There’s an old story that our Ricketts lineage had a connection to the Tolpuddle Martyrs. But the Martyrs story is well documented and told many times, and there’s no mention of any Ricketts’. So, if there is a connection it’s more by association than genealogy. Still, it would be interesting to know if our distant relatives may have known and interacted with the Tolpuddle Martyrs.

The Tolpuddle Martyrs

For those who don’t know about the Tolpuddle Martyrs, there are a number of interesting and detailed accounts online.

The short version of their story goes as follows. Corn Laws enacted in Britain forced farm laborers into poverty. At around the same time, the French Revolution caught the imagination of workers, leaving the British ruling classes scared. They started looking for ways to suppress growing discontent and resulting riots. Workers formed societies in order to organize themselves against the excesses of landowners.

James Frampton, a squire who lived near Tolpuddle, used an informer to expose a group of men, the Tolpuddle Martyrs, who were administering a secret oath when recruiting new members to their local society. While belonging to a society was legal, administering a secret oath was not. The six men were arrested, tried, found guilty, and sent to Australia. Ultimately, after several years, all six of the Martyrs – George Loveless, James Loveless, James Hammett, James Brine, Thomas Standfield, and Thomas’ son John, were pardoned. They returned to England, but only James Hammett stayed in Tolpuddle. The others first moved to Essex, and then emigrated to Canada.

My interest in this story was initially kindled when my parents gave me a copy of The Martyrs of Tolpuddle. This book was published in 1934 by the Trades Union Congress General Council of Great Britain. Published on the centenary of the Martyrs’ trial, it is a thorough examination of the circumstances that fomented the events that led to the Martyrs’ trial, its proceedings, and the aftermath. It is also a copy of a book that my grandfather Cyril Ricketts owned for many years but at some point was lost. As you can imagine I was more than happy when my parents found a copy of it for me.

So, based on my previous knowledge, I started out with a modest research question. Did any of the Ricketts family have a close enough connection to Tolpuddle that they would have known the Tolpuddle Martyrs?

The first roadblock to answering this question is that the Ricketts’ who would have been contemporary to the Martyrs were firmly rooted in and around the town of Wool during the 1830s. Joseph Ricketts, the most likely contemporary of the Martyrs was born in Wool in 1797. He didn’t leave the village until sometime after the 1871 Census. Although Wool is only about eight miles away from Tolpuddle, it’s unlikely there would have been regular, day-to-day interaction between the Ricketts’ and the Martyr’s in Tolpuddle, given that the state of transport at the time was very different to today.

Connecting the Ricketts Family to Tolpuddle

There is, however, one Ricketts that has a documented connection with Tolpuddle, albeit sixty years after the Martyrs were sent to Australia. In 1901 George Henry Ricketts, my great-grandfather was living in Tolpuddle as the border of a widow named Emma Cake, his future Mother-in-law. 

Interestingly, Emma’s daughter (and George’s future wife), Alice Maud Cake, was not there at the time. According to the 1901 census, she was living and working as a servant for John Doyle Fry, a wealthy industrialist, in Monken Hadley, Essex.

The Cakes in Tolpuddle

The Cakes had a long history in Tolpuddle. John Cake, Alice’s father, was born there in about 1825, and his father, William Cake, was born there in 1799. An 1832 land tax record available on Ancestry.com confirms Williams’ location prior to the events of 1834. Not only do these show that in 1832 William owned a house and land worth a penny in taxes, but also show the presence of several key players in the trial of the Martyrs:

  • Martyr James Brine was assessed 1 penny tax for owning land and a house occupied by his brother Charles.    
  • Martyr Thomas Standfield is occupying a house and land, for which his brother William was assessed 1 penny in taxes
  • James Frampton, a wealthy landowner who led the effort to frame and indict the Tolpuddle Martyrs, was assessed 7 pounds for ownership of Ashley Farm 

More connections can be found in the parish registers. Thomas Standfield, the eldest of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, was born in 1789 and appears in the same parish register as William Cake. A few years later in 1813, we find Thomas’ son John and James Brine, both arrested as fellow conspirators.

Another interesting document available on Ancestry.com is a land map showing ownership of land parcels and dwellings in the village of Tolpuddle, dated 1835-1843. Here we find both William and John Cake. William owns and occupies land and a house in the north of the village while John owns a house and land in the east, on the road to Athpuddle. It’s interesting that the name James Brine appears on numerous pieces of land because after returning to England the Brines moved to Essex before immigrating to Canada. Susan Loveless, daughter of George Loveless, leader of the Martyr’s owns property and land in the village.  

You can see the map here William cake is at 85 and John Cake is at 99

A Social Connection Between the Ricketts’ and the Tolpuddle Martyrs

In many ways, this research opens more questions. Did William and John belong to a friendly society at the time? Did they take the same oath that the Martyr’s did?

What we do know is that all the families mentioned here shared the same small, rural village, they worked as farm laborers under the same conditions and would have been subjected to the same level of poverty. So, it seems reasonable to conclude that our Ricketts lineage does have a, let’s call it, adjacent connection to the Tolpuddle Martyrs through my great-grandmother Alice Cake.