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IBEX and Tolpuddle – Why we have a link to a Trade Union website.

A few years ago I was involved in a two day get-together of a few Methodist Industrial Chaplains and some Trades Union organisers. As an ice-breaker, we were asked in our groups to identify things they associated with the other group. There were the obvious ones, such as Methodists all being teetotal - which ain’t necessarily so!

But the one thing that both sides brought up about the other was Tolpuddle, so why should this sleepy little Dorset village be cited in this way? It happens to because it is a very significant place in the history of both organisations, and explains things for anybody who might wonder why things about the place are included on the IBEX website.

The story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs is both famous and fascinating: a group of men - agricultural workers - rebelling against the local landowners because of drastic cuts in their already less than subsistence level pay. So they assembled under a now famous Sycamore tree on the village green and decided to form a Trade Union.

(Photo by Tim Foster on Unsplash)

The story is told well on the link from the IBEX contact page to the Tolpuddle Martyrs site. Five of the six ringleaders were Methodists, three of them Local Preachers. They were inspired in their actions by their Faith, fired by solid convictions about justice and righteousness. Those landowners had been nervous because of other recent events – the still relatively recent French Revolution, the Swing Rebellion.

After they were sentenced, George Loveless, their leader, scribbled some words: “We raise the watchword, liberty. We will, we will, we will be free!” – words still capable of inspiring both Methodists and trade Unionists. On more than one occasion, I have heard Tony Benn pronounce from the stage at the Tolpuddle Festival that it was the Methodist Church which taught those men to read and write, that the Trade Union movement would not exist if it had not been for the Methodist Church.

So Tolpuddle was at the beginning of something big - an interesting place to visit.

The Methodist Chapel in the Village is still open and displays there reflect the Martyrs stand. Perhaps more importantly the original chapel in the village, which had been used until comparatively recently as a grain store by a local farmer, has been purchased and is being restored - the Chapel where those men and their families actually worshipped.

The place draws people from all over the world.

It’s worth a look!

David Wrighton


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