ROOTS are being put down to mark the legacy of the Tolpuddle Martyrs writes Martin Lea.

The Tolpuddle Martyrs were farmers who in the nineteenth century formed a trade union against swingeing cuts to their already low pay. Whilst forming a union was not a crime, the men were found guilty of swearing an oath against the crown and sentenced to transportation for seven years – what was then effectively a life sentence that often ended in death.

Hundreds of smaller unions across the country rallied together and campaigned for their release. It led to the biggest march at the time in London where millions of people arrived to demand the Martyrs’ be pardoned. The masses presented a petition to the King that was so heavy it needed to by pulled by horses. The union movement won and the farmers were eventually returned to the UK.

Union members will today be planting a series of trees at the site of the Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival in the village.

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The trees will be an addition to and complement one of the most famous trees in the UK that exists in the middle of the village; the 320-year-old sycamore tree where the Martyrs originally met and which is an emblem of the trade union movement.

A selection of different tree specimens have been chosen to ensure the young saplings survive the global climate change. These include: Juglans Walnut Regia; Acer Crimson King; Scots Pine; Sorbus Forminalls Wild Service, beech green and beech copper, Acer Field Maple, Fagus Dawyck Purple and Acer October Glory.

They will be planted by the South West Trades Union Congress (TUC) and its member unions.

Nigel Costley, regional secretary of the TUC said: “The Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival commemorates the story of six hard-working farmers who faced harsh, unjust punishments for simply joining a trade union. Every year, thousands of workers gather and march past the old Martyrs’ tree to remember this basic right to have a voice at work.

“By planting more trees, we keep the legacy of the Martyrs alive for future generations. And just as importantly, we are doing our bit to tackle the climate emergency.”

The Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival takes place in the village of Tolpuddle every year in July – the next dates are July 17-19.