Llangennech and Rebecca

During the middle of the 19th century South Wales was rocked by civil disturbances known as The Rebecca Riots. These riots were predominantly aimed at the destruction of tollgates belonging to the turnpike trusts that charged excessive fees for the use of their roads. The rioters would dress themselves up disguised as women with blackened faces and would be led by the leader who was known as Rebecca.

Although most of Rebecca's activities in the Llanelli area have been recorded in various articles on this website, a chance find at the Swansea Central Library led to the report of an attack on a local tollgate by Rebecca not covered here before. A July edition of the Swansea Journal of 1843, reports:

Rebecca – On Wednesday Night or in the early morning of Thursday a number of Rebecca's daughters proceeded to Bridge End Gate at the entrance of Llangennech and in the usual way totally demolished the gate and part of the toll-house. The following night they again commenced their depredations in destroying the Forest Gate, between Pontardulais and Llaneddi, which they burnt to the ground [a]

Recent publications on the topic of the Rebecca Riots do not record this nocturnal attack, however one old book, Rebecca and Her Daughters (1910), briefly mentions the event in one sentence, The Bridgend Gate near Llangennech was destroyed and the toll-house much damaged. [b]

To establish the fact that there was a toll gate at Llangennech, contemporary documents had to be examined and a government report on the disturbances published in 1844 mentions the grievances about specific gates and bars. The report includes one in the village of Llangennech, where the problem of the Bridge End Gate was recorded as being set up very vexatiously. It was exacting money from farmers for going with their horses to water and from hauliers for transporting pit timber to the nearby collieries, despite the fact that there was another toll-gate in the nearby village of Hendy [c].

Further evidence of the toll-gate or bar being erected at Llangennech is shown in the government's plan of the Turnpike Trusts' gates in this part of the county, published in 1844, it shows that the Kidwelly Trust had erected or managed a toll-bar at Llangennech. [d].

It appears that Rebecca attacked The Bridge End toll-bar or gate in the village of Llangennech, late on the night of 28th June or in the early hours of the following morning and destroyed its house. Newspaper accounts state that a gate and toll house was attacked and destroyed. However the above mentioned government report refers to the toll-bar (not a toll-gate) having being taken down but later removed by the Trustees. So did Llangennech have a gate or bar and did it have a house?

Gates and Bars are often referred to as toll-gates but according to one of the local magistrates, William Chambers Jnr., of Llanelly House, there was a difference.

The only distinction I make between a gate and a bar is where there is residence for the person to collect the toll. [e]

Sometimes chains were put up and referred to as bars.

Although the more accurate Ordnance Survey plans of 1880 show the location of some of the remaining toll-gates and bars, nothing can be seen in the village of Llangennech because the gate was officially removed by 1844. It is possible that a temporary hut was placed as a shelter from inclement weather near the gate and it was this that was burnt down. Given the fact that the gate was referred to as the Bridge End Gate it is possible that its location was close to the Bridge End Inn and the nearby Mwrwg Brook where horses were taken to be watered.

Who were the perpetrators that Rebeccaized the Llangennech gate? [f] As most of the attacks upon the gates and houses were carried out at night by disguised men, very few of the offenders were brought to book. However, some men in the locality were captured in the later attack on a Pontardulais tollgate in September 1843 and taken to The Llanelly Union Workhouse for questioning.

Rebecca Prisoners

Following the attack on the Pontardulais tollgate in September 1843, some of the Rebeccas were captured by the 76th. Regiment of Foot and taken to the Llanelly Workhouse to be interrogated by the magistrates, Nevill, Rees and Chambers. The prisoners, still attired in women’s clothes were described as William Hugh, a lad of 15 years and son of a respectable farmer of Talyclun; Thomas Williams, a servant to a farmer at Llangennech; Henry Rogers, a farm servant of Penllwyngwyn and Lewis Davies, a respectable farmer of Ysgubor Uchaf near Pontardulais. All were examined and remanded. [g]

Were these men involved in the destruction of the Bridge End Gate? Perhaps we will never know, or perhaps some dusty document hidden in the archives of Carmarthenshire or the National Library of Wales may yet reveal more about Rebecca's activities in our district?

Notes and Citations

[a] 5 July 1843 Swansea Journal. 8 July 1843 Monmouthshire Merlin.
[b] Rebecca and Her Daughters (1910) H Tobit Evans p85.
[c] Report of the Commissioners of Inquiry for South Wales (1844) Minutes of evidence. taken before the commissioners. Page 126-Item 2995.
[d] ibid. Three Commotts & Kidwelly Turnpike Turnpike Trusts, enclosed plan.
[e] ibid. Page 126 -Item 2992.
[f] ibid. 'Rebeccaized'. A term used by Llanelli J.P. William Chambers Jnr. Page 127-Item 3007
[g] The Times, Saturday, September 9 1843. Page 5