November, 1843 was at the end of a turbulent year for Llanelli. It was the year that the town and its district saw ‘great excitement’ in the form of the Rebecca Riots. Rebecca had attacked the Tyrfran Toll House a few weeks earlier and dropped its toll-gate down the shaft of the Dimpath Colliery. It was Rebecca’s last recorded act in Llanelli. But there was one more bit of excitement for the town to come...

On Monday the 27th of that month, Jonah Thomas was wending his way home to The Royal Oak, his pub in the village of Furnace. Recent research has not been able to establish the location of this hostelry other than that it was in that village which had its own toll house and was named after Alexander Raby’s blast furnace, which is still extant.

01 ~ Furnace Village From The Dell
Photo of a mid 19th Century painting showing the village of Furnace with the town of Llanelli in the distance. Centre of the scene can be seen The Stradey Arms and the little toll-house on Furnace square. (Courtesy of Llanelli Library)

02 ~ Cilfig Lodge or Gatehouse
Recent photograph of the upper Cilfig Lodge or gatehouse on Old Road leading to Cilfig House, not far from where the attack took place. The lower gate house was demolished many years ago.

03 ~ Cilfig Lodge or Gatehouse (watercolour)
A mid 19th Century watercolour of Old Road depicting Cilfig Lodge or gatehouse, not far from where the attack took place. Note the Parish Church Tower in the distance. (Under licence from Carmarthenshire Museum Service)

04 ~ Cilfig Lodge or Gatehouse Photograph of the Lower Lodge or gatehouse demolished c1928 to make way for Harries Avenue (ILL3378 Courtesy of Llanelli Public Library)

In common with many publicans at that time Jonah had second income - he was mining the remaining coal that was left in Raby’s old workings below Penyfinglawdd and Caemaen. [a] His wife Elizabeth, would have managed the pub while her husband was at work. Penyfinglawdd colliery was located in the Llanerch district and Caemaen colliery was the to the west of the present Town Hall.

As Jonah was passing Cilfig House, a substantial property, once the home of the Buckley family near Old Road, he was accosted by two strangers who demanded to know if he had any money on him. While asking them what they meant, Jonah had the presence of mind to discreetly drop his purse under a nearby hedge before the footpads attacked him. They rifled and ransacked his pockets and fled without finding anything. [b]

This was a risky act for the footpads because the attempted robbery took place within two hundred yards of Thomas Street, the main commercial centre of Llanelli in the mid-nineteenth century. Also, the town was small, with a population of just over 7000 [c]. It would have been a very close-knit community, making identification highly likely. Highway robbery at that time could draw severe penalties for anyone convicted of that offence, ranging from a year's jail with hard labour, to twenty years' transportation. [d]

Although the 64 year old publican was probably very shaken, he later returned to the scene of the crime accompanied by a few others for his own safety. There he found the purse he had dropped containing £1-15s-0d, (£1.75p) which was a substantial sum in those days.

To date there is no record of the robbers being apprehended and prosecuted or of what happened to Jonah Thomas, other than the fact that The Royal Oak was transferred to Hector Morris who was listed as an ‘Engineer’ in 1851. [e]
Morris was taken to the magistrates court in 1857 for permitting drunkenness in his house but after hearing the evidence, the bench dismissed the case. [f]

Notes & Citations

[a] Coalmining in the Llanelli Area Vol 2 1830-1871 M.V. Symons (Pages 41, 162)
[b] The Welshman 8 December 1843 page 3 column 3
[c] LC2900 Llanelli Library.
d] Carmarthen Goal Felons Register. Example: Theophilus Thomas Reg. No.58 convicted of highway Robbery. The Welshman 28 March 1845 p3 c1 Sentences of Prisoners.
[e] 1851 Census
[f] The Welshman 11 July 1856 p5c1