One of the things I love about Teignmouth is that it punches above its weight. For such a small town there is a plethora of happenings – organized, spontaneous, semi-spontaneous. Last Sunday was no exception. The first ever Tolpuddle Freedom Hike arrived in Teignmouth.
In commemoration of the 180th anniversary of the jailing of the Tolpuddle Martyrs a group of people were marching from Plymouth to Tolpuddle in Dorset to arrive in time for the Martyrs’ Festival. People joined and left the walk en route. I took the opportunity to walk with them on Monday morning guiding them along what would have been the original old route between Teignmouth and Dawlish.
I wrote this poem as a tribute to journey – the journey the modern-day pilgrims made with Teignmouth at its mid-point; the journey the martyrs made as criminals to Australia and returning to the UK as free men; and the journey society has made since then thanks to the convictions of people like the Tolpuddle Martyrs.
The poem is a sort of modern-day ballad.
Who were the Tolpuddle Martyrs?
Everyone knows the Tolpuddle martyrs;
a defining part of our history,
farmers fighting for liberty,
feudal victims of iniquity,
preluding the right to be free.
In eighteen hundred and thirty-four
beneath the boughs of the sycamore
they swore an oath of secrecy.
Six men were taken for that perfidy,
shackled, deported to Australian shores.
But the people rose up
and the people marched
and parliament baulked, crumbled, gave way.
The martyrs returned, safe home once more
and social justice triumphed that day.
Everyone knows the Tolpuddle martyrs.
But do they?
Go on, give me their names.
We refrain the headline. We relinquish the depth.
They left yesterday.
From Plymouth to Teignmouth
they had marched so far –
the modern-day pilgrims,
grimacing with pain from blistered feet.
But proud of their feat.
They had a story to tell
and I now know the names.
George and James Loveless – brothers –
and two other James – Hammett and Brine,
then Thomas Standfield,
and, last in line, his son John.
These are the names that live on.
Martyrs’ names that live on.
Want to know more? Check out:
Tolpuddle Martyrs for historical stuff
The poem is part of the “Cataclysm of Catechism” cycle. First draft of the complete cycle can be seen at this site