Monday, 21 September 2015


This was a summer of grey clouds and rain and September hasn't been much better.

All week we were watching the forecasts and as Saturday was going to be nice so we headed down to Dorset for the day - we'd been meaning to do that since May.

Weymouth looked good - Robyn had seen a brochure  in the spring and I'd always wanted to go there too.

Except that I got lost at Southampton (as I always do) and then I made a little detour to Tolpuddle, just before you get to Dorchester, the county town.

One minute you are on a busy main road, the next you've turned off and are back a hundred years.

It's so quiet, you can stand in the middle of the road to take a photo;

Lots of thatched cottages, it's like any number of quiet old villages, a little forgotten.

Except that once a year in July, this is the site of a huge Labour Movement celebration - I sang there with The Workers Music Association Choir in the 1980's.

Back then there was a procession of huge trades Union banners, proudly flying.

These days there are smaller banners but it's bigger and it's expanded from one day to three and includes a huge festival with camping.

It even persuades silly old men to stand in front of an old sycamore tree like this;

But it's a very old tree indeed, it looked like this when I was last here thirty years ago;

It was even big in 1834 when six agricultural labourers met under the tree to form a Trades Union.
It wasn't a very popular thing to do and when word got out amongst the landowners, the six were arrested under trumped up charges for 'administering an unlawful oath'.
They were taken in chains to Dorchester where The Assizes court convicted them and they were transported to Australia in penal servitude for seven years.
They were made an example of.
We sat at this bench eating our lunch in the sun.

The 1830's were a time of great working class unrest, of machine breaking, strikes and revolutions - there was huge support for the six 'Tolpuddle Martyrs' and after six years of campaigning the government was forced to pardon them so that they were able to come home to their families.

Public subscriptions bought them land to farm in Essex but the opposition of Essex landowners and farmers was so brutal that five felt forced to emigrate to Canada and the sixth came back to Tolpuddle.

In 1934 in time for the 100th anniversary, six alms houses were built by the Trades Union Movement and since then Tolpuddle has been a centre of Union activity and commemoration every year.

There is now a little museum with a good audio visual display and lots of souvenirs. I've got a car sticker like this now;

In 1834, poor agricultural workers didn't leave much trace so the museum is mainly educational;

But there are some fine images;

And I very clearly remember how, at the head of the big march of huge Trades Union banners from The Miners, The Dockers and all the rest, proudly flew the tiny little banner of The Tolpuddle branch of The Agricultural Workers Union (now part of Unite The Union!).

And here it is;

And also a plaque commemorating the members of The International Brigades from Bristol and the South-West who died fighting fascism in The Spanish Civil War;

There was also a bench commemorating the amazing life of the formidable Joan Maynard, left wing Labour M.P. and supporter of the agricultural workers all her life.

There were lots of images, this is the bag we bought;

And in the window of the little shop the struggles continue;

Shortly, the Tory government will be trying to force through parliament laws which will make it almost impossible for working people to take industrial action (legally) which I will be fighting and protesting against, if I'm able.
We will be back to a time when no one has any protection at work, back to before 1919 and we aren't going to stand for it, are we?
So, after I'd worked myself up about all that and as we were in a little village, on the way back we bought some strawberry jam and marmalade, leaving the money in an honesty box.
It's that kind of place.
Then, at last, we headed off to Weymouth!
Neil Harris
(A don't stop till you drop production)

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