Victorian Bournemouth (179)

Victorian Bournemouth (179): ‘martyr royalty’

Fame’s price


Victorian Bournemouth (179) analyses the kinship and social profiles of Tolpuddle natives recorded as Springbourne residents during 1881. Most of those found had kinship with the six men transported to Australia in 1834 as punishment for alleged crimes involving combination. The media much later dubbed them as the ‘Tolpuddle Martyrs’. Whether this connection helped the group residing in labouring Springbourne during the 1880s remains an open question. Fame may have come at a price.

Victorian Bournemouth (179): Springbourne terrain


Two names in Springbourne, Hammett and Loveless had also featured amongst the martyrs. A third, Way, did not, but two of them, brothers, had a Loveless as mother. A direct line connects the Way boys to the martyrs’ leader: George Loveless, brother of their grandfather John Loveless. Also in Springbourne, the census recorded William Loveless, a Tolpuddle native, once a grocer there and elsewhere. In his retirement, he became a Methodist preacher. He shared this calling and direct kinship with George Loveless. This lay in two Loveless brothers: William’s grandfather, George’s father. John Hammett, a bricklayer, provided the third link with the martyrs, for his cousin, James, belonged to that group. John Hammett, however, made a second and more powerful lock with the martyrs, for he had married a Loveless (Elizabeth), sister of the Springbourne preacher. John Christopher Hammett, a bricklayer, the martyr’s nephew, also belonged to Springbourne’s Tolpuddle emigrants.


The martyrs had shared much: kinship, social profile, worship practices, geography. Fieldwork, Methodism (for the Loveless nexus), and Tolpuddle provided other links to kin. The Springbourne relatives repeated this model. A grocer and three bricklayers suggest similar social profiles, albeit a notch above the martyr labourers in their early days. William Loveless, the grocer, left an estate of £300, his brother-in-law, John Hammett, £231. Perhaps now beyond preaching, William Loveless kept the local Methodist chapel. He would have encouraged his kin to maintain their belief. Dissenting worship by the 1880s had become well established in Bournemouth, not least in Springbourne and the other suburbs. In Tolpuddle, these families would have lived within a few minutes’ walk of each other. The same applied to the Springbourne contingent. Two if not three lived on Victoria Road (Ways and Loveless), while John Hammett and Elizabeth Loveless resided round the corner on Wyndham Road.

Victorian Bournemouth (179): Tolpuddle martyrs

Long established local presence

The martyrs’ families had appeared often in Tolpuddle’s parish registers which survive from the early eighteenth century. Kinship between most people carrying identical name seems plausible. The names Hammett, Brine, and Loveless featured in a traders’ list recorded by the Hunt Directory Tolpuddle in 1851. According to the 1841 census, they accounted for around a fifth of households and a similar proportion of people. The first marriage in the parish register (1719) included a Standfield. Almost another twenty would follow. Including the other names, the martyrs’ families accounted for about a fifth of weddings. Thus the families had dwelt in proximity for several generations. In 1812, marriage added kinship to their communal mix.  Thomas Standfield, a future martyr, married the sister of two others. His daughter, sister of another martyr, would marry another, James Brine. Tightening kinship before and during the martyrdom added genetic glue to families having long acquaintance. 

Community into combination

Such interconnection of families and friends had long characterised rural communities, having an equality rooted in the collective economic activity of field work. Seasonal repetition provided habitual continuity and content when income matched needs. It created a benign communal strength only weaponised into resilient obduracy by external economic attack. That transformation occurred when employers, panicked by a possible repeal of the Corn Laws, sought to ease profit pressure in reducing agricultural wages. Endorsed by national unionisation movements, the Tolpuddle martyrs combined to defend their wages but faced peremptory trial in a Dorchester court. An accusation of secret oaths sent the martyrs to Australia, but the real reason lay in the gentry’s fear of combination, baked in the cultural oven of long-established local communities. The martyrs’ royalty that settled in Springbourne perhaps will have had that same automatic reflex to seek closeness and cooperation observed at Tolpuddle in 1834.

Victorian Bournemouth (179): analysis

The Springbourne model

Kindred groups, emigrating from the same Dorset rural settlement, settling near each other happened often in Springbourne during this period. Previous analysis has found and examined several instances of this process. Nomadic, kinship herds of rural workers, having a variety of skills, drifted into the labourers’ estate at Springbourne, drawn in most cases by the appeal of regular work at construction. The martyr royalty group identified at Springbourne fits that model. It contained several bricklayers, and a  painter. Kinship embraced the group. They lived very close together, on the same roads often. As noted, the martyrdom perhaps encouraged tighter connections through intermarriage. Perhaps, their relatives and descendants now settled in Springbourne imitated that introspective behaviour. At the very least, It seems implausible that, on Springbourne’s streets and in its shops, they did not continue the community ways they would have experienced during the Tolpuddle period of their lives.

Conspiracy of silence

Union press had worked hard to build an aura around the ‘Dorchester Labourers’, the phrase ‘Tolpuddle Martyrs’ a much later invention. A search of the British Newspaper Archive shows that the former phrase appeared almost five thousand times 1834-1839. Carried along first as devils by gentry’s prejudice, then transformed to labouring heroes by the rhetoric of union supporters, the men eschewed their adhesive fame and stature. Yet, not all their working brethren loved them. Beyond family and the Methodist community, Tolpuddle turned its back on their return. Transplanted to Essex, recalibrated as farmers, they encountered similar hostility. They sought anonymity in a warm welcome extended from Canada, scrubbed from the press columns. A  new vow held each member to silence within and without the family. Thus, perhaps, when their relatives later trekked into Springbourne they kept quiet about their connection.


Victorian Bournemouth (179) reports on analysis into the ‘martyr royalty’ found living in Springbourne during 1881. It charts the geographic proximity and kinship connections of this group, living a few minutes’ walk from each other. The fame of their martyred kin had by now become forgotten if not tarnished. Although all related by blood, they may have viewed the connection as more of a hindrance than a help.


For references and engagement, please get in touch. Main primary sources: here and here (subscriptions needed). See also here.

1 Comment

Leave a Reply