|Thompson Dagnall sculpture outside the Museum|
In 1834, six Tolpuddle men 'clandestinely' grouped together, swearing an oath of allegiance, in order to present a united front demanding that their farm labourer wages be raised from starvation levels. The wage was about nine shillings a week and a breakdown within the Tolpuddle Martyrs Museum illustrated very basic outgoings for a labourer's family to be about thirteen shillings a week. And this is still the era when a married woman was expected solely to look after the family home not having independent employment of her own. Although forming a trade union was legal at the time, the fledgling idea was not popular with the majority of landowners who preferred the theories that social class was static and poverty-stricken peasants should be grateful for any wage at all! Indeed, slavery across the British Empire had only been officially abolished the year before. A completely unconnected law was subverted regarding the Tolpuddle men's swearing of an oath and this was used to crush them.
George Loveless, his brother James Loveless, James Hammett, James
|Tolpuddle Martyrs Museum|
I was moved by the story of the six Martyrs, especially because it is so relevant to our society today. (Please do consider adding your name to the SumOfUs petition if you have not already done so.) One of the Museum banners showed a book cover, The Victims of Whiggery: Being a Statement of the Persecutions Experienced by the Dorchester Labourers which was written by George Loveless after his release and before five of the six, with their families, decided upon emigration to Canada for the remainder of their lives. I definitely want to read this account! The Museum has an excellent gift shop with t-shirts, stationery, and an extensive selection of books. I didn't see any edition of Victims Of Whiggery though, but have learned that Cambridge University Press will be publishing it in June 2016. The title is already available to pre-order via Amazon (and, yes, I do appreciate the irony of linking to a company who aren't exactly at the forefront of promoting worker's rights!)