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Tolpuddle Martyrs Tree, Dorset


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Location: Near Dorchester, Dorset DT2 7EH

Region: South West

Grid Ref: SX7289

Owner / Manager: National Trust

Access: Open access

One of the most famous trees in the country – associated with trade union struggles and the Martyrs’ meetings in the 1830s

Under this tree in 1834, six agricultural labourers, exploited by their employers – paid just 9 shillings a week and living in dreadful poverty – formed the first trade union in Britain to bargain for better pay and working conditions under the leadership of George Loveless.

The landowners, led by James Frampton and supported by the government, were desperate to put a stop to the union and to control increasing outbreaks of dissent. The Tolpuddle Six were arrested, sent to Dorchester for trial, and charged under the 1797 Mutiny Act. They were convicted of swearing a secret oath as members of the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers, sentenced to seven years and transported to Botany Bay.

 

There were many petitions and protest meetings and the newspapers published pictures showing the six men sitting under the tree. The matter was taken up by the Opposition with a rather embarrassed government. The sentence was deemed to be unequal to the crime and the Tolpuddle Martrys returned after three years as sheep farmers in Australia to live out their days in the village where the sycamore still stands proud on the green.

Video by the National Trust

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