The festival celebrates the memory of six farm labourers in the Dorset town of Tolpuddle who were arrested in 1834 for daring to form a trade union.
When they were subsequently sentenced to seven years' transportation to Australia, 800,000 supporters signed a petition to Parliament and there was a demonstration in central London.
The legend of the Tolpuddle Martyrs was born and the festival has been a social highlight of the trade union calendar for many years.
Prospect reps Lloyd Collier (Diamond Light Source) and Steve Clark (Babcock International) took it upon themselves a few years ago to organise an official presence at Tolpuddle.
“I first went to Tolpuddle three years ago on a coach organised by the Oxford Trades Council,” says Lloyd.
“I took the family down on the Sunday and we had a really nice day. The weather was good, lots of music, union stands to walk around and other stalls with food, arts and crafts and my daughter had her hair braided.”
While Lloyd enjoyed a “great family day out” at his first Tolpuddle, he was a little disappointed by how few Prospect people were in attendance and the lack of a stall or Prospect banner to march behind.
He got in touch with his full-time officer, Kevin Warden, and volunteered to organise something for the following year.
“Tolpuddle is organised by the south west TUC so you have to get in touch with them and tell them that you’d like to come along.” Lloyd says.
“We started from scratch. We had to buy a gazebo and worked with Chris Perry, Prospect's local organiser, to get all the kit up and running.”
That first year, armed with Prospect leaflets, publications and specially made big blue lollipops, the stall was visited by Mike Clancy, Prospect's general secretary, and Alan Grey, the union's president at the time.
“We had a really good time doing it and we did the same again last year. The gazebo was looking a bit worse for wear so we’ve got a new one with Prospect branding on the front. It’ll be the first time that it has been used.”
As well as Chris Perry, Lloyd shares the organisational duties with fellow rep, Steve Clark. They are assisted through the weekend by 10-15 volunteers, most notably James Leppard of AWE who is becoming increasingly involved.
Lloyd says they can never have enough volunteers, as the festival lasts two and half days, and can even offer free entry for a limited number of helpers.
Asked if he's still able to enjoy the festival as a regular punter, Lloyd says “it’s not a huge a responsibility. We spend most of the weekend chatting, having a drink, enjoying the festival and meeting interesting people.”
“Anyone who likes a festival will enjoy it, as will anyone who is interested in the history of the labour movement. There's music, speakers and poetry. They have a kids’ area with things like face painting, a water slide and lots of art and crafts type of things. Food stalls and, of course, a beer tent!”
Steve Clark's Tolpuddle
Your first Tolpuddle and what was it like?
My first Tolpuddle was 2011. I did not know what to expect, but had a great time, good debates, good music and met a lot of new friends, everyone was approachable and friendly. It was excellent value.
Favourite Tolpuddle memory/experience?
There have been quite a few memories over the years, but two always come to mind. The first year, meeting and talking to members from different unions. There have been some years, when the weather was not great, so one of my favourite memories, is two years ago, when from Friday afternoon through to 10pm Sunday there was not a cloud in the sky and it was brilliant sunshine throughout the weekend.
Why do you think the festival is still relevant today?
I believe that the festival is even more relevant today. Yes, we should attend to support the martyrs, as without them we would not have the structures we have today within the union movement. But with the way this country has been heading over the last few years, it is a way in which we can show solidarity, learn from each other, and show that we are one.
The best thing about Tolpuddle is…
The history, and the people who attend. We are all there to commemorate the martyrs, and to show a solid union presence, but not in a heavy handed way. In a friendly way, in which all members of the family can attend young and old.
Make sure you visit the Prospect stand if you’re attending Tolpuddle and also let Lloyd and Steve know if your branch is organising a coach for the march on Sunday.