In 1834, farm workers in west Dorset formed a trade union. Unions were lawful and growing fast but six leaders of the union were arrested and sentenced to seven years’ transportation for taking an oath of secrecy. A massive protest swept across the country. Thousands of people marched through London and many more organised petitions and protest meetings to demand their freedom.
By June 1835, ten months after the Martyrs’ arrival in penal colonies, conditional pardons had been granted by Lord John Russell, the Home Secretary.
The Tolpuddle men refused to accept compromises and after further pressure, the Government agreed on 14th March 1836 that all the men should have a full and free pardon.
Trade unions had won and survived their first big challenge. The six farm workers from Tolpuddle were on their way home as free men.
Tolpuddle has become a place of celebration for trade unionists and socialists ever since the Martyrs’ came home in triumph.
Every July thousands of trade unionists and their supporters come to Tolpuddle to celebrate trade unionism and to remember the sacrifice made by the six farm workers of the village.
It has a fabulous atmosphere with a vibrant mix of political debate, speeches, music to suit all tastes, poetry, comedy, stalls and lots of entertainment for children.
The Festival starts on the Friday and the weekend camping is usually sold out so book early. The Sunday – the traditional rally day – attracts thousands of trade unionists from all over the country.
More information about the festival can be obtained from the TUC Tolpuddle Martyrs web page.
For transport details contact your local trade union office.