“Proper Channels” Prove Worthless in Welsh Turnpike Grievance

The following advertisement appeared in the Cambrian. The authorities frequently responded to the Rebeccaite uprising by insisting that people upset about the abusive tollgates should have made their complaints through peaceful, proper channels. Here, some people decided to call that bluff and to see what would come of it:

Address

To the Commissioners of Roads in the Bridgend District, in the county of Glamorgan.

Gentlemen: We, the undersigned, being Parishioners of tbe Parish of Coychurch, and Llanillid, and the adjacent Parishes, thought it expedient to address your Worships, in respect of the Turnpike Gates within your said District, do humbly implore you for the removal of those obnoxious Gates, Toll-bars, and Chains, within the several Parishes of coity and Coychurch. There have been existing eastward, from the River Ogwy, to the upper end of Brynna Gwynon, fourteen Gates, Bars, and Chains, within the short distance of six miles. We most humbly complain or this grievance, and hope that the same will be early removed — every by-road is almost muzzled with a Trap Gate. The time is depressed, as your Worships must be aware of, yet the Tolls are exacted from Farmers for carrying their Lime in order to manure their Land; and also for Coal carrying by Farmers to make such manure; and one Farmer cannot help another without paying Turnpike Gate; also, we most humbly complain of a certain Wall that have been erected across one of our Parish Roads, in the lower end of the village of Coychurch; and further, one of the Turnpike Gates at Coychurch aforesaid having been erected on the Parish Road. We deprecate in the most solemn manner the conduct of Rebecca and her atrocious Satellites. Peace is our watch-word, and legal justice is our claim.

Dated .

David Thomas,
Jenkin Morgan,
David Griffiths, Rector of Llanillid,
Thomas Richards,
David Phillips,
William Morgan,
Morgan Morgan,
William Evans,
William Radcliff,
Henry Miles,
George Thomas,
David Thomas,
David Powell,
John Griffiths,
Daniel Morgan,
James Griffiths, sen.
John Morgan,
James Griffiths, jun.
Thomas Morgan,
Thos. Jenkins, Coedmustwrt,
William Thomas, Shelf,
Evan Bevan, Tyn-y-Pwnt,
Thomas Edwards,
Joseph Jenkins,
Catherine May,
Evan Watkins,
Thomas Griffiths,
John Lewis,
John Rees,
Edward Loveluck.

The Monmouthshire Merlin of notes that this petition was presented in person at the meeting of the Bridgend Turnpike Trustees by Rees Jenkins. Jenkins was joined by Jehosophat Powell, of Margam, who presented another petition:

There are a great many fields in the neighbourhood of Aberavon, and Taibach, let out to cottagers to set potatoes in; therefore, when the said cottagers draw their potatoes, they have no way whatever to bring them home, but go to the farmer and borrow a horse and cart to bring them. Then six or seven bags are put into the cart. Some are compelled to go through two gates, namely, Aberavon, east and west; and before they are allowed to pass, they are compelled to pay six-pence for each bag — each bag belonging to separate people. When they have occasion to pass through the other gate, they must pay there also, The same horse and cart passes five or six times a day but only loaded with different people’s potatoes, and is charged every time. The gate keeper is occasionally in the potatoe field watching and reckoning how many bags belong to each person. The above can be verified on oath.

An empty waggon going from Llanvihangel to Neath, in the morning, pays toll at Taibach. When it returns they are compelled to pay at Pyle gate — the two gates being within five miles of each other. Several farmers are served in the same manner. Upon another occasion, when the waggon was full, returning, the gatekeeper at the several places of Aberavon east west, and Taibach, stopped the horses and demanded toll; the toll of the said gate having been paid in the morning. This also can be verfied on oath.

There are other great grievances which the farmer, &c., labour under. The following are a few;–

When a farmer has a heavy loaded waggon going to market, he is stopped at the gate in order to have the waggon and its contents weighed in the weigh-machine. It the load is too heavy by only a few hundred weights, he must pay. A farmer cannot say how much weight he has in his waggon before it is weighed. There have been waggons carrying iron passing through the same gate every day and which are generally loaded about a ton more than they are allowed to carry but there is no notice taken of it.

This is also another grievance — the railing across the parish road, joining Pyle gate, (by whose authority it has been put there we know not,) to prevent parishioners going over it, and compelling them to go through the gate.

Again, if a poor take a donkey for a pannier of coals, which are not worth more than three-pence, he charge in tolls ts two-pence — although the place where he gets coal is not more than five hundred yards from his home.

The Trustees claimed to be shocked at this news:

The Chairman: If the statement is true, it is a most gross imposition. They cannot legally make a charge for each bag.

The Rev. Robert Knight: I have heard that three and six-pence was charged for one horse, drawing one cart, because the cart was lent to seven poor people, who took their potatoes out of the farmer’s field.

Mr. Powell handed some gate tickets to the chairman, which Mr. Powell said fully corroborated his statement, with regard to the amount of tolls charged at the gates which were enumerated in the statement.

The commissioners seemed quite astonished at the disclosures made by Mr. Powell in his statement, and for some time could scarcely believe it possible such wholesale imposition should ever have been committed in this county; but the accuracy of the statement in this particular was vouched for by several parties present of respectability.

After some conversation,

The Chairman said: Gentlemen, the question raised is this, as far as I can understand it — if six people join in loading one waggon, that waggon pays six times over for one passage through the gate. That is what I understand the statement to mean. If the same cart go again through the gate six times the same day, and is loaded with potatoes belonging to six different people, they must pay six times over, every time they pass!

A Farmer said it was the case.

The Chairman conceived the toll collector was acting most illegally, if his conduct had been fairly and truly represented. Those petitions having been presented containing — whether rightfully or wrongfully, he knew not — statements of alleged grievances, it was their duty as trustees, acting on behalf of the public, to take those matters up, and to give them their most patient attention. He would therefore propose, — That this meeting, at its rising, adjourn to , and that in the meantime a committee should be appointed to take all the several matters and things contained in the petitions into their caieful consideration, and report thereon fully to the adjourned meeting.

This suggestion was adopted and after some discussion, in which the people were advised to apply to the magistrates for redress, and to punish the toll keepers for imposition, the meeting separated.

What happened when the trustees took up the matter at the next meeting? They kicked the ball further down the road, with the expectation of taking yet another kick. Here are some excerpts from the Cambrian:

The Clerk having read the minutes of the last meeting, the Chairman observed, that the business for that day was to receive the report of the Committee appointed at their last monthly meeting, for the purpose of making an investigation into the allegations of the petitions presented at that meeting. He begged to tell them, that the report had been prepared and made ready for presentation on that day, but in consequence of additional information received in the course of , he thought it would be desirable that the Committee should again proceed with their labours, and at the next monthly meeting, on Saturday week, present their report, which should be taken into consideration at a meeting to be at that time appointed. It would be impossible, he said, to discuss the subject of the report at the same meeting at which it was presented, as it would be of considerable length, the Committee having considered it to be their duty to enter into various details connected with the accounts. — The Clerk observed, that it was competent for that meeting to adjourn to the day previous to the General Meeting. — The Chairman said, that it would be perfectly useless to meet on Friday, and take the report into consideration on the following Saturday. The Commissioners would not have sufficient time to peruse it. — After a few additional remarks, the Chairman read the following resolutions, which were unanimously agreed to:– “That the Committee do report at the next monthly meeting, and that 300 copies of the report be in the meantime printed under the orders of the Committee, and that it be taken into further consideration on a day to be apppointed at the next monthly meeting.”…

At the next meeting, on , according to the Cambrian:

It was expected that the report of the Committee appointed to investigate into the charges made against Mr. Bullin and his collectors, should be read, but a letter had been received from Dr. Nicholl, M.P., who was in London, informing the Trustees that the printer had been unable to complete the printing of the report, which was a very voluminous one.

One might begin to suspect they were in no hurry to make their report public. After all of the fuss about needing to have the report ready ahead of time so that the trustees could carefully consider it before proceeding, the committee instead adjourned and informally prejudged the report in absentia to have exonerated Bullin. The Cambrian listened in:

A conversation between several gentlemen of the Trust took place, after the meeting had been adjourned, and from the observations made by several gentlemen composing the Committee of Enquiry, we anticipate that the report will entirely exonerate Mr. Bullin from the charges made against him, which were contained in the petition eminating from the Kenfig meeting, as well as in other petitions presented to the Trustees. The Rev. Robt. Knight and Mr. Franklen unequivocally expressed their disbelif of the allegations contained in the petitions, and stated that, during their investigations, the Committee had not met with the slightest evidence to support the charge that any of Mr. Bullin’s collectors had extorted sixpence for each bag of potatoes, belonging to different owners, though there were seven or eight in a cart. Those parties, Mr. Franklen observed, who had assured himself and other Trustees that they could prove the truth of the charges in twenty instances, or in a hundred, if necessary, did not even attempt to substantiate one case. It was also observed, by the same Trustees, that the first allegation in the Kenfig petition, relating to the existence of twelve gates from Cowbridge to Aberavon, was a palpable falsehood, as Mr. Hopkins, the road-surveyor, in answer to various questions put to him by Mr. Franklen, assured the Trustees, that there were no more than seven gates between those two places. Mr. Wm. Lewis, on the other hand, was of opinion, that there had existed some grounds for making those charges against Mr. Bullin, though not to the extent alleged. — Mr. Bullin assured the Trustees, that there had never existed the least shadow of a ground for making such charges — that none of his collectors ever went into potatoe-fields, with the view of charging sixpence upon each potatoe-bag belonging to poor people. — Both the Rev. Robt. Knight and Mr. Franklen repeated apologised to Mr. Bullin for having, in the least degree, been instrumental in giving currency to such reports, and expressed their surprise that the respectable parties who had signed the petitions, should have made such charges without substantiating them. They also thought it very unfair towards Mr. Bullin, that these imputations on his character should remain so long uncontradicted.

But according to testimony given before the larger commission of enquiry investigating conditions in South Wales, things were not so clear-cut as this. According to Dr. Nicholl, he told Jehosophat Powell to respond to Bullin’s denial of wrongdoing and the magistrates’ decision to close the investigation by summoning before the magistrates the actual toll collectors under Bullin’s charge who had been extorting the extra potato-tolls and to get them to testify under oath in order to substantiate the charge. He probably thought this would be fruitless (and probably wondered why it hadn’t occurred to the trust’s alleged committee of enquiry to go and ask them itself) — as if the collectors testified that they had indeed taken excessive tolls, the trustees would dismiss them and put the blame on them — but Powell did provide a list of persons who were willing to testify that they had paid such fees.

Nicholl testified that he sent two solicitors to look into the allegations, who reported back “it appears, certainly, as far as he can make out, that there has been no such toll demanded or paid within the last six months, and consequently within the time limited in the Act of Parliament for bringing it before the magistrates, therefore we cannot submit it to investigation before the magistrates.” In other words, they allowed the clock to tick away the brief six-month statute of limitations to a time just about at the end of potato-harvesting season, and a time also when Rebecca was terrifying toll collectors into their best behavior.

Nicholl also largely dismissed the “fourteen gates between the River Ogwy and the upper end of Brynna Gwynon,” charge as an exaggeration, but in the course of doing so, noted that the committee had discovered several of these gates to have been illegally installed, “and we require in our report that every one of those posts, as well as the Tymerchant gate, shall be instantly removed as illegal.”

Still, all in all, a pretty successful whitewash. When the Trust’s report was finally released, the Cambrian noted its findings about the illegal gates, and reported on its responses to the petitions, none of which adds much to the digging-in-their-heels impression given already.