Tolpuddle chapel revamp plan for 200th anniversary

Image source, Mike Faherty
Image caption,
The Grade II listed building has not been used as a chapel since 1843

An appeal has been launched to renovate a disused chapel founded by the Tolpuddle Martyrs ahead of its 200th anniversary.

Tolpuddle Old Chapel Trust hopes its plans will "save the Martyrs' legacy" in the Dorset village.

The Grade II listed building, which has not been used as a chapel since 1843, is on Historic England's Heritage at Risk register.

The trust needs £226,000 for the work, which also includes an extension.

The case against six farm labourers - known as the Tolpuddle Martyrs - who were deported to Australia after protesting against their wages is regarded as a founding moment in the trade union movement.

Image source, Tolpuddle Old Chapel Trust
Image caption,
The building has previously been used for agricultural storage
Image source, Adrian Wittlesea
Image caption,
The renovation work also includes building an extension with toilet and kitchen facilities

George Loveless and Thomas Standfield built the chapel in 1818 and it was likely to have been used as place of worship by some of the others - James Brine, James Hammett, James Loveless and John Standfield - until their arrest and trial in 1843.

The trust, which will mark the building's anniversary in October with a series of events, will fundraise and apply for Heritage Lottery funding in a bid to find the cash for the works.

It hopes the former chapel will be used as a community "quiet space", where people can escape the "turmoils" of modern life for free.

"One of the key things we are trying to do is not just make sure the building doesn't collapse on itself but also make sure it's an asset to the local community," said trustee David Willey.

English Heritage's report on the building in 1999 described its architecture as "simple and austere".

"It is an example of a small rural Methodist building with its roots in the pioneering aspirations of this branch of non-conformism," it added.

The Tolpuddle Martyrs

  • Farmhand George Loveless and five fellow workers - his brother James Loveless, James Brine, James Hammett, John Standfield and Thomas Standfield - met under a tree in 1834 to form a "friendly society" to protest against their meagre pay of six shillings a week
  • They were arrested for the crime of swearing an oath of secrecy and sentenced to seven years' transportation to an Australian penal colony
  • After the sentence was pronounced, popular opinion swung in support of the men. There was a demonstration in London and an 800,000-strong petition was delivered to Parliament
  • The government eventually relented and the men returned home with free pardons
  • The village hosts the annual Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival each July in their honour

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