Funded by UK Government

Tolpuddle Family Lives ~ Programme of Speakers

Spring 2024

A series of talks at Tolpuddle Old Chapel funded by Historic England, the The National Lottery Heritage Fund, and TOCT

All talks are free of charge and will begin at 7pm in the Old Chapel. Talks will run for approximately 40 – 45 minutes, followed by time for questions and discussion

Please note that as we are limited in terms of numbers due to health and safety, it is essential that you book a place for each talk as soon as you are able by contacting Angela Herrera at:

Wed 3rd April Philip Martin. Launch of ‘Tolpuddle Family Lives’
‘Tolpuddle Family Lives’ is a full programme of events running at Tolpuddle Old Chapel from April through to October. Philip will introduce the programme and provide further details of the events and opportunities for local residents. Refreshments will also be provided.

Note: there will also be an informal drop-in ‘launch’ on the afternoon of Saturday 6th April, 2- 4pm with refreshments. All are welcome, and there is no need to book for this event.

Wed 10th April Philip Martin, ‘The Building in our midst: A brief history of Tolpuddle Old Chapel and the stories it holds’.
What do we know about the Old Chapel and the people that built it? In this talk Philip will describe the Old Chapel’s history, what we know about those who worshipped there, and its social and religious contexts.

Wed 24th April Rachel Worth, ‘Rural Working-Class Clothing and Change in Victorian England’.
In this illustrated talk, Rachel will describe how the rural poor dressed in the nineteenth century with particular reference to Dorset. She will discuss the historical sources that help us create a clearer picture of a neglected topic: for example, rare surviving examples of dress, photographs, works of art and fictional literature, in the context of her knowledge of the economies of fabrics and clothes.

Wed 8th May Sophie Wright, ‘The Life of Tolpuddle’s landless, working folk’.
Sophie Wright, author the play, ‘To Win the Day’ about the Tolpuddle wives, will talk about the unsung people of Dorset and the hardships of nineteenth-century country life. Sophie will use song and quotations to illustrate the talk, drawing on a variety of sources including the local songs collected by the Hammond brothers in the early years of the twentieth century.

Wed 15th May Steve Wallis, ‘Drowning the Landscape’.
This talk is about one of the most important features in the history of local farm labour: the watermeadows of the Frome and Piddle valleys, particularly those within a few miles of Dorchester.  It will be illustrated with aerial photographs and ground views of particular features, plus ‘then and now’ comparisons using old photographic and postcard records.

Wed 29th May  Anne Brown, ‘150 years of Courtroom Drama’
This talk will relate stories of ordinary working folk who appeared in the courtroom at Dorchester’s Shire Hall in the nineteenth century, reflecting the conditions in which Dorset’s rural poor lived and how they engaged with the justice system of the times. Shire Hall was the centre of justice and local government from 1797 to 1955. The Georgian courtroom was the scene of famous and infamous trials throughout this period, from the internationally significant Tolpuddle Martyrs, to Martha Brown, said to be the inspiration for Hardy’s Tess of the D’Ubervilles. Particularly fascinating, are the stories of the ordinary Dorset men, women and children who found themselves in the dock during the 19th century. From tragedy to comedy, what can they tell us about life in Dorset in the past? In this talk we will meet child criminals, resourceful smugglers, inept engine drivers and encounter an alleged witch.

Our Speakers:

Anne Brown is responsible for the lifelong learning programme at Shire Hall Museum, Dorchester, where she works with people of all ages from pre-schoolers to people living with dementia and their carers – and everyone in-between. Her particular interests are in uncovering and sharing the incredible stories of ordinary people who found themselves in Shire Hall’s courtroom, people whose lives and voices have been hidden for so long.

Professor Philip Martin is Chair of TOCT and an emeritus Professor of Literature (Sheffield Hallam University) lately turned local historian. He has published on the writings of George Loveless, and continues to conduct research into the history of the Chapel and the broader context of the Martyrs.

Steve Wallis is Senior Archaeologist, Advice and Management at Dorset Council where he advises on a wide range of archaeological projects and concerns. He has an extensive knowledge of Dorset history and archaeology, and a particular interest in the history of the watermeadow systems deriving from archaeological evidence.

Professor Rachel Worth is Professor (emerita) of the History of Dress and Fashion at the Arts University, Bournemouth. Among many books and articles, she is the author of Dress and Textiles in the ‘Discover Dorset’ series (2002), and Clothing and Landscape in Victorian England: Working-Class Dress and Rural Life (2018). Her latest book was published in 2023 by Bloomsbury: The Hidden Life of Clothing: Historical Perspectives on Fashion and Sustainability.

Sophie Wright is a Dorset writer, folk musician and historian who performs with the folk group, Time and Tide. She created and performed in the play of the Tolpuddle Martyrs’ wives, ‘To Win the Day’ (2018) which opened an entirely new dimension of the events of the 1830s, following Betsy Loveless, her two sisters-in-law and her niece whose lives were altered irrevocably when their men-folk were convicted.