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Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Si Sings Saturday to Honor the Tolpuddle Labour Martyrs

tolpuddle martyrs 2

Learn more about the Martyrs from the BBC

Never heard of the Tolpuddle Labour Martyrs? Neither had Si, until recently. But there’s a festival in their honor this coming weekend, and Si will be performing at it.

Where’s the festival? Well, from looking closely at the word ‘Labour,’ you might guess it’s in one of the countries that spells it that way. In fact, it’s in southern England, in the village of Tolpuddle, less than 10 kilometers northeast of Dorchester, marking an event that took place there in 1834.

Just so you know, Si won’t be in England for the festival, much as he wishes that were the case. His recorded live set should hit the virtual stage Saturday, July 17, at 4:30 pm U.S. Eastern Daylight Savings Time.

But there’s lots more music, starting at 1:00 pm, including at approximately 2:15 PM EDT, the wonderful Crys Matthews (, who shares North Carolina with Si.

Okay, technically Crys and Si share the state with 10.5 million other people, including Si’s multi-talented musician friend and Charlotte neighbor Josh Daniel (, who made the video you’ll be watching. But you know what we mean.

There’s a whole weekend worth of things worth your watching and listening including panel discussions about labour issues, excerpts from a musical play about Tolpuddle, and two rallies and marches. You can check out the full schedule at

And in case you’re “across the pond” next year, why not plan to stop by the village of Tolpuddle July 15-17, 2022, so you can enjoy the full festival in person.

Please keep scrolling for the history of the Tolpuddle Martyrs and the Tolpuddle Festival.

donald cohen

Click image to Pre-Order

Curious to know how Si got to perform at the Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival?

Donald Cohen, Executive Director of In the Public Interest made the connection. Come fall, we’ll be featuring Donald’s forthcoming book The Privatization of Everything: How the Plunder of Public Goods Transformed America and How We Can Fight Back right here in this very newsletter.

The book will be released on November 2nd by The New Press, but now you can pre-order your hardback or your Kindle edition.

Copenhagen Fields demonstration

Copenhagen Fields demonstration

Well, Who Were the Tolpuddle Martyrs

In 1834, six agricultural labourers from the small village of Tolpuddle in Dorset, England were arrested. Their crime? For daring to form a trade union.

At the time, it was not illegal to join a union. But with the bloody French Revolution and the wrecking of the Swing Rebellion fresh in the minds of the British establishment, landowners were determined to stamp out any form of organised protest or dissent.

And so it was that George Loveless, his brother James, James Hammett, James Brine, Thomas Standfield and Thomas’ son, John were charged with having sworn an illegal oath, found guilty, and sentenced to seven years transportation to Australia. It was a heavy punishment for the simple goal of seeking a better wage and a solution away from poverty.


Learn more about Tolpuddle Martyrs 2021 - July 16, 17, 18

As news of their punishment spread, the fledgling trade union movement came together to organise a campaign for their release. Unknown to the six farm workers now on the other side of the world, the growing campaign culminated in one of the biggest demonstrations at the time. With more than 100,000 people, together they marched to Parliament, with a weighty tome of a petition, and cheers from spectators and crowds watching.

The Tolpuddle men refused to accept compromises and after further pressure, the Government finally in 1836 agreed that all the men should have a full and free pardon.

Trade unions had won and survived their first big challenge. The six farm workers from Tolpuddle were on their way home as free men.

The Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival

Tolpuddle has been a place of great importance to the Labour Movement from the moment news broke of the harsh sentences imposed on the six farm workers who led the formation of the union. Small commemorative events had been organised since the big win for the Tolpuddle Martyrs. The first known ‘Festival’ took place in 1922 jointly organised by the Working Women’s Club Fete and the National Union of Agricultural Workers.

In 1934, the centenary year of the arrests, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) celebrated in style. Unions had paid a farthing per member for two years to establish the Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Memorial Trust – a charity that was used to pay for the 100th year commemorations and the building of the retirement cottages for farmworkers. It was a lavish affair involving a range of activities such as sporting, writing and brass band competitions. A grand procession and pageant took place in nearby Dorchester.

By the 1990s the format of a regular procession with speeches had lost its appeal, and attendance was falling. In 1997, Nigel Costley, the new South West TUC Regional Secretary, with the help of Dick Muskett from the Workers Beer Company, began to revive the event with more music, entertainment, and diverse speakers. The mix proved popular, and attendance stared to build. With the use of the neighbouring field, the Festival added camping so that people could come for the whole weekend.

Today, the Festival is well-known in the trade union movement, with links formed across the world as people come together every year to commemorate the story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, celebrate the voice of workers and build on campaigns to improve the lives of working people around the world.

Thousands of people descend on the little village of Tolpuddle for the weekend, with numbers swelling for the big Sunday procession, wreath-laying at the site of one Martyr's grave, a big rally with leading voices from the union movement, and lots of music.

available from sikahn dot com Nov 2019 lower res

Click on images above to learn more

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