The Sheltering Tree by Fiona Taylor
|The Sheltering Tree by Fiona Taylor|
|Category: Children's Non-Fiction|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: A perfectly-pitched look at the story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, backed by thorough research which is worn lightly. Excellent for the pre-teen - but it's a book to enjoy whatever age you are.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 118||Date: July 2020|
|External links: Author's website|
Elizabeth, friendship is a sheltering tree. It will protect you from the searing rays of the summer sun and from the cold downfall of the sharp winter rain.
That was how George Standfield explained one of the principles by which he lived to his thirteen-year-old daughter. It was the autumn of 1833 and the first meeting to form a union of agricultural workers was held under the sycamore tree in the village of Tolpuddle, just seven miles from Dorset. Action was needed as Squire Frampton had reduced the farm labourers' wages to six shillings a week and the men could not support their families on so little. They already had little in the way of clothing, lived in cramped conditions with a shared privy and their food was decidedly short on nutrition.
The plan was that the men would last out until the spring of 1834 when they would be required on the land and they would then withhold their labour unless they received a reasonable wage. Squire Frampton could obviously afford to pay - he lived in some splendour at Moreton House and his daughters went short of nothing. Although membership of a trade union was not a crime, the men made the mistake of taking what was an illegal oath and were transported to Australia for seven years.
Fiona Taylor has done an excellent job of bringing this story to life for the pre-teen. Her research has been exemplary - there's a bibliography at the back of the book together with online resources. The bibliography will be useful for teachers who might wish to use The Sheltering Tree in class and children will find a great deal in the online resources. I spent a considerable amount of time at www.tolpuddlemartyrs.org.uk.
The story of what happened to the six men is usually told from the men's point of view, but Taylor concentrates on the plight of the women and children, who had no income, little support in the village and faced eviction. The story is told with sensitivity: the bleakness of the women's situation is shown, but there's no unnecessary detail which could be upsetting.
With such a well-known story there's always the danger than its presentation will be wooden. That's decidedly not the case here: Taylor sticks broadly to the facts, with only minor variations to improve the story and with the inclusion of just a few fictional characters. I loved Elizabeth: she could so easily have been a goody-two-shoes but she's resentful of what she has to do around the house or looking after her three younger siblings. Her elder brother, John works on Mr Northover's farm and he escapes the domestic chores! She's just beginning to take an interest in boys and it's worrying to watch her lose her heart to one of the men who will be transported.
I'm sure you know that the six men were pardoned and came back to Dorset: in an afterword, Taylor tells us of how they fared on their return. The book ends on a positive note but without sugaring the pill of what happened. The story of the martyrs is an important but often overlooked part of our history. The Sheltering Tree is a well-written and enjoyable way of introducing the story which played such an important part in the founding of the trade union movement. I'd like to thank the publisher for sending a copy to the Bookbag.
The Tolpuddle Boy: Transported to Hell and Back by Alan James Brown tells the story from the point of view of James Brine, the man Elizabeth loved.
The Sheltering Tree by Fiona Taylor is in the Top Ten Self-Published Books 2020.
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You can read more book reviews or buy The Sheltering Tree by Fiona Taylor at Amazon.com.
You can read more about Fiona Taylor here.
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