Just in time for the annual celebration of the Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival, good news has come in the form of £1.5m being secured from the Heritage Lottery to revamp the famous building where the Tolpuddle Martyrs faced trial.
Though planning permission was granted for Dorchester’s Shire Hall back in July last year, progress was slow to gain funding on the £2.9m project, with the Heritage Lottery funding wanting more information on the court’s business plan. Following the transformation, the building is set to open in September 2017, and will not only include restored Georgian courts and cells, but also a visitor centre, which has plans to bring the cases heard there to life.
Perhaps the most famous trial heard that was that of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, which is often credited with helping to start the trade union movement. It all began with a meeting of Tolpuddle farm workers who met under a tree in 1834 in order to protest against their meagre pay of six shillings a week. Arrested for swearing an oath of secrecy, the group were sentenced at the court to seven years’ transportation to an Australian penal colony.
Word quickly spread, however, and the public swung against the decision of the courts, with an 800,000-strong petition eventually being delivered to Parliament in protest. The huge backlash by the general public led to the government reversing the sentence, sending the men home with free pardons and paving the way for trade unions ever since.
Tolpuddle is a neighbouring village to Athelhampton House, one of the leading manor houses, wedding venues and party venues in Dorset, and so its history helps to play a role in and tell the story of Athelhampton House itself.