South-west Wales was reeling within the wake of social unrest in November 1843. There had been a collection of protests over a number of years by farmers livid at taxation ranges, primarily attacking tollgates. Often, the lads concerned dressed as girls and have been due to this fact identified in Welsh as Merched Beca (Rebecca’s daughters). The occasions that unfolded got here to be referred to as the Rebecca riots in English.
There has been hypothesis that the identify “Rebecca” stemmed from a literal interpretation of Genesis 24:60 within the Bible, which refers to Rebekah’s offspring possessing the gates of their enemies. But the reality is, no person actually is aware of why the identify was chosen.
Tollgates had been launched in Britain from the late seventeenth century as a method of elevating income to keep up public roads. They have been regulated and maintained by the Turnpike Trusts, particular person our bodies arrange by parliament.
Tolls had lengthy been thought to be a burden by the individuals. But complaints to magistrates about their unfair regulation have been largely ignored. The tollgates due to this fact turned thought to be symbols of oppression to be demolished by the Rebeccaites, with unrest largely concentrated throughout Carmarthenshire, Cardiganshire and Pembrokeshire.
The first recorded look of Rebecca was on May 13 1839, when a tollgate at Efailwen in Pembrokeshire was demolished. Rebecca emerged once more in the course of the winter of 1842, with protests intensifying all through the summer season of 1843.
The assaults focused tollgates and personal property, whereas toll-keepers and authority figures have been additionally intimidated. These included the native gentry, who upheld regulation and order domestically as magistrates and oversaw the administration of the tolls as members of the Turnpike Trusts.
Those who protested have been predominantly younger males who have been tenant farmers, farm servants and agricultural labourers. But different protesters included non-agricultural labourers from industrialised areas of Carmarthenshire and neighbouring Glamorgan.
A placing factor of the protest was the adoption of ladies’s clothes to hide the identities of these concerned. This was theatrically woven into the ritual of protest as “Rebecca”, the identify given to the chief of the assorted protests, known as on her kids to tear down any gate that blocked their manner.
However, the Rebecca riots have been greater than only a protest motion in opposition to the tolls. They have been additionally a response to the socio-economic local weather, to agricultural melancholy, failing harvests, rising ranges of lease and the load of assorted taxes. All these elements collectively positioned substantial stress on rural communities.
There was additionally widespread criticism of the administration of the brand new Poor Law, launched in 1834, which ensured that poor individuals have been housed in workhouses, the place households have been separated, subjected to exhausting work and harsh dwelling circumstances.
On June 19 1843, a procession out there city of Carmarthen led to the storming of the workhouse. This signalled a turning level that noticed the protests intensify, with assaults on non-public property along with tollgates.
There have been reviews of bodily violence and use of firearms too, with one recorded loss of life, that of Sarah Williams, the 75-year-old keeper of the Hendy tollgate in Carmarthenshire. Someone shot her whereas she tried to rescue her belongings from the burning tollhouse on September 9 1843.
Following the Carmarthen workhouse assault, The Times newspaper despatched Thomas Campbell Foster to report on “The State of South Wales”. His reviews disseminated information of Rebecca and her daughters throughout Britain.
Even Queen Victoria was involved by the occasions. She wrote in her journal how she strongly suggested the house secretary, Sir James Graham, to apprehend and punish the Rebeccaites. She feared occasions in Wales would spur on the motion in Ireland to repeal the legal guidelines which tied Ireland to Great Britain.
Into the autumn and winter months of 1843, Rebecca and her daughters appeared much less often. Although a Carmarthenshire land agent, Thomas Herbert Cooke, wrote in late November how “an incendiary fireplace nonetheless happens at times to let individuals know that Rebecca remains to be alive, and typically awakes from her slumbers”.
During this time, a authorities inquiry was performed into the causes of the riots, reporting its findings within the spring of 1844. Although the tollgates survived, the findings of the inquiry led to higher regulation of the Turnpike Trusts in Wales. New county police forces have been additionally established within the wake of the riots.
In whole, round 250 tollhouses and gatehouses have been destroyed by Rebecca. In the aftermath, these captured and accused have been punished by transportation to the penal colonies in Tasmania. Those resembling John Hughes, referred to as Jac Tŷ Isha, have been by no means to return to their native Wales. Others took on an virtually legendary identification amongst native individuals, resembling Thomas Rees, or Twm Carnabwth, remembered because the chief of the primary Rebecca assault at Efailwen.
However, Rebecca didn’t disappear completely, and cases of protest and threatening letters despatched in her identify seem later in different elements of Wales. During the 1870s, Rebecca and her daughters appeared in protests regarding salmon poaching on the river Wye in mid Wales, described because the “second Rebecca Riots”.
In the twentieth century, the idea of Rebecca was invoked as soon as extra. In 1956, Welsh language newspaper, Y Seren, inferred that “the spirit of Beca” was as soon as once more wanted to marketing campaign in opposition to the flooding of Cwm Tryweryn in Gwynedd to create a reservoir to supply ingesting water for Liverpool.
And Rebecca continues to resonate in Wales to this present day, inspiring re-enactments and neighborhood engagement – it exhibits that the combat for justice and the custom of protest continues to play a robust half in Welsh society.
Lowri Ann Rees doesn’t work for, seek the advice of, personal shares in or obtain funding from any firm or organisation that might profit from this text, and has disclosed no related affiliations past their educational appointment.