Monday, July 05, 2010

The Tolpuddle Martyrs and the Essex Saxon Church

On Sunday morning I was looking for a short walk in the nearby countryside and picked this “Chipping Ongar and Greensted Church” walk from the Essex “Pathfinder” series. I had read about the 11th century Saxon Church at Greensted and how it is reputed to be the oldest wooden building in the world.

The walk started in Chipping Ongar which is a lovely Essex county village and was only a 20 minutes drive from Newham. It was a great little walk (4.5 miles), warm sunshine and cool breezes with hardly a sole to be seen. A little bit flat but lots of greenery and shade in very ancient woods, enclosed paths and lanes. The church itself was of course chocolate box perfect inside and out (see picture) and it is to me amazing that this building (well, parts of it) has been used continually by the local community, as a place of worship, for just under a 1000 years. There is still a regular service each Sunday at 9.30am.

I then bought a guidebook (via the unmanned honesty box ) and was astonished to read that there was a very topical labour movement history connection with the church. Since the Tolpuddle Martyrs after they had been released from slave labour and transportation to Australia had been unable to return to Dorset due to opposition from local landlords. So they had been given farm tenancies in Greensted and High Laver. One of the Martyrs, James Brine, had actually married Elizabeth Standfield (daughter of another Martyr) at the Church in 1839. The rector of the church later opposed the renewal of the farm tenancies and they emigrated to Canada. (for what it is worth I use to be the estate officer for “James Brine House” in Bethnal Green in the early 1990s).

The weekend after next it is the annual festival at Tolpuddle which I was planning to go down and visit with some West Ham Labour Party comrades but this hasn’t worked out this year since there a number of things going on in London that weekend as well (e.g. Labour Housing Group AGM). Hopefully next year we can organise something better, but I was glad to visit Greensted and enjoy all its history and in a little way, honour the Martyrs nearer to home.

So - if you can’t make it to Dorset on the 16/18 July weekend but have transport, walking boots and sun hat - then I recommend you buy the same guidebook and take yourself off to Chipping Ongar!


x said...

Very interesting, your account of a visit to Greensted Church in Essex. The Vicar of said church was none too welcoming to G Loveless and his compatriots when they returned from Australia, so they all subsequently moved to Canada. For myself I have a blogspot Tolpuddle martyr. I am related to the Loveless family through Jane the sister of George so have always been interested in their history.

John Gray said...

Hi X

send me the link for your blog and I will post it.

I use to manage George Loveless House in Bethanl Green, Tower Hamlets as well.

x said...

My blogspot is....

information about the Loveless family is always interesting to me.

John Gray said...

Sally posts - "Hi John, saw your walk in Essex were the TPMs were (have yet to visit there), but as a suggestion perhaps mention James Hammett went back to Tolpuddle where he is buried. He was my 2xgrt grandfathers namesake first cousin. Hope you make it to the rally there this year, think it is going be huge!"

Yewtree said...

Hi, I have visted Tolpuddle and the Museum, also seen the steps in Plymouth with the plaque where they were transported, and I have recently visited London, Ontario, where a number of them emigrated and were buried.

I have also been to Greensted church many years ago, but was unaware of its connection with the Martyrs at the time!

Now I just have to visit Australia to complete the set.

John Gray said...

Don't forget to visit the housing blocks in Tower Hamlets (and elsewhere) named after the Martyrs.