The Reliability of Loveless’s Diary

As I prepare this book for reprinting after ten years, I feel it is incumbent upon me to say something which will establish I hope definitely for all time the reliability of George Loveless’s Diary.

In the magnificent centenary production that Walter Citrine edited, displaying fine research and producing evidence that was not available to me when I wrote this book, it was perhaps natural that the emphasis should be put on the value of the Tolpuddle Martyrs to Trade Unionism and incidentally to the Labour Party. I think that rather less than justice was done to their religion which alone accounted for their courage and endurance and for the wonderful demonstrations that roused the country in their day.

The fact has to be acknowledged that five out of the six were Trade Unionists for about three months. The other, James Hammett, stayed in England and continued to be a Trades Unionist in his appropriate Union—not the Agricultural Workers’ Union, but the Union which covers the stonemasons. For he was arrested by mistake and suffered for another.

Because Loveless, in his remarkable Diary, definitely states that Hammett was not a member of the Union and was arrested in mistake, but decided to suffer for another rather than betray another man in mistake for whom he had been arrested, this Centenary Production that is associated with the name of Walter Citrine casts some doubt on the accuracy of the Loveless Diary. The reason is that on the original Trade Union Register which intensive and extensive research had brought into the author’s possession, was the name of James Hammett. That seemed to the author pretty conclusive evidence that the man who was arrested was also a member of the Union and that Loveless was wrong.

This, when I read it, rather shook me. I had read the Diary. It was perhaps the most convincing document I had ever read. If ever any account of a man’s experiences carried conviction from its obvious carefulness and sincerity, that Diary did. But if James Hammett had really been a member of the Union for whose doings the men had been arrested, the reliability of his evidence was shaken tremendously.

It happened, however, that I was speaking a good deal on the events that formed the background of my book. Among the people who asked me to speak on the subject was the Rev. Dr. A. D. Belden at a Brotherhood Meeting that had considerable influence at that time and was held at his church, Whitefield’s Tabernacle, in Tottenham Court Road,

After I had spoken a man came to ask me to do something for him. He said his name was Loveless. He had thought and hoped that he might be related in some way to the leader of these Dorchester Heroes—as I preferred to call them. He wondered if I could get him the necessary information to establish the relationship. He provided me with the names of his Loveless ancestors for two or three generations. Could I find out if they were in any way connected with the Tolpuddle people?

I immediately got into touch with the Rector of Tolpuddle. It was just possible that the Registers of the Church were still extant and that they went back far enough to do what he wanted. I found the Rev. H. Gilbert, who was then Rector, most co-operative. On the 6th September 1933 he wrote me the following note:

THE PRIEST’S HOUSE, TOLPUDDLE,

DORCHESTER.

‘Dear Sir,

George Loveless, s. of Thomas and Dinah. Born Feby. 2nd. Baptized Feby. 26th, 1797.

Married Elizabeth Snook, of Dewlish, 29th Dec., 1824. Thomas Standfield, a witness.

John Loveless, s. of Thos. and Diana Lovelace. Baptized

4th April, 1808. Married Sarah Daniel, 1830.

Can you tell me with certainty the parents of James Hammett?

The Registers are here in my study if you can get across. I am much interested in your book.

There was a James Hammett:

  1. of Wm. and Sarah, 1785.
  2. of Wm. and Caroline, 1801.
  3. of John and Elizabeth, 1812.

1785 had a brother John, but I can’t find that 1801 had.

Thos. Standfield (born 1789) married Diana Loveless, 29th Sept., 1812.

  1. John. Baptized 21st Feby., 1813.

Yours truly,

‘HENRY GILBERT,’

I called on the Rector. I found him a charming man, and he took me into his church and introduced me to the workers who had helped him in this search. One of them—a lady—gave me a lovely lesson in accuracy. I referred to the oak under which other publications had said that these Methodists had met and preached. She said at once: ‘It isn’t an oak.’ I said I had only glanced at it in passing and it struck as very like one, though I hadn’t really suspected anything else, so had not looked at it closely. ‘Well, you look at it as you pass it again,’ she said, and would not answer my question as to what it was. As I passed I saw that it was a sycamore.

I found in conversation with the Rector that they had examined the Registers for every one of my local characters. Jane Davis, however, had puzzled them. There was no Jane Davis in the Registers. I had to confess then that I was not surprised, for she was the only local character I had created.

My object, however, I think had been gained. I had re-established in my mind, at any rate, the complete reliability of Loveless’s Diary. One of those three James Hammetts was doubtless a member of the Union, but it was not the one who was arrested and transported.

Incidentally, it is surprising to find how convincing my Jane Davis has been to the readers of my book. She had to be created because I needed a link between Tolpuddle and Dr. Wakley. Why had he taken the matter up? Why was he so keen on the matter that he actually went to Tolpuddle and visited the bereaved women there? Could it be only the report in The Times? It was a good report, but hardly extensive enough to have aroused quite such an interest in such an extremely busy man as the Editor of The Lancet. There must have been somebody who acted as go-between. Jane does it very well, I think. She does it so well in fact, as to have deceived the very elect. For the book on Methodism of that period that obtained his Ph.D. for him a distinguished friend of mine quoted a small extract from my book and Jane Davis was the character selected. He dropped the extract from his Second Edition after receiving the facts of the case from me. But another distinguished clerical Doctor, who delivered afterwards a Fernley Lecture for the year, also chose a similar passage. I was much flattered when Edith Sitwell requested my permission to refer to my book in her Victoria of England. She had, of course, access to other authorities, and has not taken anything that could not be substantiated from documentary evidence. She quotes my estimate of the character of Baron Williams who tried these men and Loveless’s appeal to the public at the close of his story as quoted from the Diary in my Twentieth Chapter. Fine as his Diary in general is, I feel that his appeal in those words is the best thing in it.

My attempt in 1932 when this story was brought to my notice was to get that Diary in its original form published just as it was as a centenary event. Dr. Sharp, who asked me to write this book, did not agree with me. He wanted a new book telling the story as he thought I could do it. Perhaps I may say that a very favourite broadcaster has in recent days captured the idea that was in Dr. Sharp’s mind, when he gets various very representative companies of people to ‘have a go’ and calls it ‘bringing the people to the people’.

I am sure it needed something like my book to show that it was the religion of these men that really counted in that stage of the people’s emancipation in which their strength of purpose, loyalty to a principle they had adopted, fearlessness of consequences, refusal to betray their associates and patient endurance was the principal factor.

They were Trade Unionists for about three months. They suffered four years’ punishment of a very rigorous character for it. They maintained their faith throughout. But it was a faith in God and God’s justice.

That the Labour Party came from these origins is very true. It has been a slow growth. Kingsley and Maurice were tremendous influences. Chartism was a step on the way. And Chartism had its Methodists like Thomas Cooper. The early days of the great Miners’ Unions saw almost entirely Methodist local preachers as the leaders of their revolt against the tyranny of the mineowners. Even in the Scottish Miners’ movement where there were few if any Methodists, much of the leadership came from earnest Christians.

The influence of the miners on the growth of the modern Labour Movement cannot be over-estimated. There have been Agnostics and to some extent Atheists among all these social movements. But in the main the inspiration of them has come from men who have a faith in God, men who have formed their own opinion of God’s justice from their earnest reading of the Prophets of Israel and the Gospel story, men who have been prepared to suffer if their fellows can gain justice and advance through their sufferings. Such in a special degree were the Tolpuddle martyrs.

Owen Rattenbury

January, 1950.