The Victims of Whiggery
|The Original Methodist Chapel|
In the years 1831-32, there was a general movement of the working classes for an increase of wages, and the labouring men in the parish where I lived (Tolpuddle) gathered together, and met their employers, to ask them for an advance of wages, and they came to a mutual agreement, the masters in Tolpuddle promising to give the men as much for their labour as the other masters in the district. The whole of the men went to their work, and the time that was spent in this affair did not exceed two hours. No language of intimidation or threatening was used on the occasion. Shortly after we learnt that, in almost every place around us, the masters were giving their men money, or money’s worth, to the amount of ten shillings per week - we expected to be entitled to as much - but no - nine shillings must be our portion. After some months we were reduced to eight shillings per week. This caused great dissatisfaction, and all the labouring men in the village, with the exception of two or three invalids, made application to a neighbouring magistrate, namely William Morden Pitt, Esq., of Kingston House, and asked his advice; he told us that if the labourers would appoint two or three of their body, and come to the County-hall the following Saturday, he would apprise the chief magistrate, James Frampton, Esq. (whose name I shall not soon forget), and at the same time our employers should be sent for to settle the subject.
I was one nominated to appear, and when there we were told that we must work for what our employers thought fit to give us, as there was no law to compel masters to give any fixed sum of money to their servants. In vain we remonstrated that an agreement was made, and that the minister of the parish (Mr. Warren) was witness between the masters and the men; for this hireling parson, who at that time said of his own accord, “I am witness between you men and your masters, that if you will go quietly to your work, you shall receive for your labour as much as any men in the district; and if your masters should attempt to run from their word, I will undertake to see you righted, so help me God!”, as soon as reference was made to him, denied having a knowledge of any such thing.
From this time we were reduced to seven shillings per week, and shortly after our employers told us they must lower us to six shillings per week. We consulted together what had better be done, knowing it was impossible to live honestly on such scanty means. I had seen at different times accounts of Trade Societies; I mentioned this, and it was resolved to form a friendly society among the labourers, having sufficiently learned that it would be vain to seek redress either of employers, magistrates, or parsons. I inquired of a brother to get information how to proceed, and shortly after, two delegates from a Trade Society paid us a visit, formed a Friendly Society among the labourers, and gave us directions how to proceed. this was about the latter end of October, 1833. On the 9th of December, 1833, in the evening, Edward Legg (a labourer), who was witness against us in our trial, came and desired to be admitted into the Society; by what means he was introduced I cannot say; but well do I know that James Hammett, one of the six that he swore to as being present, was not there.
Nothing particular occurred from this time until the 21st of February, 1834, when placards were posted up at the most conspicuous places, purporting to be cautions from the magistrates, threatening to punish with seven years’ transportation any man who should join the union. This was the first time that I heard of any law being in existence to forbid such societies. I met with a copy, read it, and put it into my pocket. February the 24th, at daybreak, I arose to go to my usual labour, and had just left my house, when Mr. James Brine, constable of the parish, met me and said, “I have a warrant for you, from the magistrates.” - “What is it‘s contents, Sir?” - “Take it yourself,” said he, “you can read it as well as I can.” - I did so. He asked, “Are you willing to go to the magistrates with me?” - I answered “To any place wherever you wish me.”
Accordingly I and my companions walked in company with the constable to Dorchester , about seven miles distant, and was taken into the house of a Mr. Woolaston, magistrate, who, with his half brother, James Frampton, and Edward Legg, were ready to receive us. After asking us several questions, to which I answered by saying, “We are not aware that we have violated any law; if so, we must be amenable, I suppose to that law.”
Legg was called upon to swear to us, and we were instantly sent to prison. As soon as we got within the prison doors, our clothes were stripped off and searched, and in my pocket was found a copy of the above placard, a note from a friend, and a small key. After our heads were shorn, we were locked up together in a room, where we remained day and night, till the following Saturday, when we were called before a bench of magistrates in another part of the prison. Legg again swore to us, differing considerably from the first statement. We were then fully committed to take our trial at the next assizes.
Directly after we were put back, a Mr. Young, an attorney employed on our behalf, called me into the conversation room, and, among other things, inquired if I would promise the magistrates to have no more to do with the Union if they would let me go home to my wife and family? I said, “I do not understand you.” - “Why,” said he, “give them information concerning the Union, who else belongs to it, and promise you will have no more to do with it.” - “Do you mean to say I am to betray my companions?” - “That is just it,” said he. - “No; I would rather undergo any punishment.”
The same day we were sent to the high jail, where we continued until the assizes. I had never seen the inside of a jail before, but now I began to feel it - disagreeable company, close confinement, bad bread, and what is worse, hard and cold lodging, a small straw bed on the flags, or else an iron bedstead - “and this,” said I to my companions, “is our fare for striving to live honest.”