Tolpuddle sounds like something out of a Beatrix Potter tale and on first glance it lives up to this image but, digging deeper, its history is significant enough to fill its own book.
This sleepy little village is perfect for a relaxed holiday in Dorset but it was the scene of an historic social injustice that paved the way for modern workers’ rights. In 1834 six destitute farm workers were deported for forming a ‘trade union’ under an oath of secrecy. This apparently amounted to mutiny and their resulting punishment caused riots across the country with marches through the capital, petitions and protests. Nowadays, the village is a monument to their plight with preserved TUC (Trades Union Congress) cottages, plaques, National Trust information boards, the Martyrs Inn and every July, the Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival.
The main event of this annual celebration is the grand procession, first established on the centenary of the workers’ arrests. Huge banners depicting the events were marched through the streets in a rally supporting workers’ rights but with political shifts and improvements in conditions over the decades, the TUC Secretary modernised and developed the Rally into what we see today.
The festival is now a full weekend of entertainment, with family friendly activities, stalls, music plus a good dose of political debate to keep the origins of the events at the forefront of modern day minds. And there’s definitely an almost patriotic feel bubbling through the throngs, a pride in those workers, a resilience against injustice but overall joy to experience the freedom and fun that the Martyrs’ Festival brings. Make sure you time your attendance to witness the grand procession; it’s a cacophony of happy people and brass bands singing out protest songs. It’s loud, it’s colourful, it’s got moral values at its core. It’s everything a good festival should be.
At the centre of it all, the Tolpuddle Martyrs Museum (below) really does the story justice. It’s not your usual dusty little collection of few remaining artefacts that someone felt should be put in glass boxes in a backroom. It’s a bright, modern, technology-driven exhibition with interactive displays among well displayed artefacts with educational tales bringing the arrest, trial and punishment of the Martyrs to life. Do pay a visit when on holiday in Tolpuddle, it’s an interesting insight into how they changed the face of social history but check the Tolpuddle Martyrs website for opening times.
The festival will fill up your weekend, but take a look at all the other things to do in Tolpuddle.