On , the Pembrokeshire Lent Assizes heard a criminal case of Rebeccaite tollgate destruction:
Thomas Howell and David Howell, were charged (together with other persons to the jurors unknown), with having, on , at the parish of Lampeter Velfrey, in the county of Penbroke, unlawfully, riotously, and tumultuously assembled together, did then and there unlawfully, and with force, demolish and pull down the dwelling-house of one William Rees, there situate. They were further charged with demolishing and pulling down the office of the said William Rees, and in other counts, with beginning to demolish, &c.
Mr. Chilton [Counsel for the Crown] addressed the Jury as follows:— The prisoners at the bar were charged with riotously and tumultuously assembling, with other persons, and unlawfully demolishing the dwelling-house of William Rees. The question you will have to try is, whether the two prisoners, or either of them, were acting in the outrage which took place at Trevaughan, on . It will surprise you, that persons in their station in life should be so engaged. It is my duty to advert to that of which you are not ignorant, namely, that there has prevailed in this and the adjoining county, what I may term a war of extermination against the toll-gates on the roads. I regret the circumstance most unfeignedly, and I am sure my learned friend will join with me in the wish, that the result of this trial may have the effect of explaining to the misguided people, that they are in the wrong. Roads in this country are almost necessaries of life, and they cannot be kept in repair, unless funds are raised for the purpose. Lawless men may just as well invade your farms, because you cannot give away the produce of them, as that people should destroy toll-gates because the keepers of them exact the tolls which are lawfully demanded for passing over the roads. The evidence by which I shall call upon you to come to the conclusion that the prisonders did take a part in the outrage is the following:— Wm. Rees will tell you, that he is the keeper of the Trevaughan gates; he has been tenant of the tolls for one or two years; he will tell you that within a short time the gates have been three times taken away by mobs. This so much alarmed him, that he became afraid to sleep in the toll-house. He used to go about ten o’clock in the evening to sleep in the house of Rees Isaacs, a little distance off, and subsequently he slept in the house of David Thomas. He will tell you that, on the night of , he had not been long at Thomas’s house, before Rees Isaacs came to inform him that “Rebecca was at the gates.” He immediately ran towards the gates, and went into a garden belonging to the cottage of Keturah Howell, about 100 yards from them. This place commanded a full view of the toll-house and gates, but it was not near enough to enable him to distinguish the features of any of the parties engaged in the work of destruction. He reckoned from 16 to 20 persons there, and heard the discharge of fire arms. He saw them employed in carrying pieces of wood, the fragments of the toll house and gates, across a field near the toll-house, towards the river Taff, for the purpose of throwing them into the river. After the house had been pulled down, the mob ran across this field as if alarmed, and dispersed. Rees then went towards the toll-house, and in ten minutes after he saw the prisoner, Thomas Howell, coming on, in company with two other persons whom he did not know, across the field I have spoken of, in a direction from the river. Thomas Howells then addressed him as follows:— “It is hard on you to lose your house, you had better come with me to get a damper.” After that Thomas Howells went on in the direction of the bridge, which would lead him to Whitland. The next witness I will call before you is Lewis Griffiths; he will tell you that , he went to bed at the Goldon Lion, in Whitland. There were two persons sleeping with him. Some time afterwards he was awakened by a voice calling out, “Rebecca is come.” Thomas Howell, one of the prisoners, was at the bedside, and gave him some beer. Howell then left the room, and Griffiths hastily dressed himself, and went out after him; he overtook Howell and David Thomas, the son of the landlord of the Golden Lion, who were going towards the toll-house. When they got to Trevaughan bridge, he saw remnants of the gates being carried to the river, and he saw the mob busily engaged in pulling down the house. At this time, a man approached them with a gun, and snapped the cap on it. Thomas Howell then cried out “Hurrah, Rebecca.” The man took off his hat, asked for money, and Thomas Howell took some out of his pocket, and put it into the hat. The man then went off, and Howell, Griffiths, and Thomas followed him towards the gates; when they got there, the mob were at work pulling the house down. Griffiths will tell you that David Howell, the other prisoner, was on the pine end of the house, at work with a hatchet, which he once dropped, and Lewis Griffiths picked it up, and gave it back to him. The man who had the gun then came up, and said to Thomas Howells, “you must take this while I work;” and Howell with the gun kept back the people, who were pushing towards the house. Shortly after, Howell returned the gun to the man, and took up a shovel, with which he began to pull down the house. After a short time, a cry was heard, “they are coming,” when the mob all ran towards the river. They then returned, and called at Benjamin Watt’s house, where they had some beer; after which, Lewis Griffiths returned to the Golden Lion, and went to bed. These gentlemen are the facts against the prisoners, in addition to which I shall call before you the Rev. John Evans, who committed the prisoners on this charge, who will tell you that, when he asked the prisoner, Thomas Howell, if he had anything to say, he answered, that he was not at the Golden Lion at all on the night in question, and he called a man named Walter John to prove this; but when John was examined, he was obliged to admit that both he and Thomas Howell had been at the Golden Lion that night, and that he left Howell there. Gentlemen, I humbly submit, that if I am able to bring these proofs before you, it will be your painful duty to find the prisoners guilty; if you have any doubt on the subject, of course you will, under the direction of his Lordship, give the prisoners or either of them the benefit of that doubt.
William Rees examined by Mr. N. Carne:— I live at Trevaughan, in the parish of Lampeter-Velfrey, in this county. I am the tenant of the Trevaughan toll gates. I occupied the toll-house up to the time of its destruction. The house is situated between the two gates. I rent the tolls under the Trustees of the Whitland Trust. There was an attack on the house and gates on The gates have been destroyed three times. I slept in the house till , and not after. , the house was repaired. I was there in the evening of , and left about . The reason why I did not sleep there was, because the windows were not glazed. I went to David Thomas’s house to sleep on ; his house is about 300 yards from the gates. I went to bed about , and had not been there long before Rees Isaacs came, and told me they were breaking the gates. I then got up, and went through the fields to Keturah Howells’s garden. This was about 80 yards from the toll-house. I could see the toll-house clearly from where I stood. I heard a great noise, and saw them tearing down the gates. I saw about twenty persons there. I did not go near, because I was afraid. They were thowing stones at the people who peeped out. I saw the mob carrying the toll bar and the timber from the house towards the river, which ran along-side of a field at the back of Martha Phillips’s house. Whilst I was looking at the mob, they all ran away at once; some ran through the road, and others across the field towards the river. After they left, I went towards the toll-house. I found the roof destroyed, also the front wall; the joists of the floor were down at one end. I know the prisoner, Thos. Howell. I have known him for three or four years. I saw him that night about ten minutes after the toll-house had been pulled down; he came over the hedge from the meadow behind Martha Phillips’s houe. There were two or three persons with him. I don’t know whether Lewis Griffiths was there. Thomas Howell said to me, “Rebecca has done bad work to pull down the house.” I said, “Yes, and I am very cold.” Thomas Howell said, “You had better have a damper of ale.” This was in Welsh. Thomas Howell then went towards Trevaughan bridge, and one of the men went with him.
Cross-examined by Mr. Evans [one of the lawyers for the accused “by special permission”]:— I knew Thomas Howell very well, and he knew me, as the toll-keeper. I was standing near the toll-house when he spoke to me. This gate had been erected between forty and fifty years.
Lewis Griffiths examined by Mr. Chilton:— I live at Pant-y-park Mill, and am a miller. I was at the Golden Lion, Whitland, on . I went to bed there . I slept on the ground floor. There were two other men who slept with me; they went to bed before me. I think one of them was Griffith Griffiths, of Llanddarog. I went to Whitland to sell pigs. I went asleep, and was awakened by Thos. Howell; he attempted to drench me with beer. About this time, a man came in, and said, “Rebecca is come.” I did not know Thomas Howell before. He and John Thomas then went out, and the pig drovers and I got up and followed. I overtook Thomas Howell and John Thomas. The latter is the son of the landlord of the Golden Lion. Thomas Howell said, “We had better go down near the toll-house.” I said, “better not.” We went across a field over a brook towards Trevaughan bridge. While standing on the bridge, a man came up with a gun in his hand. I saw the flash of a percussion cap. Thomas Howell then cried out, “Hurrah, Becca.” The man then begged some money of Thos. Howell, and he gave him some; the man seemed to grumble at it, when Howell gave him some more. The man then asked me for money. I said, I had none for him. The man then went back, and Howell asked if he should come on, when the man gave a turn with the gun for him to come. We then went on to the toll-house. When I got there, I saw the prisoner, David Howell, on the pine end of the toll-house; he had a hatchet in his hand, which he dropped. I picked it up, and gave it to him. There were from sixteen to twenty engaged. When we got there, Thos. Howell took the gun from the man who carried it, and the man took up a shovel and began tearing the house. A little while after, the man said, “I must have the gun, and you must work.” Thomas Howell then returned the gun and took the shovel, and began to tear down the house. An alarm was then given that somebody was coming. The people then ran across a field towards the river. Thomas Howell, David Thomas, and I, went with them. After a time we came back again across the field; the other people went off in a different direction. When we returned, Thomas Howell spoke to a person who I think was the gate-keeper; they spoke in Welsh. We then crossed the bridge to Watts’s house, and had some beer. I left Howell and Thomas there, and returned to the Golden Lion. There were two of the men who had petticoats on, and something about their heads.
Cross-examined by Mr. Evans:— This was in the middle of the night. All the people ran out of the Golden Lion when the cry came that “Becca was come.” I am not a daughter of Becca. I went there to see what was going on. The gate is about a quarter of a mile from the Golden Lion. I was close to Thomas Howell all the time, except when he had the gun. English was spoken when they were tearing down the house. The man with the gun spoke to Howell in English; he said, “I want some money, Howell.” That was the first time I knew Howell’s name. I went to Whitland fair on , the pig fair was on . I stopped there four days. I heard of the reward of 100l. on . I did not hear about it on . I mentioned about Howell on before I heard of the reward. I staid at Whitland four days to find out more about Rebecca. I had never seen Thos. Howell before that night. I had seen David Howell on the . I had beer in me when I went to bed. I was not drunk. I saw Thos. Howell at Whitland the night after the toll-house was destroyed, and had some quarrel with him. I wanted to find out Rebecca because I thought it was an unlawful thing.
Rev. John Evans:– I am a Magistrate for this county. The prisoners were committed by me on this charge. I asked Thos. Howell if he had anything to say, after cautioning him not to say anything that might injure himself. He said he had not been at the Golden Lion that night, that Walter John had gone in to light his pipe, and came out, and accompanied Howell to Llwyndrissy gate. Walter John was examined on behalf of the prisoner. Howell said to him, you know you came with me to Llwyndrissy gate. Walter hesitated for a short time, and said he would speak the truth.
Examined by Mr. Evans:– This was not taken down in writing.
Walter John examined by Mr. N. Carne:– This witness proved that the prisoner, Thomas Howell, had, on , accompanied him from St. Clears to the Golden Lion, where John left him and went home.
John Thomas, landlord of the Golden Lion, was also called to prove that Thomas Howell was in his house, when the cry came that Becca had arrived.
Mr. Evans then addressed the jury for the prisoners in a most able speech, in the course of which he strongly animadverted on the testimony of Lewis Griffiths. He pointed out the improbabilities of his story, and submitted that Griffiths had selected the prisoner, Thos. Howell, as his victim, in order to gain the reward of 100l., and to get his revenge on him, for the quarrel that took place between them on the night after the destruction of the gates. He did not deny that the prisoner, Thos. Howell, was present, but he contended that he was there only in the character of a spectator; the riot had commenced before he arrived, and it was shewn, by the evidence of Walter John, that Thos. Howell had been at St. Clears all day, and therefore could not have been aware of the attack. As far as concerned the prisoner, David Howell, the only evidence that touched him was that given by Lewis Griffith, and he (Mr. Evans) confidently submitted that the jury could not, on the unsupported testimony of a drunken man, convict either of the prisoners of the charge.
His Lordship shortly summed up, leaving it to the jury to say, whether, on the evidence adduced, they could find the prisoners, or either of them guilty. If they had any doubt, of course the prisoners were entitled to the benefit of it.
The jury the retired, and in about ten minutes returned with a verdict of “Not Guilty” for both prisoners.
As soon as the audience heard the verdict, they signified their approbation of it by a loud and long cheer, which with great difficulty was silenced.
It sounds like Lewis Griffith wasn’t a particularly convincing witness, but I note also that the prosecutor felt the need to condescend to the jury by telling them how important it was that society not just permit people to go around destroying toll gates they don’t like. Evidently, he didn’t think this point was sufficiently well-established. This may mean that jury nullification was another explanation for the verdict — that the jury thought the accused had indeed done the deed, but that such a deed didn’t make them “guilty” in the jury’s eyes.
Henry Tobit Evans, in his book on the Rebecca Riots, says that “On their [the defendants’] committal, his [Griffith’s] departure was hissed and hooted by a crowd of women and girls who had assembled to witness it.” But I don’t know what became of him after the trial.