December 2019


Following various fundraising activities, USDAW members have made a donation of £3826.08 to the Old Chapel restoration project, specifically to cover the cost of a new front door, which will be made in line with the historic character of the building.

Paddy Lillis, General Secretary, USDAW commented:

It is vitally important that trade unions remember and celebrate their heritage and never forget the struggles and personal sacrifices of working people such as the Tolpuddle Martyrs. The renovated chapel will be a focal point for generations to come and I am delighted to give USDAW’s support.”

TOCT Chair, Andrew McCarthy, said:

It is wonderful that so many USDAW branches and individual members have taken the Old Chapel to heart and have shown such a clear understanding of importance of this unique building within the history of the Trade Union movement.”

Tolpuddle Old Chapel Trust have successfully raised over £650k to restore the Old Chapel, including a grant of £329,300 from the Heritage Lottery Fund.  Work will begin on site in Spring 2020.  Fundraising continues with a current fundraising target of £26,000 to complete the works.


The Former Methodist chapel in Tolpuddle is on the Historic England’s ‘At Risk’ List’.  It is listed as Grade II* and a rare surviving example of a C19 vernacular Non-Conformist chapel.

The building is of national & international importance. It was built by the Dorsetshire Labourers who in 1838 became known as Tolpuddle Martyrs.

  • In 1818, they built and used a little chapel for non-conformist worship from then until 1834.
  • Under the guidance of the lay preacher, George Loveless, the chapel provided a space where the Dorsetshire Labourers were able to meet, exchange ideas and build their confidence to challenge the injustices of their harsh living and working conditions.
  • In 1833 they met up with the fledgling union of The Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers.
  • In 1834 they swore an oath and formed their own branch of the Union.
  • They were subsequently arrested, tried in the Shire Hall Courthouse in Dorchester, transported to Australia and Tasmania, pardoned and eventually 5 of the 6 moved to London Ontario in Canada to start a new life.

These events played a huge role in the subsequent creation of the Trade Union movement which of course is still celebrated today by the annual Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival.

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24th October 2016

Tolpuddle Old Chapel Trust wins Heritage Lottery Fund support

Tolpuddle Old Chapel Trust (TOCT) has received initial support * from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for its renovation project in Tolpuddle, it was announced today. The project aims to renovate the two hundred year old Grade II* former Methodist chapel in Tolpuddle.

Development funding of £63,700 has been awarded to help TOCT progress their plans to apply for a full grant at a later date.

Thanks to the support from National Lottery players, the project will ‘renovate and extend the former chapel to provide the potential for the appropriate re-use of the building as a ‘quiet place in the heart of this historic Dorset village’, for visitors, and to provide the location for activities, exhibitions and community use’.

This round-one funding together with in-principle support for the delivery stage of £329,300 allows the Trust to produce detailed plans for the renovation and repair of the former chapel, as well as creating interpretation and community engagement activities to tell the history of the building and its connection to the Tolpuddle Martyrs.

The property’s heritage significance is intrinsically linked to its development and use by the Tolpuddle Martyrs and its role as a central focus of the early 19th century Methodist circuit in rural Dorset. Research suggests that the original cob structure was built by two of the Tolpuddle Martyrs and their families. It is on Historic England’s At Risk Register.

Commenting on the award, Andrew McCarthy, Chairman of TOCT said:

‘The Trustees of the Tolpuddle Old Chapel Trust welcome the support of HLF in awarding this grant towards the cost of renovating this unique former chapel.

Since our purchase of this ‘At Risk’ building in 2015, the Trust has received the backing of The Architectural Heritage Fund, Historic England, as well as a Start-Up Grant from HLF.

Numerous organisations and individuals have also contributed to our charity.

This highly significant development funding from HLF will help the Trust move forward to develop our existing proposals to renovate and extend the former chapel and secure match funding. We hope our project will reconnect people with the harsh living and working conditions, faith, humility and simple building techniques of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, as well as ensuring this wonderful legacy is saved for future generations’

Local MP, Rt Hon Sir Oliver Letwin, congratulated the Trust saying:

“It was a great delight to hear the news of the successful Heritage Lottery Round-One grant to Tolpuddle Old Chapel Trust.

Your vision to renovate and extend this wonderful former Methodist chapel will not only provide a unique ‘quiet place in the heart of this historic Dorset village’, but with its extension, give great flexibility and definitely enhance the potential for wider community use as well as being an additional draw for tourists”

Nerys Watts, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund South West, added:

“We are delighted to be able to support the restoration of Tolpuddle Old Chapel, and the interpretation of its fascinating history, with its close links with the famous Tolpuddle Martyrs.  

The important story of how they established the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers, creating a union to negotiate for better wages, and were sentenced to transportation to Australia, will be an important part of the project. The harshness of their sentence caused a national outcry, and the first mass demonstration of trade unionists in London.  There are some wonderful opportunities for local people to be fully involved, both with the project and with the important heritage of their community, so we look forward to seeing the detailed proposals in due course”. 



The former chapel is listed as Grade II* by Historic England.

It was built in 1818 as a Methodist chapel. Research suggests that two of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, Thomas Standfield and George Loveless, were involved in the construction of the cob building. The chapel was used by at least four of the six Tolpuddle Martyrs and it is believed that George Loveless was a lay preacher in the chapel.

The building is mainly built of cob on a brick and stone base with flint infills. The roof has double roman clay tiles. The original door leading from the road is blocked with an infill window with a boarded hatch above it. There is a beautiful original central pointed arched window opening on the rear wall which is blocked with brickwork. The building is thought to be little altered from how it looked in the 1830’s, although it may have had a thatched roof at that time.

For the past 150 or so years it has been used for agricultural purposes.

The building is currently, and has been for a number of years, in a poor state of repair and currently is not in use. It is on Historic England’s ‘At Risk Register’.

The future

TOCT is committed to sympathetically preserving, renovating and maintaining the Grade II* building as ‘a quiet place in the heart of this historic Dorset village’.

The project has many aspects including renovation, a new extension, interpretation and learning. The renovation proposals for the former chapel and the designs for the new extension have been developed through many stages and with guidance from the formal approval body, Historic England. Public consultations in 2015 combined with meetings with local schools and stakeholders has developed new ideas for uses, new learning activities and interpretation.

Paul Richold of Architecton, Bristol, has produced initial designs for the building works. Adrian Whittlesea, Artist and TOCT Trustee, has provided artist impressions of the future proposals.

About the Heritage Lottery Fund

Heritage Grant * applications are assessed in two rounds. A first-round pass is given when HLF has endorsed outline proposals and earmarked funding. A first-round pass may also include an immediate award to fund the development of the project. Detailed proposals are then considered by HLF at second-round and as long as plans have progressed satisfactorily and according to the original proposal, an award for the project is confirmed.

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17th February 2015

Tolpuddle’s Historic Former Methodist Chapel Acquired

A Grade II* listed former Methodist Chapel built in 1818 in Tolpuddle, Dorset has been purchased by a newly formed Building Preservation Trust helped by funds and expert advice from English Heritage.

Emergency repairs to stabilise the cob walls and to make the building wind and water tight started today (Tuesday 17th February 2015), funded by a £9500 grant from English Heritage and managed by the Tolpuddle Old Chapel Trust (TOCT). It is hoped that the major conservation works will be completed by 2018 to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the opening of the building.

Andrew McCarthy, Chairman of The Tolpuddle Old Chapel Trust (TOCT), said: “We are committed to sympathetically restoring this historically important former chapel which was once used for worship by at least four of the six Tolpuddle Martyrs and three of them may well have preached from its pulpit”

Andrew continued: “We are grateful to English Heritage and other partners who are helping to save this unique building for future generations to visit and enjoy. We look forward to consulting local people about possible future uses for the building once renovation work is complete. ”

Sarah Ball, Heritage at Risk Architect for English Heritage in the South West said: “We are very pleased that the Tolpuddle Old Chapel Trust has now secured ownership of this fascinating former chapel. The building is of real and very great historical interest. Our grant will enable much needed emergency work to be carried out to ensure its structural stability. We are looking forward to working with the Trust as they explore sympathetic and sustainable new uses and the repair of the building.”

Gavin Richards of AHF said “The Architectural Heritage Fund exists to support the re-use of redundant historic buildings around the UK. We are delighted to support a new local Trust in its efforts to bring this modest yet internationally important building back into sustainable use and, ultimately, see it removed from the Heritage at Risk Register.”

The development of the former Chapel will also help to enhance the visitor and tourist experience as part of the ‘rural life’ heritage corridor linking Dorchester with Hardy’s Birthplace, Athelhampton House and Tolpuddle. The former Chapel is featured on the new Audiovisual Trail being developed by the Tolpuddle Martyrs Museum. (

The continued existence of this chapel can be confirmed through to 1843, and it may well have remained in use until a new village Methodist chapel was built in 1862-63. For the next 150 years it has been used for agricultural purposes.

Further press information available from Andrew McCarthy email:

Debbie Hickman, Communications, English Heritage on 020 7973 3855 on

Gavin Richards, Development Manager The Architectural Heritage Fund

Bridport and Dorchester Methodist Circuit
Superintendent Minister Revd Stephanie Jenner

Steele Raymond LLP Solicitor

Notes to editors


Tolpuddle Old Chapel Trust is a Registered Charity, Number 1159578 and a Registered Company, Number 8908950
The Trustees are:
Andrew McCarthy, Chairman,
Robert Brunt, Secretary
Revd Stephanie Jenner
Adrian Whittlesea
The objects of the Tolpuddle Old Chapel Trust are:
‘The preservation, maintenance and renovation of the grade II* listed former Methodist Chapel and its site in Tolpuddle, Dorset and its historical, architectural and constructional heritage, for the benefit of the people of Tolpuddle and of the Nation.’


The Trust has also received financial support from:
The Architectural Heritage Fund awarded a grant for a Project Viability Report
Dorset County Council awarded a grant to support project development
Bridport and Dorchester Methodist Circuit have kindly provided a loan and assigned the time of their Superintendent Minister to be a Trustee.
Steele Raymond LLP, Solicitors kindly provided legal support and advice in relation to the acquisition.


The building is mainly built of cob on brick and stone/flint bases.
The roof has double roman clay tiles.
The original door leading from the road is blocked with an infill window with a boarded hatch above it.
There is a beautiful original central pointed arched window opening on the rear wall which is blocked with brickwork.


The chapel was used for worship by at least four of the six Tolpuddle Martyrs, and three of them may well have preached from its pulpit. The continued existence of this chapel can be confirmed through to 1843, and it may well have remained in use until a new village Methodist chapel was built in 1862-63. For the next 150 years it has been used for agricultural use.
The 1999 English Heritage report on the building by David Robinson states:
“Apart from the historical significance of the site, the simple and austere architecture of the chapel should not be underestimated. It is an example of a small rural Methodist building.


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