Throughout the summer of 1843, the tollgates of South Wales were being attacked and destroyed under the uprising known as the Rebecca Riots. The town of Llanelli remained peaceful up until the end of July 1843.
On the 31st of that month there appears a scant report of an attack on the Sandy Tollgate, it states….
“Yesterday (July 29th , 7am ) the news reached here that during the night the Rebeccaites, as if in utter defiance of the authorities, had attacked and destroyed the Sandy Gate, close to the town of Llanelly. It appears that at 12 o’clock at night there had been no symptoms of any attack, but shortly afterwards Rebecca and her daughters arrived and the gate was speedily destroyed”.
This was not the only time for Sandy to suffer at the hands of Rebecca, for on the night of the 2nd of August 1843, after Catherine Hugh, the toll keeper of the Sandy Gate retired to bed, the tollgate and house were completely destroyed. Much has been written about the grievances that instigated the Rebecca Riots, but what about the victims of these attacks? Here are the recollections of one of them, Catherine Hugh …..
“I remember the night of the 2nd of August when I retired to bed about one o’clock. The children had previously gone to bed. My husband was on the settle. Shortly after retiring, I heard a noise of knocking at the windows. It was quarter to two o’clock. I came out of bed to wake my husband. He went on his knees upon the table for the purpose of looking out through the window at the party destroying the gate. The window was soon smashed in. The glass was broken to pieces. I do not know that it was broken by the shots, but there were marks on part of it the next day. I desired my husband to request them to stop until the children were taken out of the house. He cried ‘halt’ through the window. The door was then broken open, and my husband begged them to allow him to remove the family and furniture. Some cried ‘come out or we will kill you’. Others assisted in removing the furniture. I was in the back room with the children, who were crying, while my husband was outside with the crowd. I heard some of the tiles fall, and also heard my husband telling the rioters that he depended on their honour not to injure the children. I did not recognise any one of the party. After the party had gone, I began to cry. My husband said they would surely repent. My husband was perfectly sober, but he had been taking beer. That morning, before he left the house he named some persons as being among the rioters. He named McKiernin [some times recorded as McKiernan or McKiernon] and Laing. He named no others, as I told him to hold his tongue. He complained of his arm, and was afraid it was broken”.
The following morning, Catherine’s husband, Jenkin Hugh went to town and reported the incident to the authorities, where he made a statement to the magistrate William Chambers, that he had recognised three of the Rebeccas and that they were, Francis McKiernin, George Laing and John Phillips.
McKiernin was the mail coach proprietor from Llanelli to Carmarthen and Swansea; he was also the innkeeper of the ‘Ty Melyn’ in Park Street. Laing was also an innkeeper and haulier. Phillips worked as a servant of McKiernin. All had an interest in the destruction of the gates; Laing had given up his business as a haulier because of the heavy tolls, McKiernin would have gone the same way had he not carried the Royal Mail which freed him from the tolls. All the above appeared before the Llanelli magistrates but were bailed and later acquitted.