Resources, Education, Outreach

This part of our website provides resources for all those interested in finding out more about the Chapel, its historical context, and the Tolpuddle Martyrs, as well as further details of our educational programmes and mission.

There are four sections (click each to jump):
History Resources
Resources for Schools and Young People
The Tolpuddle Centre for Rural Crafts
Outreach Activities

1. History Resources
Tolpuddle Old Chapel: A Brief Guide
Tolpuddle Martyrs Chronology
An introductory descriptive reading list
Links to recommended further reading

2. Resources for Schools (to follow – under construction)

3. Tolpuddle Centre for Rural Crafts (to follow – under construction)

4. Outreach Activities (to follow – under construction)

History Resources

Tolpuddle Old Chapel: A Brief Guide

1818 thatched reconstruction1808 Robert Standfield, father of Thomas and grandfather of John (two of the Martyrs) leased a dwelling house in Tolpuddle, now believed to be ‘Martyrs’ Cottage’, together with a one acre plot. The house was subsequently let to Jeremiah Argyle, a well-known Methodist preacher.

1810 Thomas Loveless – father of George and of James – gained a licence to use his house in Tolpuddle as a Dissenter’s meeting house for Methodist worship. This is evidence that by this time there would have been a substantial body of Methodists in the village.

1818 Robert Standfield sold the lease of a piece of his Tolpuddle plot to 12 Trustees so that they could build a Chapel ‘for the purposes of preaching and expounding God’s Holy Word and the performance of all other acts of religious worship.’ Standfield’s cottage, occupied by Jeremiah Argyle, was on one side of this plot; on the other was the house of one William Brine, the father of James. The agreement of the sale required that the Chapel should be a Wesleyan Chapel, and those who preached there were expected to adhere to Wesleyan doctrine. The Trustees included two of the future Martyrs – George Loveless and Thomas Standfield. It is almost certain that those who commissioned the building, the Trustees, would also have been involved in building it, together with their friends and families.

1818 The Chapel must have been built quickly. There is a registration document dated 8th September 1818 recording its completion, and it opened in the same year as the Trustees’ agreement was signed: 1818. We have no written records of how the building was constructed or financed, but we may conjecture that there were loans – possibly to be repaid by the revenues of the Chapel itself which would almost certainly have been made up of pew fees. The brick base would have come from local brick pits in the valley (a number figure in old maps of the area) perhaps even donated, and the cob was gathered locally as well (quite possibly from the Affpuddle chalk-pit). 1818 was also the year in which the British government, alarmed by the rapid spread of con-conformist places of worship and falling numbers in Church of England congregations, committed £1m for the building of new Anglican churches.

1818 October 13th. The Chapel opened by way of an evening service conducted by Ministers from Weymouth. There was an anti-Methodist riot, culminating in attacks on the visiting ministers and their parties as they left the building. Women were assaulted, and the whole company was pelted with stones. The coaches were pursued two miles or more down the road, where – at Puddletown – the coach driver received a near-mortal wound in his neck. These details were revealed in the Bath Chronicle and the Salisbury Journal, and the reports were also reprinted in the national press. There is good evidence of anti-Methodist persecution in Tolpuddle through the 1820s. George Loveless mentions this in his writings, and it is corroborated by others.

The old chapel before restorationLittle is known of the life around the Chapel from the time of its opening to its probable demise sometime in the 1840s – we know it was in use in 1843, and we know it was ultimately replaced by the building of the new Chapel in 1862, and so it is clear that the Methodist community here did not die out in these years. It is possible that the lease – a ‘three life lease’ which obtained for the period determined by three named lives – expired with the death of the last named life. We know that by 1862 the land had reverted to the landowner.

Why is this building itself so significant?

The Old Chapel todayFirst, because it is a rare example of a vernacular Chapel of this period. Many such fell into disuse and were demolished or converted into buildings of another kind. As the Methodist movement developed and became wealthier, chapels were commonly enlarged and modernised into conventional and grander 19thC designs.

Secondly, because as an ‘earthen’ building – that is, a structure built primarily of cob – it is a remarkable survivor and a superb example of a ‘hand-built’ structure made out of the scant resources available and the earth of the Piddle valley.

Thirdly, because it has a rich history. It stands as testimony to the independence, determination, and radicalism of the men who built it: firm in their faith; firm in their principles, firm in their building techniques. Persecuted and vilified by the ruling class conservative forces of the 1830s, these labouring people prevailed. They were pardoned after a huge national outcry manifesting in popular demonstrations and in heated parliamentary debates. The Old Chapel building is the very first historical marker of the men who became known as the Tolpuddle Martyrs.

A Chronology for the Labourers/Tolpuddle Martyrs

Date Local National
 1729   John and Charles Wesley form the ‘Holy Club’ at Oxford from which Methodism in England evolves.
1739   Open-air Methodist preaching begins at Kingswood, Bristol, by George Whitefield and John Wesley.
 1739   The first Methodist Chapels, the New Room in Kingswood, and the Foundery in London, open for worship.The first Methodist Chapels, the New Room in Kingswood, and the Foundery in London, open for worship.
 1780   Publication of John Wesley’s Hymns for the Use of the People Called Methodists
 1788   Death of Charles Wesley
 1791   Death of John Wesley
 1795   Methodist Plan of Pacification triggers the final split with Anglicanism.
 1797   Following the naval mutinies at Nore and Spithead, parliament passes an Act prohibiting the swearing of unlawful (secret) oaths.
 1799   The Combination Acts of 1799 and 1800, the first ‘An Act to prevent Unlawful Combination of Workmen’, proscribes Trade Unions and strikes.
 1810 Methodists in Tolpuddle are granted a Dissenter’s License to permit public worship at Thomas Loveless’s house. 1810 marks the year in which more than 1300 non-conformist chapels were built in England since 1750.
1815   Passing of the Corn Law results in rioting in London over the price of bread. Agricultural wage rates continue to fall.
1816   ‘Bread or Blood Riots’ break out in the Fenlands as the condition of the rural poor worsens in the depression following the Napoleonic Wars.
1818 The Tolpuddle Chapel, built by the local Methodists, opens for worship on October 13th. The visiting minister and others are attacked and assaulted. In a bid to counteract the increase in non-conformist places of worship, the government commits £1,000,000 for the building of new Anglican churches.
1819   Peterloo Massacre, St Peter’s Fields, Manchester.
1824 & 1825   Repeal of the Combination Acts passed by parliament, making trade unions or ‘combinations of working men’ legal. The first repeal in 1824 results in a wave of strikes; the second in 1825 makes amendments to criminalise picketing and strikes.
1829 George, James and William Loveless recorded as Methodist Preachers in the Weymouth circuit records. Poor harvest yields for the second year in succession make a difficult winter for the rural poor.
1830 Rural disturbances spread to Dorset in November, centring on the Bere Regis area and the northern county boundary. Special constables are enrolled in Dorchester and other towns. Labourers assemble to ask for more money; arson attacks occur at Bere and Puddletown; threshing machines are broken at Woolland, Lytchett, and Castle Hill. Another generally poor harvest. Widespread Swing Riots break out in Southern and Eastern England in response to increased mechanisation of agriculture, wage reductions, and rural poverty.

John Doherty founds the National Association for the Protection of Labour, an initially successful national Trade Union with a large membership (this dies out by 1832).

English Methodist worshippers for 1830 estimated (in 1994) at 600-800,000, including 232,000 registered members, a tenfold increase since 1767.

1832   Reform Act of 1832 (England and Wales) extends the franchise with the result that one in five adult males are entitled to vote. The new franchise includes small landowners and tenant farmers for the first time.
1833 George Loveless writes to Robert Owen requesting his advice in the forming of a trade or friendly society (trade union) for local agricultural labourers, and subsequently receives a visit from two trade unionists(October) after which the ‘Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers’ was established in Tolpuddle, and meetings held at Thomas Standfield’s house.  
Jan. – March 1834 30th January. Sir James Frampton of Moreton House, landowner and JP for Dorset, begins his correspondence with Lord Melbourne (the Home Secretary) about how best to suppress the ‘societies forming amongst the Agricultural Labourers … of a dangerous and alarming kind’

24th February. George Loveless, James Loveless, John Standfield, Thomas Standfield, James Hammet and James Brine are arrested in Tolpuddle, taken to Dorchester and charged with the illegal swearing of a secret oath, before being imprisoned, tried (14th-19th March) and sentenced to transportation for seven years (the maximum sentence).

The Grand National Consolidated Union (GNCU) initiated by Robert Owen, is established through an inaugural meeting in February.

March 24th GNCU calls a ‘Grand Meeting of the Working Classes’. 10,000 people attend. At Robert Owen’s proposal, the meeting initiates a petition to be presented to parliament requesting the King to suspend the sentencing of the labourers.

The London Dorchester Committee is established to help the labourers’ families and to campaign on their behalf for restitution and justice.

April – June 1834 11th April. The Surrey, carrying all but George Loveless (who is deemed too ill to travel) leaves Plymouth bound for Sydney.

25th May. The William Metcalf departs from Portsmouth bound for Hobart, Tasmania, carrying George Loveless in a convict cargo of around 240.

21st April. The Copenhagen Fields demonstration takes place in London to protest against the sentencing of the Dorchester labourers. Starting at Copenhagen Fields, an estimated 50,000 people or more march peacefully to Whitehall to present a petition to the office of the Home Secretary, Lord Melbourne, who refuses to accept it. Petitions are raised continually in parliament for pardon and release, but refused by the government. Public outrage continues to grow and gather popular support.
July – Sept. 1834 17th August. The Surrey docks in Sydney, from where the Dorchester men are dispersed to work as convict labourers

4th September. The William Metcalf docks at Hobart. George Loveless works for a week in a chain gang and is then sent to work on a government farm.

Poor Law Amendment Act radically changes the system of poor relief.
Oct. – Dec. 1834 The families of the labourers continue to be denied parochial relief and are supported by money raised by subscription through the unions The Houses of Parliament burn down in an accidental fire.
1835   Joseph Hume MP claims that over 800,000 people have signed petitions to demand pardons for the labourers. Thomas Wakley is elected as MP for Finsbury and becomes a leading advocate for the labourers in the house. In response to Wakley’s motion for an appeal to the King for pardon, the new Home Secretary, Lord John Russell, attempts a compromise by offering a conditional pardon on June 25th.
1836   After further petitions and interventions in the House by Wakley, Hume and others, Russell concedes to the mounting pressure and a full pardon is granted to all of the labourers on 14th March.

Working Men’s Associations – the beginnings of Chartism – are founded in London and in Wales.

1837 George Loveless granted free passage home on the Eveline, which leaves Hobart on 30th January and arrives in London on June 13th, meets members of the Dorchester Committee, and then returns by coach to Tolpuddle. At the suggestion of the committee, he writes a pamphlet about his experience, The Victims of Whiggery, published in August, 1837.

11th September. James Loveless, John and James Standfield and James Brine set sail from Sydney on the John Barry bound for Portsmouth, where they arrive on 17th March, 1838

Representatives of working men’s associations and radical members of parliament work together on the production of a Charter for universal male suffrage and associated rights.
1838 The Dorchester Committee proposes that the labourers should be housed on farms of their own, and the Dorchester Labourers’ Tribute fund is launched in May, resulting in the leasing of two farms in Essex, in August: New House Farm (George and James Loveless, James Brine,) and Fenners Farm (the Standfield family).

George Loveless publishes a second pamphlet, The Church Shown Up.

Chartism is formally inaugurated by the publication of The People’s Charter and a series of mass public meetings.
1839 Following confusion as to James Hammett’s whereabouts, and his case being compounded by an assault charge, he is released. He sails from Sydney on the Eweretta on 8th March, arriving in London in August. Hammett joins the labourers at New House Farm.

Chartist meetings are held at New House Farm where George Loveless is a popular speaker.

The Chartists organise a National Convention and through Thomas Atwood present a petition to the House of Commons consisting of 1.3 million signatures, which is voted down. There is talk of a national rising.
1841 James Hammett returns to Tolpuddle and works as a builder. He remains in Tolpuddle for the remainder of his life.  
1844 The Loveless and Brine families leave for Canada, where they live for the rest of their lives. They buy land outside of London, Ontario.  
1846 The Standfield families move to Canada and buy land in the London region, where they live for the rest of their lives. All the families agree to live incognito, and their Tolpuddle identities are not discovered in Canada until 1907.  
1850   Since 1800, new chapels in England for non-conformist worship had been built at the rate of 250 per year.

An Introductory Descriptive Reading List

For a clear, informative and accurate summary of the story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the best source is the account on the website of the Tolpuddle Festival and Martyrs’ Museum, which can be found here:

The most recent book on the Tolpuddle Martyrs is Alan Gallop’s retelling of the events in Six for the Tolpuddle Martyrs: The Epic Struggle for Justice and Freedom (Pen and Sword History, 2017). This is an engaging, accessible book, well-illustrated, and written in a lively manner. It covers all the major events and more, and has the great virtue of being a good page-turner.

A more thorough-going study is Joyce Marlow’s The Tolpuddle Martyrs (Andre Deutsch, 1971, re-published in Panther paperback in 1974). This is a very readable and detailed full length study, well-researched, and particularly strong on the contemporary reports of the affair in the press of the day.

The Book of the Martyrs of Tolpuddle, 1834-1934 (London, 1934), edited by Walter Citrine, and published by the TUC General Council on the centenary of the trial, is still the most valuable starting point for anyone wishing to pursue an interest in the Tolpuddle Martyrs. Its distinguished list of contributors include G.D.H. Cole, H.J. Laski, and Stafford Cripps. The volume includes detailed accounts of almost every aspect of the affair including the legal context. The one glaring absence however, is the almost complete neglect of the religious context and Methodism.

The opposite might be said of Owen Rattenbury’s Flame of Freedom: the Romantic Story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs (Epworth Press, 1931), in which probably too much of the Martyrs’ actions are put down to Methodism, and too much imagined dialogue is rendered for dramatic effect. As a man of faith himself, Rattenbury has few doubts about the religious motivations of the Martyrs. While much of what he writes is fanciful, the book also serves as a useful counterbalance to the secular approach, and provides a way into understanding something of the intense faith that motivated the Tolpuddle Methodists.

Links to Recommended Further Reading

pre restoration roofThe Extract from a Conservation Statement for the former Chapel, by Jo Cox, and R.L. Thorp, with contributions from Roger Thorne (2015) is an invaluable piece of research on the Old Chapel’s architecture, history and significance, and can be found here:

Conservation Report

David M. Robinson’s report on the Old Chapel for English Heritage in 1999 was the first serious investigation of the historical and architectural significance of this building. It can be found here:

Robinson later extended this report in an article for the journal, Architectural History, in 2001:

Philip W. Martin’s article for the History Workshop series, ‘Radical Objects’ (October, 2022) makes an argument for the inherent radicalism of the building itself, and can be found here:

Philip Martin’s article on George Loveless’s writings is the only scholarly refereed article published on Loveless’s much neglected pamphlets. ‘Dorset Radicalism Re-Visited: George Loveless makes trouble’ Southern History, 22 (2020), 94-117, can be found here:

See Philip Martin’s article (PDF)

Tom Scriven’s work on Tolpuddle in the context of Dorset radicalism is particularly valuable: ‘The Dorchester Labourers and Swing’s Aftermath in Dorset, 1830-8’ History Workshop Journal, 82:1, Autumn 2016, 1-23. A condensed version of the article can be found here:

The first chapter of Tom Scriven’s PhD thesis (2012), ‘Radicalism and Everyday Life: Agitation and Protest in Dorset, 1830-1838’ is essential reading for anyone seriously interested in the social context of Dorset radicalism in the 1830s. It can be found here:

Information about the Martyrs’ voluntary exile to Canada (1844-6) and their lives there can be found here:

TOCT guides on the religious and agricultural contexts of the Old Chapel can be found here:

Religious and agricultural contexts of the Old Chapel

1818 thatched reconstruction 1862 No Lime Wash

1880  Old Chapel 2023