The great museums of the world - the Louvre, the Met, the British Museum, the Prado - are justifiably famous, and for good reason. However, what really fire my enthusiasm are the smaller 'theme' museums which celebrate a particular event, person or activity, and the Tolpuddle Martyrs' museum is precisely this sort of underappreciated gem.
Unlikely though it might seem, the events that played themselves out in this sleepy village during the early 19th century exerted a monumental influence on not only British social history, but on the development of the trade union movement worldwide.
Tolpuddle was the home of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, six disgruntled agricultural labourers who balked against their low wages in the 1830s and were subsequently catapaulted from being an obscure band of farm workers to a national cause célèbre. Between 1830 and 1834, the wage of a farm labourer plummeted from 10 shillings to 6 shillings per week and the group banded together under the leadership of a Methodist lay preacher, George Loveless, to form the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers who collectively demanded a minimum wage of 10 shillings. The law at the time didn't make provision for their disgruntled employer to take action against organised labour, so the six were prosecuted for unlawful assembly and swearing a common oath to each other. As a result, they were sentenced to seven years transportation for their trouble.
The men were transported to Australia, and only a couple returned to Tolpuddle at the end of their seven year sentence. Local farmers were understandably reluctant to employ such notorious trouble makers, and five of the six subsequently emigrated to Ontario, Canada. Despite his criminal past, John Standish even ended up as the mayor of the small town of East London, although his subsequent social rehabilitation was unlikely to be the result of his experience, as the Victorian approach to crime and punishment cared little for the reform of felons and was much more about removing them to the other side of the world where they were unlikely to pose a nuisance!
It is difficult to overstate the importance of this series of events, or, looking back, to realise the shock waves that it sent through the social fabric of Victorian England. Everything about the Martyrs story is fascinating - even down to their names, which seem to be taken straight from a Thomas Hardy novel: James Brine, James Hammett, the brothers George and James Loveless and father and son Thomas and John Standfield. But then Hardy was, after all, a local boy, with his novels being set in and around Dorset, so this shouldn't come as much of a surprise.
The museum is small and shouldn't take you more than a couple of hours to peruse at leisure. I found it slow going simply because the subject matter was so moving, and there were many times when I had to stop and pause to contemplate the harshness and cruelty that these brave men had to endure because of their courage. What is perhaps most moving is that much of the narrative relies on the men's own accounts - George Loveless in particular was a highly articulate man, and reading about his experiences in his own words in particularly powerful.
The museum is housed in a row of former artisans cottages that were purchased by the Trade Union Congress (TUC) in the 1930s to house retired agricultural trade unionists. The museum is easily identified by the wonderful Portland Stone statue by Thompson Dagnall in the front garden which shows a man in chains. The design was the winning entry to a competition sponsored by the TUC in 2000 and depicts George Loveless (whose ill health caused him to be detained in Dorchester Jail after his fellow martyrs had been transported, and who only followed several weeks later) and bears Loveless' quote: “We will, we will, we will be free.” (a classic union call to action if ever there was one).
As you would expect of a museum which celebrates the birth of the trade union movement, admission is free! (see website below for opening times).
The Martyrs' momentous struggle is celebrated in early July each year by the Martyrs Rally, ably supported by an invading force of trade unionists, celebrities looking to boost their working class credentials, left-leaning musicians and other hangers-on in search of a good time.
Having done extensive, self-sacrificing market research on the subject over the years, I am happy to confirm that there's plenty to love about British pubs, not least of which is their ability to celebrate notable events in local history.
The Martyrs Inn of course celebrates the Tolpuddle Martyrs, who presumably didn't have a lot of spare money to go out on the p*ss (or, more appropriately, drown their sorrows) given that their wages plummeted from 10 shillings to 6 shillings between 1830 and 1834 - a rough deal by anyone's standards.
Given what these poor men enduring for having the temerity to band together in seeking a living wage, I think it most appropriate that you raise a glass or two in their honour!
P.S. I am amazed that I managed to write this entire tip with only one 'Piddle pun' - such restraint!
Visiting churches is one of the absolute highlights of a trip to Europe, and provides a fascinating insight into the culture which has shaped European cultures of the past couple of millenia.
Unlike some other religions - where access to places of worship may be restricted to members of that religious group or a specific gender - the vast majority of Christian churches will allow tourists to visit at most times, including routine services (although some may charge an admission fee for doing so, and access may be denied for private events such as weddings and funerals). However, tourists need to bear in mind that most churches are still active places of worship, and so visitors need to exhibit a certain sensitivity to display respect to the culture and avoid giving offence to people at prayer.
The following guidelines are based on wonderful advice offered by Homer (homaned) - who does this for a living - in a forum response, and although specifically written for Christian places of worship, would apply equally to places of worship for other religions
So, here is a general list of do's and don'ts for people wishing to photograph during a church service:
READ THE SIGNS
If photography is not permitted - because, for example, it may damage paint on delicate murals - this will usually be indicated by a pictogram of a camera with a red line through it. Under most circumstances, you can assume that photography will be allowed (unless otherwise indicated), but may not be permitted during services. If in doubt, ask for clarification - this shows respect and will very seldom be met with anything other than a helpful response.
TURN OFF YOUR FLASH!
Every camera on the market has a button on it which will turn off the flash. The number one most alarming and distracting thing that can happen during a liturgy, and one which will even get you kicked out of some churches, is the bright flash that goes off when you take a picture. Not only is it distracting, but it usually makes the picture turn out dark, because your camera's flash only has about a 10-15' range. Turn off the flash, and hold the camera up against your eye, using the viewfinder, and you will likely get a better picture (and you definitely won't have any red-eye problems!).
DON'T MOVE AROUND ALL OVER THE PLACE! (UNLESS YOU HAVE PERMISSION)
Instead of walking all over down the main aisle and in front of everybody, pick a good place from which to take a picture at the beginning of the liturgy, and stay there. Unless you're a professional photographer with practice at stealthily moving during liturgies, you're a distraction, and you're being disrespectful. Even if you're a pro, try to stick to one out-of-the-way place, and use a zoom lens and zoom in to get pictures. Walking in front of people is a surefire way to distract and disrespect and closing in on priests or other celebrants just to capitalise on a photo opportunity is offensive.
TURN OFF THE CAMERA'S SOUND!
Every camera has some way to mute all its 'cute' beeps and clicking noises. If you press a button, and hear a beep, or if you take a picture and hear an obnoxious shutter clicking sound, you need to turn off those sounds (the muting option is usually in one of the menus). Along with the flashing, it's an obvious sign that someone is taking pictures and not showing much respect for those trying to pay attention to the liturgy.
TURN OFF the 'focus assist' light!
If your camera can't focus without the little laser-light that shines in everyone's eyes before your camera takes a picture, then don't use your camera. You have to turn that light off! It is very distracting to be watching a lector or priest, and see a little red dot or lines pop up on his face all of the sudden. It's as if some rifleman is making his mark! Turn the light off (again, look in the menus for the option to turn off the 'AF assist' or 'focus assist' light). If you can't turn it off, put a piece of duct tape or some other opaque material over the area where the light is, so the light won't shine on someone.
TURN OFF THE CAMERA'S LCD!
You should never use the LCD to compose your shots anyways; just put your eye up to the viewfinder, and that will not only not distract, it will also steady your camera against your face, making for a better picture (especially if you don't have the flash on). And if you must review the pictures you've taken, hold the camera in front of you, down low, so people behind you don't notice the big, bright LCD display on your camera
CERTAIN PARTS OF THE CEREMONY ARE PARTICULARLY SENSITIVE
Photographing the blessing of the eucharist (bread and wine) and distribution of communion to the congregation are considered to be particularly sacred parts of the service, and it is offensive to photograph these activities.
The main thing is to try to be respectful of the culture and of other people present at the service. Don't distract. And, if you are asked to not take pictures, or if there's a sign saying 'no photography allowed,' then don't take pictures. You can always ask a priest's permission before the liturgy, but if he says 'No,' put away your camera and enjoy the freedom you have to focus on the privilege of being able to share an experience with people who consider these religious rituals core to their culture and identity, rather than focusing on your camera's LCD!
Homer's Rules ... Homer rules!