Why Tolpuddle is important to me

John Haywood · 20 July 2020

A regular fixture in my family’s calendar in the last five years or so has been the Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival.

The festival is normally held every July in the grounds of the TUC Cottages and Museum on the edge of the quiet village of Tolpuddle in Dorset.

Tolpuddle is a weekend-long celebration of trade union history, centred on the story of the martyrs themselves – a group of agricultural workers who were transported to Australia for the crime of forming a trade union to protect themselves and their families in a time of harsh and worsening standards of living.

The festival combines a traditional trade union gala, featuring speeches, marches, banners and brass bands, with a music festival which along the years has featured the likes of Billy Bragg, The Tom Robinson Band, Eddi Reader, Dreadzone and many other lesser known acts.

As with the Glastonburys of this world, there’s loads of other smaller things happening: stalls, debates, a cinema, a disco, a really good kids’ field run by qualified teachers from one of the teaching unions.  There’s camping, food and a superb beer tent.  The whole festival is compact, safe and very very friendly making it ideal for families.

A good few years ago now, a handful of members and staff from our union established a regular Prospect presence at the event – Steve Clarke (Babcock Devonport), Lloyd Collier (Diamond Light Source) and Chris Perry (Prospect Bristol) have been pivotal in this and many others have contributed over the years.

My usual day at Tolpuddle involves volunteering on the Prospect stall talking to festival-goers about our union, who we represent and the work that we do.  Once the evening comes round there’s the live music, street-stall food and a few drinks to be enjoyed.

While a lot of this year has been unusual, it still feels like a major part of the year is missing by not being able to go.  But we could still celebrate the weekend as a virtual version was live-streamed on Facebook.  And we can think about future years when this historical and educational event will once again be held in the peaceful green fields of Dorset.

John Haywood is a Prospect member in our Air Traffic Systems Specialists branch