Sunday 10 June 2007

TUC Aquire Dorchester Court 1956


Dorest Daily Echo 18th July 1956

The thanks of the county to the Trades Union Congress (TUC) for preserving the old Crown Court, Dorchester, where, in 1834, The Tolpuddle Martyrs were tried and sentenced to seven years' transportation, were expressed at Dorchester yesterday (17th July 1956).

The old court was officially handed over to the T.U.C. by Dorchester Rural District Council as a public memorial to the Martyrs, the title deed of the court being accepted by the chairman of the T.U.C. General Council, Mr. Wilfred B. Beard.

Mr Beard said the vice-chairman of the Dorset County Council, Mr. C. R. Wordsworth, who was speaking in the unavoidable absence of the Chairman, Lord Digby, Lord Lieutenant of the County,

" We in Dorset are very glad to know that this fine Georgian building is now in such good hands, and that it will remain in the main street of our county town."


Welcoming the guests, who included representatives of Dorset, Dorchester and Dorchester Rural councils, and the National Union of Agricultural Workers (NUAW), Mr. Beard declared that the court was of historical significance to the trade union movement. It was in March, 1834, that the "six men of Tolpuddle were sentenced for administering an 'Illegal oath” in connection with membership of a trade union.

'After great public agitation they were granted a free pardon the following year.

“The story of the six men of Dorset is known the world over and it has become part of the history of the trade union movement."

Mr. Beard said that if he was asked to provide a quotation for the occasion he would go to Milton's "Paradise Lost":

" What in me is dark, illumine, " What is low, raise and support."

That, he said, epitomised the trade union movement which existed to shed light in dark places and to raise and support the weak.


Before handing over the title 'deed, the Chairman of Dorchester R.D.C., Major R. G. Warren, re-called that it was in 1947 that his council purchased from the County Council the old Shire Hall and the Judge's Lodgings next door.

"I must confess," he declared "that when we took possession of this court about a year ago on the opening of the new Crown Court at County Hall we rather wondered what to do with it.".

A member of the council suggested contacting the T.U.C., however, and the consequent negotiations for the purchase of the court had proceeded smoothly and amicably.

He said that originally the R.D.C. intended to hand over the court alone but "later on we decided .to throw in the cells below ! "


Referring to the court's coat of arms, Mr. Wordsworth said that when the County Council heard that the court was to be preserved. it was felt only right that the arms should be returned "because it is believed that they are the same arms which were originally here at the time of the now famous trial."

" We would like to congratulate the T.U.C. on their decision to buy this building and to preserve it, together with this court, in memory of those six Dorset men who have earned a place for themselves among the great reformers of the 19th Century," he said.

Mr. Wordsworth 'added that the martyrs would probably be astonished to know that they had become historical characters, but they were so by right of their dogged and dignified determination to stand up for the rights of their fellow men.

"Those are qualities which have always been admired by English-men and we may be proud that it was Dorset men who had the courage to display them at a critical moment in our social history," he said.


The Mayor of Dorchester, Mrs. E. K. Hallett, said that when it was known that a new Crown Court was to be built Dorchester was fearful of the fate of the old Shire Hall and its court. "The happy solution provided by the T.U.C. in purchasing and preserving this structure is one on which we must heartily congratulate them," she said.

What, she asked could be more fitting as a memorial to the growth and power and prestige of British trade unionism than this court in its original setting, where from the severity of judicial sentences pre-scribed from that Bench many years ago there sprang up a social awareness and a new approach to labour conditions in agriculture which gave birth, to the trade union movement ?

Among those representing NUAW was the union's general secretary, Mr. Harold Collison. who said that the sentences imposed on the six farm labourers of Tolpuddle marked the end of what had been the first attempt of farm workers to organise themselves along the lines of industrial trade unions.

"The harsh treatment they received at the hands of the than ruling classes was indicative both of the hold and the prejudice magistrates had over the people living in the countryside, and also of their fear of what might happen if the workers did organise themselves into an effective movement,' he said.


The martyrdom of those men was still a source of inspiration to all trade unionists in this country and in the world. Although the events which took place in the court in 1834 had the desired effect at the time, crushing rural trade unions for many years to come, a spark had been lit which eventually resulted in the formation of the N.U.A.W.

" The men of Tolpuddle acted against the appalling conditions In which they lived and worked. Since their days, because of the efforts of the trade union movement; The conditions of all workers have improved immeasurably, but even today farm workers are still having an uphill fight to achieve wages and conditions of employment equal to those which apply in other Industries and commensurate with their skill and ability," he declared.

Among those who attended the ceremony were four people who took part in the 1934 centenary production. " Six Men of Dorset." They were the Mayor of Dorchester, the Mayor of Poole (Mr. C. W. Wells), who played the part of George Loveless. Mr, Harry Brooks, of Poole, and Mr. J. H. Moore, of Dorchester.

The guests were afterwards entertained to lunch in the council chamber of the old Shire Hall.