Age of Britain's Tolpuddle Martyr tree discovered

Thursday, July 14, 2005

The tree said to have sheltered the Tolpuddle Martyrs when they met in an attempt to form one of the world's first trade unions has been dated for the first time. The Sycamore Tree is still alive and is under the care of the National Trust in the village of Tolpuddle, Dorset, UK. The Trust calculates that the tree is around 320 years old meaning that it would have been 150 years old when the Martyrs met in 1834.

The story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs is important to many trade unionists in the UK and across the globe. An annual festival is organised in the village by the Trades Union Congress (the umbrella body for trade unions in the UK) attended by thousands of people.

Nigel Costley, the regional secretary of the South West TUC, was quoted as saying: "The Tolpuddle Tree is one of the most famous trees in the country because it was under there that the Martyrs met - a move that led to their deportation, pardon, and ultimately the foundation of the trade union movement."

There were six men in the group who came to be known as the Tolpuddle Martyrs. They were all farm labourers and lived in poverty. Their leader, George Loveless, decided to set up a union to give the labourers bargaining strength over their wages. Labour associations had been legalised but the men were arrested under a law forbidding the swearing of oaths. They were tried and deported to Australia but were released in 1836.