The Rebecca Riots

Now for something from my neck of the woods, living in Pembrokeshire. The Rebecca Riots were a series of protests that took place between 1839 and 1843, throughout the rural west Wales, including Cardiganshire, Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire.

The protesters were mainly simple farming folk who had been angered, in general by unjust taxes, and more specifically by the high tolls being charged to transport goods and livestock along the roads and bye ways of the region.

In the early 19th century many of the main roads in Wales were owned and operated by Turnpike Trusts. These trusts were supposed to maintain and even improve the condition of the roads and bridges through charging tolls to use them. In reality however, many of these trusts were operated by English businessmen whose main interest was in making as much money as they could from the locals. Very few would spend any money of the roads for improvements.

The farming community had suffered badly through poor harvests in the years preceding the protests and tolls were one of the biggest expense a local farmer faced. The charges levied to do even the simplest of things, such as taking animals and crops to market and bringing fertilisers back for the fields, threatened their livelihood and very existence.

The people finally decided enough was enough and took the law into their own hands; gangs were formed to destroy the tollgates. Usually at night, men dressed as women with blackened faces attacked the hated tollgates and destroyed them. A huge man, named Thomas Rees was the first ‘Rebecca’ and he destroyed the tollgates at Yr Efail Wen in Carmarthenshire.

The rioting was at its worst in 1843, with many major tollgates being destroyed included those at Carmarthen, Llanelli, Pontardulais, and at the small village of Hendy near Swansea, a young woman named Sarah Williams, the tollhouse keeper was killed.

By late 1843, the riots had all but stopped as the government increased troop numbers to the area, and in 1844 laws were passed to control the powers of the turnpike trusts. In addition, many of the protesters had recognised that the associated violence was getting out of control.

Ben Davidson

Hello, I have been studying all aspects of history for about 25 years. I have a BA History from the University of Bedfordshire. My historical areas of interest are anything really, but I specialise in 19th - 20th century Britain, America and Ireland. I am also strongly aligned with most military history, really enjoying WW2 and the US Civil War. Chuck in the king or queen and Bob's your uncle.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *