South West Wales

Rebecca Riot re-staged by villagers to mark 175 years

People dressed as rioters for the anniversary celebrations Image copyright Aled Scourfield
Image caption People dressed as rioters for the anniversary celebrations

A mock tollgate has been destroyed in a Carmarthenshire village to commemorate the 175th anniversary of the first Rebecca Riot.

Protests against poverty and injustice spread throughout rural west Wales from 1839 to 1843 led by men with blackened faces disguised as women.

The riots led to reforms of the tollgate charges for using roads and other laws affecting the poor.

Residents of Efailwen said they were keen to celebrate its claim to fame.

The riots followed a build-up of injustices felt by poor tenant farmers and their families against the rent they paid to landlords, and the tithes - a tenth of their income - paid to the church, even if they themselves were chapelgoers.

The setting up of tollgates to charge people for using local roads provided the trigger for the riots.

Thomas Rees - Twm Carnabwth - led the first attack on the Efailwen tollgate on 13 May 1839, disguised with a blackened face, a wig and a woman's nightgown.

The name Rebecca is believed by historians to be a biblical reference, although another story says Rees's followers nicknamed him Rebecca after the tall, stout old woman who lent him her clothes.

Hard life

Local resident Tudur Lewis said he and his brother Eurfyl decided to arrange a re-enactment after realising the 175th anniversary fell in 2014.

"It's the only bit of history in our area - people still talk about it now. The local school, my house, a cafe and a local bakery were all named Beca in honour of the riots," said Mr Lewis.

Image copyright Aled Scourfield
Image caption Locals decided to arrange a re-enactment after realising the 175th anniversary
Image copyright Simon Hedger
Image caption The riots are commemorated by a wooden sculpture in St Clears
Image copyright Darren Wyn Rees
Image caption A tollhouse from Aberystwyth can now be found at the St Fagans National History Museum
Image copyright Expired
Image caption This picture of the riots appeared in the Illustrated London Press in 1843

"My grandfather was related to Thomas Rees - he said he was 'a real blackguard' and nobody liked him.

"But he was such a tough guy no-one reported him to the authorities because they were afraid.

"It was a tough time for famers - nobody owned their land, they were renting off rich landowners, and the tollgates were taking even more money off them.

"If the rioters hadn't stuck up for the local community, life would have been even harder."

Around 25 people dressed as rioters for the anniversary celebrations outside Caffi Beca in Efailwen at 19:00 BST where they destroyed a recreated tollgate.

Primary school children from Ysgol Beca then performed a song about the riots written by Carmarthenshire singer Tecwyn Ifan as the cafe hosted a "Noson Lawen" evening of entertainment.

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