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In 1834 a group of labourers, who became known as the Tolpuddle Martyrs, met under a sycamore tree on the village green to discuss these shared hardships. George Loveless made the case for joining a union to strengthen the hand of the workers. Those who joined agreed not to work for less than 10 shillings a week.
Landowners and the government intended to suppress the growth of trade unions and to stifle outbreaks of dissent. The six Tolpuddle Martyrs were arrested on 24 February 1834 and charged with the ‘administration of unlawful oaths’.
The Martyrs were tried at the Dorchester Assizes by Grand Jury in March 1834. The Grand Jury was composed of landed gentlemen who opposed what they saw as seditious attempts by labourers to improve their rights. In this case, the jury also included a number of magistrates who had already signed the arrest warrant.
Depositions were made for the prosecution by Edward Legg and John Lock, both of whom had been invited to join the union, and both of whom then betrayed the Martyrs at trial. All six were sentenced to seven years’ penal servitude in Australia.
This article from 3 April 1834 reports on their conviction and includes an extract from a poem scribbled down by one of Martyrs, George Loveless, upon his conviction.