Friday October 18, 2019
For the road ahead

175th Celebration of Tolpuddle Martyrs in London

17/2/2009

From 20-26 April 2009 there will be a week of events in London to mark the 175th anniversary of the Tolpuddle Martyrs.

 The activities will include:

A march from Caledonian Park to Edward Square, North London (25 April); A historic recreation of the ‘Martyrs’ Oath’; An acoustic music festival; Comedy; Banner-making; Educational work in local schools; Campaign stalls.
 
These events commemorate the fact that more than 100,000 people joined a demonstration organised by trade unions held in Copenhagen Fields, King’s Cross, in 1834, in support of the six Tolpuddle Martyrs.
 
This event has been organised by the South West and Southern and Eastern Regional TUCs, trades councils and local community groups and is supported by the United Road Transport Union.
 
This is a union event that commemorates historical events of immense importance, but it is also a campaigning event as part of the ongoing struggle for union rights and respect at work for all.
 
We will welcome coverage in union journals, sponsorship and the presence of all unions at the event itself.
 
BACKGROUND TO TOLPUDDLE
 
In 1834 100,000 people gathered in Copenhagen Fields, just north of what is now called King’s Cross, to demand freedom for the Tolpuddle Martyrs. 175 years later residents in King’s Cross, together with unions from all over the country, are preparing to commemorate that momentous day with a week of activities, including a march on 25 April from Caledonian Park to Edward Square, after which an acoustic music festival and much more will end the week of events.
 
Economic recession in 2009 is ‘hard times’ for many, but in 1834 things were even tougher for working people. The average family’s outgoings for basic sustenance are thought to have been thirteen shillings and nine pence. Six farm labourers from the Dorset village of Tolpuddle decided that local pay of nine shillings a week was effectively starvation wages. George Loveless, together with his brother James, and brother-in-law Thomas Stanfield, Thomas’s son John, James Hammett and James Brine, decided to set up a union to fight for better wages from the rich landowners. James Frampton, a landowner and employer, complained to the Prime Minister who agreed that the development of unions must be stopped. The six were charged of ‘swearing an oath’ under laws created to stop seditious meetings and assemblies and in March they were sentenced to seven years transportation to the penal colonies of Australia, where they could reasonably be expected to die from starvation, illness or violence.
 
But 21 April 1834, a month after the trial, a mass procession of 35 unions, organised in Copenhagen Fields by the Metropolitan trades unions, marched to Whitehall to present a massive 200,000 signature petition, which the Prime Minister refused to accept. Protests continued and after some years the Martyrs returned to England. They are now world famous as six heroes who stood up for workers’ rights.
 
Subsequently, a street was named in King’s Cross to commemorate the Martyrs and a mural painted in Copenhagen Street to celebrate the original march. Next to the mural is Edward Square, founded by another local hero, Lisa Pontecorvo, who sadly died last year. Lisa’s image has been added to the mural and she would have been the first to welcome this year’s festivities.

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