Three More Tollgates Fall in Rebecca Riots

Yesterday it was the toll gates at Bolgoed, Pumpsaint, Bronvelin, Twely-bridge, and Gwarallt. Today we can add Llandilo-Rwnws, Mansel’s Arms, and Llanvihangel. The gates are falling rapidly as the Rebecciate uprising spreads. From the Monmouthshire Merlin:

Rebecca and Her Daughters.

Destruction of Llandilo-Rwnws, Mansel’s Arms, and Llanvihangel Gates

 On , a mob of these lawless depredators assembled together, mustering about one hundred strong in the neighbourhood of Nantgarredig, about five miles from this town. They were on this occasion all disguised, and had their faces blackened, and wore something designed to imitate a turban. They were all dressed in smock frocks and carried with them various implements of destruction. Their first outrage commenced at Llandilo-Rwnws gate, which is attached to a bridge, called New Bridge, over the river Towy. This bridge was erected by the father of the late John Jones, Esq. M.P., of Ystrad, for the convenience of the neighbourhood, and is private property. At the time of their approach to the bridge, two gentlemen from Carmarthen were fishing in the Towey on the meadow contiguous to the bridge, and they were at once directed to leave the place at the peril of their lives. The appearance of the mob was so alarming, and their threats being expressed in language both determined and violent, the two anglers, conceiving no doubt that discretion was the better part of valour, immediately coiled up their lines and departed under more than ordinary apprehension as to the result of the day’s proceedings. At the same time, a respectable young man, a farmer of the name of Nicholls, happening to be on the spot, was placed under examination and charged with having on some former occasion volunteered to become a special constable, with a view to aid in quelling the riots and depredations committed by this lawless tribe. He, however, did not escape so well as the gentlemen of the rod and fly, but had to endure the operation of a very severe horse-whipping, after which he was allowed to depart. A man of the name of Lloyd, from Carmarthen, attempted to escape, but they pursued him and he shared the same fate. The course being clear, Mr. Lewis, the lessee of the tolls was the next object of attack. On , Mr. Lewis had summoned a number of persons for refusing to pay toll in passing the gate in question, and this strongly excited their wrath. Lewis was brought out from the toll-house, and unfortunately having his horsewhip in hand, he was at once overpowered, the whip in question taken from him, and most severely and violently beaten. Rebecca was not, however, content with this, but on his bended knees, she compelled him three successive times to swear by all that was sacred that he would never again have connection with the tolls or the turnpike gates requiring the payment of toll. Then came the scene of destruction, pickaxes, hatchets, crowbars, and saws were set in operation, and the gate entirely demolished. It is currently reported that Mr. Lewis resigned his lesseeship into the hands of the trustees on . An express was with difficulty sent down to Carmarthen, and about six o’clock the Dragoons were mounted and went off at a very rapid pace through Abergwilly to the scene of Rebecca’s movements. Passing under Merlin’s hill, which commands an extensive view of the vale of Towey, a shot was fired, which, it is supposed, was the signal of the approach of the soldiers, and for the dispersion of the mob, for on the arrival of the military, and although an active pursuit was made by them to trace their retreat, nothing was discovered beyond the destruction that had taken place. After the lapse of some hours, the dragoons made their way back to Carmarthen; but it is supposed there must have been spies placed in all directions, and this conjecture is by no means implorable, because nothing daunted they proceeded again to pursue their course of lawlessness, and destroyed the Mansel’s Arms bar and toll house, the latter being a very strong building, and Llanvihangel gate, and part of the toll house, which is situate on the mail road to Llandilo immediately under Golden Grove, the seat of Earl Cawdor. The statements of several eye-witnesses are really of a very alarming nature, and the violent conduct as well as the threatening language of the Rebeccaites seemed to indicate their intention of carrying out their threats, though it be at the sacrifice of life. How long this deplorable state of things is likely to last we can hardly guess. The magistrates and military are using every effort in their power to bring the parties to justice, and it is to be hoped that that period is not now far distant.

The Merlin had published an editorial, dated , which tried to draw politically-useful conclusions from the Rebeccaite uprising: blaming the conservative government and the lassez-faire economists. Here are some excerpts:

…Welsh Rebeccaism is, in truth, nothing else than the symptoms of the same deeply-rooted distress, leading to disaffection which now extends itself over Ireland and Scotland in various guises and names. The government of the landlords, direct or indirect, has led, in its consequences, to this fact, that a civil war, not the less violent and actual because it does not appear prominently, or break out into open revolt, is now going on between the different classes of society…

We are led to make these remarks by the sneering or sarcastic tone in which certain organs of the press speak of the grievances of the poor Welsh farmers, and the remedies which they fondly hoped would cure them. At bottom, there is nothing in the demands of these simple people, which is not entitled to our grave and compassionate consideration.

For what is it they assert? They assert in so many words, that what with the exactions of the State, and the local taxation, the tithes, the poor-rates, and the tolls; the hardship of demanding from them during a period of great depression in the price of agricultural produce, the same rents which they paid before the tariff, they find it utterly impossible to live.

They assert that what with the distress and impoverishment of their only customers consequent upon the ruin of the iron and coal-miners, they are reduced to the verge of despair, and that to such a state of wretchedness and heartlessness have many of them been reduced, that they are ready to join the standard of Rebecca, or any other leader that promises alleviation, if not revenge. Yet that recognising what is “fair and reasonable” in the rights of their landlords they are willing to pay or endeavour to pay such a rent as impartial appraisers may adjudge due for their holdings.

Political economy, backed by Sir R. Peel, at once cries impossible! The rights of property forbid it, and all road trustees and vested interests exclaim that they cannot lower their rate of interest or dividend from five per cent. to three per cent. or indeed at all. And so the matter remains for the judgment of our midnight legislators, who with saw and axe made short work of it, despire the soldiery; and an almost universal feeling of sympathy pervades the country, so that no man will give evidence against his neighbour.

I’m a little skeptical of the editor’s authority to speak for Rebecca here. It sounds a bit like he’s using the occasion to beat a familiar drum. But this does give some idea of some of the economic stresses in the area at the time.

For a view much less sympathetic to Rebecca, there is the editorial in The Cambrian from . It chides the local authorities for their timidity in either repressing the movement or in calling in the military once they found they were unable to do so. Even so, it does grant Rebecca some concessions. Excerpt:

The origin of all this turbulence, was the resistance to the payment of turnpike tolls. The farmers complained of the expense of paying these tolls, and certainly, when it is recollected that, in the neighbourhood of Carmarthen, there are eleven toll-bars on nineteen miles of road, besides additional bars on by-roads, it must strike any one that they had good reason for their complaints. They also suspected that the proceeds arising from the tolls were not fairly expended on the roads.