January 23, 2023

Tolpuddle and the Spark

I once lived in an old house in Greensted Green, Essex that had a plaque on the wall. “Here lived George Loveless and his family on his return from transportation to Australia 1837.” People often stopped by to look at the house.

The Tolpuddle Martyrs were 6 farm labourers who lived in difficult times. In 1834 they formed an association to help each other and dared to question their pitiful wages. The authorities treated them harshly and arrested them for making unlawful oaths. At a trial in Dorchester, they were sentenced to 7 years transportation to Australia. 

But public opinion swung behind the men and mass protests and a petition brought them home 3 years later. This is often called the birth of the trade union movement. A fascinating part of English social history.

In 2002 Robert created a musical version of the story which he called From a Spark to a Flame, and it was first performed by Theatretrain at the Old Vic Theatre in London. We were then invited to the Annual Tolpuddle Festival and performed it in a large marquee. 

It was a fantastic summer day. They provided coaches and we sang songs under the very tree where the men met. We were then taken to the old, preserved courthouse where they were tried and sentenced – even standing in the dock and the cells beneath. One of our students who played the part of George Loveless was able to sing his song in the courtroom. A student who is today a barrister.

At the end of the performance, I have never seen an audience with so many tears rolling down their cheeks. It was a passionate story, but these people understood the sacrifices that the Tolpuddle Martyrs had made in trying to make their world bearable and they paid a terrible price. The public had raised money to lease farms in Essex but they remained unwanted because of their perceived radical actions and they eventually emigrated to Canade.

Theatretrain returned to the Festival again in 2011 where again we had a fantastic reception. Something about the story endures. It may not be a widely known piece of history but it was one of times when things were never quite the same afterwards. I’m proud that we were able to bring the story to the stage.

Robert beautifully set the words written by George Loveless all those years ago and they still ring in my ears…

“We raise the watchword Liberty

We will, we will, we will be free!

We will, we will, we will be free!”

Theatretrain, a nationwide provider of weekend theatre schools for young people aged 4-18, specialises in weekly classes in acting, singing, and dancing. An emphasis is placed on learning valuable life skills such as confidence, empathy, courage, and resilience. If you know a child who loves to dance, act and sing or could do with a little confidence boost why not visit to find out what our performing arts classes can offer your child at one of our 80 locations across the UK.

Related Articles

Summer Schools Make a Difference

Kevin Dowsett, Artistic Director of Theatretrain, highlights the transformative power of residential summer schools. These immersive experiences allow young people to step away from their daily routines and engage deeply in creative pursuits. At Theatretrain's summer school, participants form lasting friendships, hone their talents, and discover new dimensions of themselves through intensive workshops and collaborative activities.
Read more >

Company Call

Last Sunday, Theatretrain held the company call for their 102nd large-scale show. Artistic Director Kevin Dowsett witnessed seven Theatretrain companies, who had been rehearsing since February, come together for the first time. In just three hours, they transformed a school theatre into a hive of creativity and talent, setting the stage for an unforgettable performance. Read the full blog to dive into the details of this extraordinary day!
Read more >

Sometimes We’re All Empty Vessels

Dive into the captivating world of human behaviour and self-perception with Kevin Dowsett, Artistic Director of Theatretrain. From actors' veiled insecurities to the art of projecting confidence, Kevin explores the intricacies of the human condition. Discover how the stage becomes a training ground for courage, humility, and self-assurance, shaping tomorrow's resilient adults.
Read more >

The Best People Care

Enter the vibrant realm of Theatretrain alongside Artistic Director Kevin Dowsett, where character isn't measured by interactions with animals, but by how we treat children and young people. Join us as we explore the dichotomy of theatre technicians, from begrudging gatekeepers to enthusiastic allies, and the profound influence they have on the stage.
Read more >

Knock Knock Who’s there?

Join Kevin Dowsett, Artistic Director of Theatretrain, and his daughter Grace on a delightful journey through the whimsical world of knock-knock jokes. From Grace's infectious enthusiasm to Shakespearean echoes, each jest is a playful dance of control and delight that transcends generations.
Read more >

Going Mobile

Discover the impact of mobile phones on young minds in this insightful blog by Theatretrain's Artistic Director, Kevin Dowsett. With 25% of 5-7-year-olds owning phones, concerns arise. Yet, Theatretrain offers an escape, fostering a focus on arts and connection, free from distractions. Join the discussion on reclaiming youth in a smartphone-dominated world.
Read more >