The trial of the Tolpuddle Martyrs would be considered rigged by today's standards, although it was not exceptional for the time.

The Grand Jury, who had the lead role in the process consisted of James Frampton, the local magistrate who had orchestrated the arrests, Henry Frampton, his brother, and Charles Wollaston, his step-brother.

Foreman of the Jury was the Hon William Ponsonbury, brother of Home Secretary, Lord Melborne, who had worked with James Frampton in pursuing the Tolpuddle Union.

a brief guide to the main events
  • Following the Enclosures Acts the working and living conditions of agricultural labourers deteriorated, and wages in Dorset were only 9/- (45p) a week. In 1832, George Loveless, and others, tried to get the wages increased, but instead wages were progressively lowered to 6/- (30p).
  • The men of Tolpuddle were desperate; alternative sources of work were few, especially in the winter months, and in October 1833 they formed a Friendly Society of Agricultural Workers.
  • Although this was a perfectly legal “union”, members were obliged to swear a secret oath of allegiance and this proved to be their downfall. By using laws originally intended for use in the Navy, the local magistrates first posted a caution, and then, on 24th February 1834, the six leading men were arrested and marched to the gaol in Dorchester.
  • The outcome of their trial at the Lent Assizes, was predictable, and all were sentenced to seven years transportation. Five were taken to New South Wales, while George Loveless, who had become ill, was later taken to Van Dieman’s Land (Tasmania).
  • Eventually, after much lobbying, pardons were obtained, but the six men were not immediately informed. However George Loveless saw an old paper carrying the news of the pardons, and he set about getting a passage home.
  • George Loveless, his brother James, Thomas and John Standfield and James Brine, returned to England at various times during 1837, but James Hammett did not return until 1839.
  • James Hammett's graveThe London-Dorchester Society (a society founded to help the men and their families) had raised enough money to set them up in two farms in Essex. After several years in Essex, five of them decided to start new lives for themselves in Canada. The only one to return to Tolpuddle permanently was James Hammett, where he spent the rest of life, and he is buried in St John’s churchyard.

The whole sequence of events was only partly about money. The wealthy land owners and political leaders were afraid that the revolutionary spirit that had led to bloody change in France would spread to Britain.  The result was a clamp down on anyone who seemed to be showing signs of dissent, or was questioning the status quo.

Early Union members, such as the Tolpuddle Six, were frequently subject to discrimination and violence.

Non-conformist religious groups, such as the local Methodists, were also targeted because they were critical of the Church of England, and were concerned for the needs of the poorest members of society.