This sleepy little village is associated with the Tolpuddle Martyrs. Six brave farm labourers who attempted to form the first trade union in 1834, to combat exploitation and low wages.

Tolpuddle Village Green
Tolpuddle Village Green © Travel About Britain

The union, called the "The Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers", so offended the local landowners that they brought trumped-up charges against the six, by invoking the Mutiny Act of 1797. At a subsequent trial, held in the Old Crown Court in Dorchester, the labourers were convicted and transported to Australia as punishment. This despicable act caused such a public outcry that the victims were repatriated and the trade union principle became firmly established in English law. The courtroom, which is currently open to the public, still remains just as it did when the sentence of transportation was pronounced.

Grave of James HammettIn 1934 the trade union movement recognised the martyrs' bold sacrifice, by erecting memorials around the village to their memory. In the center of the village green stands the Martyr's Tree. It was here that the labourers met to discuss their grievances. Nearby is an unusual thatched shelter, constructed by Sir Ernest Debenham, to mark the centenary of the event (see image above). Five of the six were Methodists and a memorial gateway to them can be seen in the entrance to the Wesleyan Chapel.

The grave of one of the martyrs, 'James Hammett', lies in the graveyard of St John's parish church. James was the only one of the six who stayed in England after repatriation. The other five emigrated to Canada. The village holds an annual memorial service and parade in July, which is attended by trade unionists from far and wide.

Tolpuddle Cottages and Museum
Martyr's Memorial © Travel About Britain

To the west of the village stands a large stone memorial, in front of a row of six cottages. The cottages were erected by the TUC to house retired farm workers. In one of them is a small museum, telling the story of the Martyrs struggle and the foundation of the trade union movement.

Tolpuddle was the Tolchurch of Thomas Hardy's novels. The village has several rows of lovely thatched cottages and a fine Norman style flint and stone church. It lies in the valley of a stream known by many names, including Puddle, Piddle or Trent. The stream lends its name to several other villages along its banks, including Affpuddle, Briantspuddle, Piddlehinton, Piddletrethide and Puddletown. The name Piddle comes from the old Germanic/Saxon word 'pedel', meaning either clear water or a lowland marsh.

Place to visit near Tolpuddle

Athelhampton House

Between Puddletown and Tolpuddle stands Athelhampton House, a stone built Tudor manor with a 15th-c Great Hall, Great Chamber and State Bedroom. The rooms are magnificently furnished, and showcase a collection of art masterpieces by Pugin. The manor is surrounded by lovely walled and terraced gardens.

Opening times: Sunday to Thursday, 10am to 5pm. - Admission Charge
Location: Athelhampton Rd, Puddletown, Dorchester DT2 7LG.

Map of Tolpuddle


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