The Marx Memorial Library is proud to announce that the new website on the Russian Revolution 1917-1922 and its impact on World War 1 and the European Labour Movement, is now live.
The website is part of a larger project marking the centenary of the Russian Revolution hosted by MML and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. In addition to this website, we have created a travelling exhibition (designed by Angus Reid) and an accompanying brochure. The entire project has been researched, written and co-ordinated by Professor Mary Davis and Tommy Hodgson.
Check the website out for yourself:
Marx Memorial Library - founded in 1933 - is home to a unique collection of books, archives and artefacts on the history of socialism and the working-class movement.
Bound volumes of The Dorsetshire County Chronical and Somersetshire Gazette were discovered in our basement stores. These rare papers document the story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs.
Their poor condition made digitisation and display impossible. With the support of Graham Bignell Studios, trade unions from Britain and Australia and generous personal donations from members and supporters of the MML, we raised funds for their conservation.
Trade unions had been illegal until the repeal of the Combination Acts in 1824. Although many unions had survived the anti-union laws, after 1824 they were spreading and growing fast.
Robert Owen set up a single national union of all trades - the General National Consolidated Trades Union - in February 1834, the very month in which the Martyrs were arrested. He, and others, looked on trade unionism not just as a means of protecting and improving workers’ living standards, but for changing the political and economic order of the country.
These articles evidence the spread of this activity, the government's response and the anxiety of landowners and press barons.
These articles give some social, legal and political background to the case of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, highlighting changes in agricultural practice, the poor law and the response of workers to these hardships.
The story of the Martyrs promted lively debate in the pages of the local newspaper. Here are some examples.
Victimisation of the Tolpuddle Martyrs inspired widespread outcry in Britain. Trade unionists and supporters recognised this as an attack on the rights of workers to organise for better conditions and influence in society at large.
The Grand National Consolidated Trades Union called a meeting - attended by more than 10,000 - on 24 March 1834. On 21 April Copenhagen Fields in London was flooded with up to 100,000 trade unionists; they marched to Parliament and delivered a petition signed by 250,000 people.
In response to public outrage, a conditional pardon was granted by June 1835. Pressure mounted as petitions from all over the country were delivered to Parliament. Full and free pardons were granted in March 1836.
In 1834 a group of labourers, who became known as the Tolpuddle Martyrs, met under a sycamore tree on the village green to discuss these shared hardships. George Loveless made the case for joining a union to strengthen the hand of the workers. Those who joined agreed not to work for less than 10 shillings a week.
Landowners and the government intended to suppress the growth of trade unions and to stifle outbreaks of dissent. The six Tolpuddle Martyrs were arrested on 24 February 1834 and charged with the ‘administration of unlawful oaths’.
The Martyrs were tried at the Dorchester Assizes by Grand Jury in March 1834. The Grand Jury was composed of landed gentlemen who opposed what they saw as seditious attempts by labourers to improve their rights. In this case, the jury also included a number of magistrates who had already signed the arrest warrant.
Depositions were made for the prosecution by Edward Legg and John Lock, both of whom had been invited to join the union, and both of whom then betrayed the Martyrs at trial. All six were sentenced to seven years’ penal servitude in Australia.
This article from 3 April 1834 reports on their conviction and includes an extract from a poem scribbled down by one of Martyrs, George Loveless, upon his conviction.