Deidre Dowle, a member of Crewkerne & District U3A’s Local History group stepped back into history and discovered that an ancestor of hers had played a key role in the story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs. On a group visit to the Martyrs Museum at Tolpuddle, Deidre saw a banner dedicated to her great uncle Thomas Wakley. Thomas Wakley, born in Membury, Devon was a social reformer and radical MP. He was one of the group of Parliamentarians who fought successfully for the return and subsequent pardon of the six agricultural labourers from Tolpuddle, who were sentenced to transportation to Australia in the 1830’s.
The six men had been convicted of swearing a secret oath as members of the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers, often seen as the birth of the trade union movement. Speaking about her ancestor Thomas Wakley, Deidre said: “He was an amazing man but his campaigns against social injustice did make him unpopular with many of his peers.” Thomas Wakley attended the grammar schools at Chard and Taunton. He became a surgeon and founded the medical magazine Lancet in 1823. He was a medical coroner in London and a friend of renowned author Charles Dickens.
The timing of the local history groups visit, organised by Janice Eagles, was opportune as the village of Tolpuddle was preparing for the annual Martyrs Festival. Member of Crewkerne & District U3A’s Local History group Mike Jones said: “It was a very interesting visit, made more so with one of our group being a descendant of one of the people so closely involved in the story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs.”