches of the past.

“Unite grew from the struggle of workers like the Tolpuddle Martyrs – and to have them celebrated in this play is a great way to keep their story alive for future generations.”

As well as the Unite branch, Tim invited local socialist choir, Dorset Red, to be involved in filming and take part in the procession.

Unite member, and Dorset Red co-ordinator, Barry Lovejoy said, “We had a great time filming with the New Hardy Players. We had been practising “Power in a Union” especially for the filming, and it all went really well.

“We are all looking forward to seeing the play when it is performed next month.”

Tim is also very happy about the way it is all coming together, and said that 80 per cent of the tickets for the run of shows have already been sold.

Tim said, “Six Men of Dorset is a play that really brings the story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs to life, and something the New Hardy Players have wanted to do for some time.

“I’ve been going to the Tol[puddle Martyrs rally, and now festival, since the 1970s and being able to get the local Unite branch involved, and use some original agricultural branch banners has been brilliant.

“John even let me borrow one for a few days to act as a centrepiece for an event we held in the centre of Dorchester a couple of days later – but I was extremely careful with it!”

The New Hardy Players production of Six Men of Dorset runs from June 13 and 16, and can be booked through the Dorchester Arts website.

A report of the play will be in the next edition of The Landworker.

By Keith Hatch

Pic by Howard Payton