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The Picket Line — 21 July 2014

From a column titled “Merthyr Police. — .” in the Monmouthshire Merlin:

Rebeccaitism.

Edward Bagnall, carman, in the employ of the Rhymney Iron Company, was brought before the Bench at the instance of Mr. Superintendent Davies for giving false information to the toll collector at the turnpike gate called the Werfa gate, situate between Hirwain and Pontwally, of the approach of a number of armed men for the purpose of destroying the gate.

It appeared that the alarmist had stopped at the gate, and informed the collector that a large number of the daughters of Rebecca were galloping thither with terrific haste, to smash and level the house and ages. This news reached the ears of the vigilant police before it had spread far, and the lying varlet was taken into custody.

The prisoner informed the Bench that he told the collector “only for a lark.”

The Bench said such larks were very reprehensible; and giving the fellow a caution to leave off such practices, he was discharged.

A Merlin editorial, dated compared the Rebeccaite uprising to the Reform Act agitation . Excerpt:

…never was the country in a more open and general state of Agrarian insurrection than it is at present. Armed and disguised parties roam about the country at night, appearing and disappearing with the celerity of Arab robbers, or Spanish guerillas, harassing and wearing out soldiers, by keeping them constantly on the alert, levelling toll-bars and gates, with a stern end [sic] fixed determination, which betokens their settled plan, and everywhere meeting with the sympathy and hearty co-operation of the bulk of the Agricultural population.

That same issue also included this report:

Rebecca.

Mr. Edward Lloyd Williams, of Gwernant, near Newcastle Emlyn, having recently received a letter from Rebecca, ordering him, under serious injury to his property, to remit 25 per cent. of his approaching rents, has published a very spirited letter, refusing to comply with the unjust demand, and warning the deluded people of the penalty of transportation to which they made themselves liable by being connected with such lawless and unjustifiable proceedings.

The Picket Line — 20 July 2014

On a group of Rebeccaites met and passed a set of resolutions, which were obtained by the press and reprinted. From the Monmouthshire Merlin:

We much regret to learn that the war against the gates still progresses in Carmarthenshire, notwithstanding the utmost vigilance of the military under Colonel Love and the local authorities.

The following Resolutions have been adopted at some of the Rebeccaite Meetings.

To the conductors of the Convention appointed to be held at Cwm Ivor, in the parish of Llandi, in the county of Carmarthen, on .

To concur and inquire into the grievances complained of by the people, and to adopt the best method of avoiding the surprising deprivations that exist, and the eternal vigilance of our superintendents, which is the price of our liberty.

We wish to reduce the price (taxes) and secure our blessings. An army of principles will penetrate where an army of soldiers cannot.

Power usurped is weak when opposed. The public interest depends upon our compliance to examine the cause of the calamity, and unveil the corruptions to Rebecca, &c.

The following resolutions agreed, and intend to recommend to your future aspect by us whose names are here subscribed at foot, being householders within the above heretofore mentioned parish:–

  1. To levelling all petty gates and gate-posts connected with by-ways and bridle-roads or any roads repaired by the parishioners.
    Also that coals, lime, and grain, taken to market, be exempted from tolls.
  2. The motive is the abolition of heavy tithe and rent charge in lieu of tithe.
  3. The abolition of church-rates.
  4. A total alteration of the present poor-law.
  5. An equitable adjustment of landlord’s rent.
  6. Not to allow or grant any Englishman to have the privilege of a steward or governor in South Wales.
  7. If any man rents his neighbour’s farm treacherously, we must acquaint the lady, and endeavour to encourage her exertions wherever she wishes for us to execute our phenomena and combat.
  8. To request the farmers not to borrow any money on purpose to pay unlawful demands; and if the result be that some person or persons will annoy any one by plundering and sacrificing their goods in respect to such charge, we must protect them and diminish their exploits of agonism.

That a committee of privy council must be held when necessary, and all persons under the age of 18 years are not admitted into it. Neither women or any of the female sex shall be introduced into this selected assembly, except Rebecca and Miss Cromwell.

It was agreed that a committee should be formed, and that no farmer in the country should be allowed to take the farm which had been vacated by another, without the sanction of the committee, and that if any did so, he must take the consequences. Four persons have been appointed to make rules to carry out these objects, to be agreed to at a future meetings.

Following the newspaper coverage of Rebecca chronologically, as I have been, I was surprised at how casually the reporter used the sentence “The following Resolutions have been adopted at some of the Rebeccaite Meetings.” They have meetings? They pass resolutions? So far, the papers have been describing Rebecca and Her Daughters as a mob of ignorant country folk transformed into midnight raiders animated by simple grievances and inflamed by mob passion.

The Picket Line — 19 July 2014

The government finally got a break in the Rebecca investigations when an informer came forward to finger some of Rebecca’s daughters… but it may have been less of a breakthrough than it seemed. From the Monmouthshire Merlin:

On , a considerable force of the gate levellers marched to Bwlgoed toll house, near Pontardulais, about seven miles from Swansea, on the Carmarthen road, forced the keeper out without making his toilet, and placing an implement in his hand, compelled him, under certain threats of death, to aid in the work of demolition, and lest he should take the liberty of tracing any of the Guerillas home, they locked him in an adjoining stable, where he was shivering, en chemise, “till daylight did appear.”

Heretofore the seal of secresy has been upon the lips of all sympathisers with the Rebeccaites, and none were found to give a trace to the homes of the termagant, or any of her myrmidons. On night, however, according to public report, a person named John Jones, or Lletty Fulbert, not having the love or fear of “Becca” before his eyes, but being moved and instigated by John Barleycorn, or the genius of cwrw dha, met a policeman at a beerhouse, and there showed symptoms that he would a tale unfold of the wicked lady’s visits to the glimpses of the moon.

Jones was whisked off to a safe place (and, so “the wicked Rebeccaites insinuated, his public spirit was kept effervescent”) and interrogated, whereafter warrants were issued against William, Henry, and Matthew Morgan, and David Jones, and the constable set out with three others to make arrests. All but Henry were arrested without much incident, but when they attempted to arrest Henry at home, his family attacked the officers and one of the family was badly wounded.

Later, Griffith Vaughan and Daniel Lewis were also arrested and charged with involvement in the Bwlgoed attack.

As news spread, huge crowds assembled, and attempted to get admission to the hearings, which were then closed to the public. Meanwhile, Jones’s wife was heard saying that her husband had gone a bit around the bend, had not been a witness to the gate destruction, and had fingered the Morgan family in order to satisfy a personal grievance and to collect the government’s reward.

The Picket Line — 18 July 2014

A century before Rebecca and her daughters were engaging in their cross-dressing, toll-booth-destroying sprees in Wales, a group of “Jack-a-Lents” were doing much the same thing in England. I’ve so far found less trace of their antics in on-line archives, but I’ll share some of what I found today.

The London Gazette published a Royal Proclamation dated in which the King complained…

…that ſeveral ill deſigning and diſorderly Perſons, have of late, in a tumultuous and riotous Manner, aſſembled themſelves, both by Day and Night, in our Counties of Glouceſter and Hereford, and have cut down and deſtroyed ſeveral of the Turnpikes for repairing the Highways in the ſaid Counties, erected by Authority of Parliament, and have pulled down the Dwelling Houſe of one of the Turnpike-Keepers, and have made publick and open Declaration, that they would proceed to pull down ſeveral other Turnpikes; and that if any of the Commiſſioners ſhould attempt to ſet up the Turnpikes again, they would pull down their Houſes, and would cut down the Turnpikes as often as they ſhould be ſet up.

The King went on to call these acts “High Treaſon,” to threaten future offenders with seven years of exile, and to offer amnesty and a £50 reward to anyone who gave information leading to conviction of any of the rebels.

That apparently wasn’t good enough, as another Royal Proclamation followed, this one dated , similarly complaining…

…that ſeveral ill deſigning and diſorderly Perſons, having their Faces blacked, and being diſguiſed, and being armed with Fire Arms, and other offenſive Weapons, did, upon , aſſemble themſelves together in a riotous and tumultuous Manner at Ledbury, in our County of Hereford, and cut down and deſtroyed ſeveral of the Turnpikes for repairing the Highways erected by Authority of Parliament, in or near the ſaid Town of Ledbury, and made Publick and open Declaration, that they would not ſuffer any Turnpikes to be erected in or near the ſaid Town of Ledbury, and that if any of the Commiſſioners ſhould attempt to ſet up the Turnpikes again, they would pull down their Houſes, and would cut down the Turnpikes, as often as they ſhould be ſet up: And [furthermore] great Numbers of the ſaid Rioters and diſorderly Perſons did afterwards, on , make an attack upon the Houſe of John Skipp, Eſquire, one of our Juſtices of the Peace for our ſaid County of Hereford, who had ſecured in his Houſe two of the ſaid Rioters taken in the Fact and diſguiſed, in order to bring them to Juſtice, and threatned to pull down or fire his Houſe, if the ſaid two Rioters were not immediately delivered up to them: And [furthermore] ſeveral Guns were fired by the ſaid Rioters againſt the Perſons defending the ſaid Houſe, and in the ſaid Attack ſeveral Perſons were wounded on both Sides, and one of the Rioters was actually killed: And [furthermore] the Perſons concerned in the ſaid Riots, and ſeveral others of their Abettors, have at ſeveral times ſince aſſembled themſelves together in a riotous and diſorderly Manner in our ſaid County of Hereford, and have threatned to burn and deſtroy the Houſes, and to take away the Lives of the ſaid Mr. Skipp, and ſuch others of our Juſtices of the Peace, as ſhould dare to put the Laws in Execution againſt them; and that upon great Numbers of the ſaid Rioters made an attack upon Thomas Ireland, the Keeper of the County Gaol of Hereford, treated him in a very barbarous Manner, and compelled him by blows and threats, in order to ſave his Life, to ſign a Diſcharge to the Turnkey of the ſaid Counly Goal, to ſet the two Rioters at Liberty, who were ſo taken into Cuſtody as aforesaid, and afterwards robbed him of his Money…

The King then reminded everyone that this sort of thing was “High Treaſon,” and threatened yet more serious consequences: saying that if groups of Jack-a-Lents did not disperse after being read the riot act, or that if anyone were to be caught armed and in disguise, or if anyone is convicted of dismantling toll gates or trying to rescue prisoners being held for such offenses, they “shall be adjudged Felony without Benefit of the Clergy; and the Offenders ſhall ſuffer Death without Benefit of Clergy.” The King also boosted the reward to £100 and listed off a number of the “notorious offenders” the authorities were hunting for:

William Bithell, of Ledbury, Labourer, Elizabeth Walters, Servant to William Jones of the Noverings, in the Pariſh of Bosbury, in the ſaid County of Hereford, Richard Price of Ledbury aforeſaid, Carpenter, Thomas Bunting, late Servant to William Smith of Aſh, near Roſs, Thomas Arnold and William Carrier, two other Servants, who are ſaid to have lived with William Smith of Wilton, near Roſs, –– Jones, a Servant of Mrs. Abrahall of Ingeſton, John Powell, a Husbandman, who uſed to work for the late Mrs. Vaughan of Bayſham in King’s Caple, Thomas Phillips, a Welchman, ſaid to be a Bailiff in Husbandry to Thomas Symonds, Eſq; and Thomas Wellings, ſupposed to be a Bargeman…

The similarity between acts like these and the later Rebecca Riots seems not to have been often noted at the time of the latter, but I do have one example. This is a letter to the editor in the Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian from “A Farmer” published in its issue (about five years after the Rebecca Riots had died down):

Sir, — Turnpike-gate riots, almost in every respect similar to the Rebecca riots, took place in Bristol and its vicinity in . Colliers from Kingswood, country people from Gloucestershire and Somersetshire, assembled, “many naked with their faces blacked,” and destroyed the gates at Bedminster, Ashton, Don John’s Cross, Dundry, Backwell, Nailsea, Redcliffe, Totterdown, Teasford and Bath Roads, Hanham, Kingswood, Stoke’s Croft, &c., &c. They called themselves “Jack-a-Lents,” and had the letters J.L. on their hats and caps. They destroyed some houses, and were only stopped by the arrival of six troops of Dragoon Guards, when the principal ringleaders — Derrick, Cox, Robert Price, Walter Fitzharding, Pierce Robins, and others, were apprehended, and set off in postchaises with armed escorts to Ilchester gaol.*

From my old files.


* A letter was drawn up by the citizens of Bristol to the Duke of Newcastle, Secretary of State, requesting his Grace to order the sppedy trials of the several prisoners in the several gaols of the city for the same offence.

So apparently similar actions were going on as early as and as late as .

Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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The Picket Line — 16 July 2014

In this episode of the chronicle of the Rebecca Riots, the government decides it’s time to break out the artillery. From the Monmouthshire Merlin:

Rebecca and Her Daughters.

In consequence of the continued unsettled state of South Wales, owing to the determination of parties known by the designation of Rebecca and her daughters to destroy property, and especially turnpike gates, orders were received at an early hour on , at Woolwich, to have in readiness a six-pounder field gun and a twelve-pounder howitzer [a very similar report in the Cambrian says “four 6-pounder field guns and two 12-pounder howitzers”], which were selected from the field train department, and at , they left Woolwich with the usual number of men of the Royal Artillery, required for their service in the field, under the command of Capt. Taylor, with Lieut. Wodehouse. The orders were to proceed to Bristol by the Great Western Railway, and from Bristol to Carmarthen with the least possible delay, in case their presence might be required to put a stop to the rioting and destruction of property in that quarter.

[The Cambrian adds: “The guns passed through the Bath Station on … Two hundred of the 75th arrived in Swansea last night, by the Bristol steamer. How long they are to remain with us we have not heard. Billets have been taken for three days only.”]

The following list of gates destroyed appears in the Welshman:–

The gates destroyed since our last publication, as well as we can ascertain, are the following:– The Fontnewydd Gate and toll house (to which the dragoons were called out, and, after scouring the country for about fourteen miles, returned without even having seen a suspicious character); the New Inn Gate, near Llandilo; the Gwarallt Gate, near Lampeter, and a toll-bar near it, on ; two gates near Cardigan; the Pont-twely Gate, between Rhydfach and Llandyssil, on ; the Pumpsaint Gate, near Dolecothy, on ; and the Bronfeldn Gate, five miles from Llandovery, on the road leading to Llanwrtyd, on . The magistrates have caused several persons to be apprehended on suspicion of destroying this gate, and are busily employed in investigating the affair. Such was the difficulty of obtaining a person to receive the tolls at the Bronfelen Gate, that fourpence was allowed to the collector for every shilling he received. The following is a list of the gates, toll-houses, and toll-bars that have been destroyed in the Three Commott’s District:– New-bridge gate, bar, and toll-house; Troedyrhiwgoch gate, Llanfihangel house and three gates, Castell-y-thingil gate and house (twice), Llandey Forest bar and toll-box, Ystillisycoed bar, Treventy bars and house, Trefuch bar and house, Wernbongam bar, Kidwelly gate and house (twice), Llanarthney bar, Nantygath bar, Penrhiwgoch bar, Masybont bar and house. It is a rather singular fact, that not a single turnpike gate has been destroyed on a Sunday.

The Welshman contains the following:–

The Rebecca trials excite very great interest. The businesses of our assizes, which commence to-morrow, will be unusually heavy. There are nearly seventy persons on bail charged with having been concerned in the late riots. Besides these, there are six in the borough gaol charged with rioting at Tallog. There are also four prisoners in the county gaol for divers offences. It is not the fact, as has been stated by some of our contemporaries, that Sir William Follett is to conduct the prosecutions against the Rebeccaites, at the ensuing Carmarthenshire Assizes. Messrs. Chilton, Q.C., John Evans, Q.C., and E.V. Williams, have been specially engaged for the Crown. The government will pay all the expenses of prosecuting the prisoners, who are to be tried for participating in the workhouse affair, and also those who are imprisoned for the Tallog riot. One-half only of the expense in every criminal prosecution has always hitherto been paid by the government.

The Picket Line — 15 July 2014

The Rebeccaites in Wales seemed to have inspired some copycats in Ireland (from the Monmouthshire Merlin):

Rebecca in Ireland.

 The Cork Examiner of contains the following curious announcement:– “ the followers of Rebecca in this country disturbed the quiet of the little town of Buttevant, by demolishing a branch gate, erected one week since on a bye-road immediately leading to the town. Since the erection of the gate considerable dissatisfaction was evinced by the farmers who go to market by that road; the consequence was an immediate rise in the price of provisions, to the great detriment of the poor, who were obliged to pay 4d. and 5d. per weight for potatoes, instead of half that price, which was only demanded before. We sincerely hope that anything resembling the Rebecca riots in Wales will not extend to this country.”

The Picket Line — 14 July 2014

The Cambrian tells of the destruction of the Porthyrhyd, Pompren, Pumfold, and Pontyberem gates, the Kidwelly, Llanddarog, Rhydypandy, and Minke toll-houses, and the Bolgoed bar, as the Rebecca movement continues to grow:

Rebecca Again.

On , the above Lady and her faithful and obedient children, paid a visit to the Porthyrhyd gate, which they destroyed in a very short time. The number of persons employed in the destruction of the gate, has been represented as consisting of “several hundreds;” but we are credibly informed, by a person who viewed the whole operation from the window of a house in the immediate neighbourhood, that the number present did not exceed from fifteen to twenty. There were about half the number on horse, and the others on foot. They had their faces blackened, and were dressed in white, or rather what at one time had been white, but having seen so much service, they were then nearly the opposite colour. There might have been a greater number in readiness, in case of emergency, but the actual number at Porthyrhyd gate did not exceed twenty persons. — Llanddarog toll-house was destroyed on , rogether with Minke toll-house. The party compelled three constables, who had been sent there for the protection of the latter toll-house (the gate having been previously destroyed), to assist them. — Pontyberem gate was destroyed on . The pillars of this gate were manufactured of cast-iron. — On , Pompren gate, situated near Llandilo, on the road leading to Llangadock, was entirely destroyed, and cut up to pieces fit only for firewood. Guns were fired, and the usual signals announced their approach, as on all other occasions. — On , Kidwelly toll-house was levelled to the ground, the gate having been previously removed. Our reporter passed through this gate on , when the house was complete, but in returning on , the only intimation that there was “something to pay,” was the toll-collector, standing on the road-side, who state, “that by compulsion” he did business on the voluntary principle, as some paid him their tolls, and others passed without paying. — On , about fifty of Rebecca’s daughters destroyed the Bolgoed bar, which had lately been re-erected, after having been destroyed a short time since. They compelled the toll-collector at Pontardulais gate to go with them and assist them, having nothing about him but a coat, which he usually wore in receiving tolls at night. After having dispensed with his services, they chained him in a stable attached to a public-house in the neighbourhood, called the “Farmers Arms.” The party were all dressed in women’s clothes, and were otherwise disguised.

Rebecca in Glamorganshire.

We have on several occasions recorded the feats of the above now notorious lady in the three Western counties, viz.:– Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire, and Cardiganshire, but we believe the following is the but second instance in which she has “taken possession of the gates of those who hate her” in our own county, though some of the London and many of the English provincial papers have not hesitated to represent Glamorganshire as being in so bad a state as the three counties already named. The feat to which we allude was performed at the Pumfold gate, near the Three Crosses, Gower, on or rather , when a number of persons (some say about sixty, and others represent them as being many more) who had their faces blackened, and were otherwise disguised, amidst the firing of guns, entirely destroyed the gate, posts, and all the “appurtenances thereto pertaining,” excepting the toll-house, which they had ascertained belonged — not to the Trust, which are characterised as “those who hate her,” but to Mr. Eaton, a farmer, residing near the place. The party also destroyed a chain which was placed across a by-road, and intended as a kind of protection to the gate. A portion of wall along the road-side was pulled down. They sent the toll-collector to the house, and threatened to shoot him if he had the presumption to peep out either through the door or window. Mr. Eaton, the owner of the toll-house approached them, but he was soon compelled to retreat having been assailed by a volley of stones, pieces of the gate, &c. It is reported that they had contemplated the destruction of another gate in the neighbourhood, but as dawn was approaching they abandoned their design. — As we were going to press, we learnt that the Rhydypandy gate and toll-house, two miles distant from Morriston, on the road to Clydach, were entirely destroyed .

Mr. Potter, the Mayor of Haverfordwest, received a letter from Rebecca, on , saying that she intended paying him a visit ; but this was no doubt a hoax, as her ladyship did not make an appearance.

The Picket Line — 12 July 2014

From the Monmouthshire Merlin:

Rebecca.

Mr. Bullen, of the firm of Hodges, Bullen, and Co., the extensive toll contractors, has received a letter from this Amazon, informing him that she and her very amiable family, will visit the Witch-tree Bridge gate, situate near Morristown, some miles this side of Swansea, for the purpose of destroying that gate. Mr. Bullen has repaired thither, to put the toll-house in a state of defence.

On a troop of the 4th Light Dragoons marched into town, and remained till , when they proceeded on their route to Llandilo, in Carmarthenshire, where they will be stationed to assist in checking the turbulence of Rebecca’s family.

The Picket Line — 10 July 2014


From the Monmouthshire Merlin:

 I have just heard that Rebecca and family mustered about two hundred in the neighbourhood of Llanbyther and New Inn , and destroyed Penrallt gate, not far from the latter place, and also another bar. This renowned lady was, on this occasion, dressed gaily in female attire and sported a parasol. When the work of demolition was complete, the party dispersed over the hills and were soon lost sight of.