Friday 20 November 2009

Tolpuddle Martyrs' Tree - Dorset

The Tolpuddle Martyrs' Tree

The famous Sycamore (Acer Pseudoplatanus) tree on Tolpuddle Village Green, Dorset is a place of pilgrimage for thousands of trade unionist every year.

It is not only the largest Sycamore in Dorset, it is also growing on the smallest village green in Dorset.

* (Largest girth/circumference)

The Tree planted in the 1680's has secured its place in history, because under its vast spreading branches, met generation's of agricultural labourers from Tolpuddle, barred from local church hall and other indoor venues the labourers debated late into the night their plight and how to remedy it.

Apart from small talk, they would also have addressed the key issues of the day such as religion and their non conformist faith, no doubt they discussed the many pro's and cons of emigration to American and Canada.

However, it would be discussions in 1833 about how they could best address the grinding poverty they and their fellow Dorset agricultural workers found themselves in, that would lead them to a conclusion that they would need to invite travelling delegates from the newly established Grand National Consolidated Trade Union, and ultimately to the fateful decision to form the
Tolpuddle Lodge of the Agricultural Labourers Friendly Society in October 1834.

Approximately, forty men joined the union, but the local squirearchy
would have non of it and agricultural labourers James Brine, James Hammett, George Loveless, George's brother James Loveless, George's brother in-law Thomas Standfield, and Thomas's son John Standfield were sentenced to transportation to Australia for their part in forming a union.

The Tolpuddle Tree witnessed the formation of the union, the Martyrs' being taken away in shackles to Dorchester and their ultimate return in triumph after their full pardon, It has also witnessed the growth of the annual march and rally to celebrate the Martyr's courageous stand.

Tolpuddle green was given to the National Trust in 1934 ,as part of the TUC's one hundredth anniversary commemoration by the Philanthropist and wealthy London draper Sir Ernest Debenham.

The National Trust in 2005 dated the Tolpuddle tree as being over 320 years old, making it the oldest tree in Dorset.

All that now remains of the once giant Tolpuddle Sycamore is a stump, the rest of the tree having being removed for safety.

Nigel Costley, Regional Secretary of the South West Trades Union Congress
"The Tolpuddle tree is one of the most famous trees in the country, because it was under this tree that the Martyr's met, a move that led to their deportation, pardon and ultimately the foundation of the trade union movement".


It was under the village Chestnut tree in Wellesbourne, Warwickshire, where in poring rain Joseph Arch took refuge during a meeting that would establish the National Union of Agricultural Labourers Union on Wednesday 14th February 1872.

Robert Kett. leader of the 1549 Norfolk
Revolt, rallied the agricultural labourers of Norfolk to tear down the fences and "enclosures" under an Oak tree, which still exists just outside Wymondham, on the old Norwich Road, nine miles West of Norwich.