Monday, 1 February 2016

The Daughters of Rebecca (Welsh History)

Between 1839 and 1843, the Daughters of Rebecca burned workhouses and smashed toll gates across south-west Wales. But the Daughters of Rebecca weren't daughters and no one is sure who Rebecca was.

Wooden monument to the Daughters of Rebecca
The population was rising, food was short and landlords were raising rents. But the focus of unrest was the proliferation of toll gates and the high level of tolls. Originally the purpose of the tolls was to pay for the building and maintenance of the roads, but the tolls were far too high and, for example, there were eleven different turnpike companies around the town of Carmarthen.

On 13 May 1839 a group of men wearing women's dresses and with blackened faces smashed the Efail-wen [pronounced Evile-wen] tollgate and disappeared into the night. The same thing happened all over south-west Wales, but the ringleaders were never identified.

Plaque on entrance to Carmarthen Workhouse
There were also marches: 2,000 people marched into Carmarthen in June 1843 and ransacked the town workhouse, and 3,000 people rioted at Mynydd Sylen [Minith Silen] in Pontyberem in August the same year. But popular support began to turn away when one tollkeeper's wife was blinded and an old lady tollkeeper was killed.

Some of the Rebecca rioters were arrested and imprisoned or transported, but it forced the government to call a Commission of Enquiry. The result was that in 1844 all the turnpike trusts within each shire were amalgamated and tolls on lime, which was a vital commodity, were reduced by half.

Rebecca's Daughters won in the end.

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