It is believed that Tolpuddle was named after Tola, the wife of Orc, who had been given several villages in Dorset by King Canute in 1024. One of these villages was then called Pidela and the river became known as the Piddle. Like most small villages, the same surnames run down the generations and with large families, the six farm workers who became the Tolpuddle Martyrs were part of a close-knit community, many were related in some way.
The Enclosure Act of 1794 split the lands of the Tolpuddle Manor into three: West Farm leased to Joseph Bowering, Middle of Mill Farm to George Riggs and East Farm to James Northover. This marked turbulent times in the Dorsetshire countryside. New machines and methods were leaving workers with falling pay and unemployment. Dorset was already a low-paid area but the employers wanted to cut pay even further.
In the nineteenth century agriculture was the dominant industry. Families survived on a meagre income and lived in crowded cottages. The early 1800s saw stirrings of political and religious dissent in the village.
Methodism and other non-conformist forms of worship were spreading with their more open and free approach to religious service. Five of the Tolpuddle Martyrs were Methodists, with George and James Loveless as local preachers. Next to Thomas Standfield’s cottage in Tolpuddle was built a tiny cobb chapel.
How radical such a development was in rural areas is shown by the account in the Salisbury Journal of the chapel’s first service on 13 October 1818. It reported that after the service, “a mob of about 100 persons were found assembled. These persons behaved in a most turbulent manner. A lady was pushed down a bank into the road; the horses were much frightened by the tumult. For more than two miles, the drivers, horse and carriages were pelted by the mob with stones, mud etc.; the windows of the chaise were broken and even the side of the chaise was pierced by a stone. One lady who rode by the side of the driver had a severe blow on her head and at Piddletown, the driver received a blow to his neck.”
The Tolpuddle Old Chapel Trust acquired the derelict building at the start of 2015. It plans to restore it. For more infomration go to: Tolpuddle Old Chapel Trust.
The ‘new’ Methodist Chapel replaced the old cobb chapel and in 1912 the TUC erected a memorial arch at the front. In 1934 the TUC built six cottages for retired agricultural workers. The story of the six farm labourers who dared to form a trade union has helped shape the village around the sycamore tree under which they met.
In recent years the village has grown with new cottages and houses built to meet high demands to live and holiday in this beautiful part of Dorset.
For more on the village of Tolpuddle check out this site: Tolpuddle Village.