Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Old Chapel - An oasis of calm in a turbulent world

Allchurches Trust is supporting the Tolpuddle Old Chapel Trust to restore a significant, early 19th Century Methodist chapel as a place that will once again provide an oasis of calm amid the turbulence of an ever-changing world.

In 1818, the Tolpuddle Methodist Union built themselves a simple, one-room chapel on leased land constructed of cob, brick, sand and rubble. Two of the chapel’s original trustees and two of its preachers were Tolpuddle Martyrs, George Loveless and Thomas Standsfield, and it is very likely they helped build the chapel by hand.

Tolpuddle Old Chapel Trust Chairman, Andrew McCarthy said: “This simple building is significant as one of the only remaining examples of the many early Methodist chapels built by local members during the Industrial Revolution. It is also important for its connection to the Dorsetshire Labourers, later known as the Tolpuddle Martyrs, and the impact of their story on the development of modern trade unions.”

In the early 1800s, agricultural workers had been progressively impoverished and dispossessed of their employment, rights and the ability to support or feed their families. In 1830, the ‘Swing Rebellion’ swept across the southern half of England, with riots and arson to farm machinery and property spreading throughout villages and hamlets, including Tolpuddle.

The Tolpuddle Martyrs were six farm workers who became symbols of a system that prevented the working classes from earning a living by honest means and from seeking justice to do so by legal means.

In 1833, the six men formed a legal friendly society to protest against a further drop in their wages. A few weeks later, they were convicted for breaching an obscure law prohibiting the swearing of secret oaths and sentenced to seven years’ transportation in Australia.

A petition for their release collected 800,000 signatures and a march to Parliament attracted 100,000 people. The Government pardoned the men in 1836 and brought them back from Australia.

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Today, the Old Chapel still stands in Tolpuddle. A Grade II* listed building; it is also on the Historic England heritage at risk register. The chapel is one of the very few early Methodist chapels surviving and provides evidence of Methodism’s spread throughout rural England in the 19th Century.

In 2014, the Tolpuddle Old Chapel Trust was formed to purchase the building and site and restore it. Work to repair the walls and floors in traditional methods, improve accessibility and provide a simple extension to provide facilities will see the chapel restored in authentic and sensitive ways.

Once brought back from its dilapidated state; this modest, simple, chapel will once again be a place of peace and calm in the turbulent world. A place, according to Andrew McCarthy, “where people can just come to sit and think in the heart of this historic village”.