The Rebecca Riots
Length: 4057 words (11.6 double-spaced pages)
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From given information, I can see that before the Rebecca Riots, there
was a history of violence in Rural Wales.
The first source talks about Rural Violence before 1839. It was
written by David Evans, and is an extract from "A History of Wales".
This source is useful because it tells us that there was a history of
violence in Rural Wales in the early 19th century. The content tells
us that 'there were frequent disturbances in rural Wales, which
involved sheep-stealing and poaching.' Here, it is telling us exactly
what sort of violence was happening at this time. It then goes on to
tell us the cause of this violence, 'this violence was a protest
against poverty and the harsh attitudes of some landowners'. This
gives us a clear idea over why the violence started. This source does
not appear to be in any way biased, as it is a secondary source. This
source is also reliable because David Evans had the benefit of
hindsight, so could gather all relevant information together to give
us reliable information.
This evidence about violence in the early 19th century can also be
linked with an extract from "When was Wales" by Gwyn A. Williams,
which is also a secondary piece of evidence. In this extract, Williams
is telling us that there were riots in 1801, and the causes are
explained. We know that there was a definite history of public
disorder in the 19th century in Carmarthen, 'Carmarthen had a history
of disorder in the 19th century. In 1801 and 1818 there were riots
because of shortages of food. In 1831, there were riots during the
Reform Crisis'. This immediately tells us that there had been a
history of violence in Carmarthen in the nineteenth century. This
source is useful because it gives us exact dates of the riots: 1801,
1818, and 1831. This source is also useful because the cause of the
riots is also in the content. It tells us that the cause of the riots
because of food shortages.
Like the extract from "A History of Wales"
by David England, this source is a secondary source, so therefore not
biased. This source from "When was Wales" is completely factual. Like
the previous talked about source, this source also has the benefit of
An extract from "The Rebecca Riots" has been taken, from the Dyfed
County Council in 1987. It states that 'enclosures by Act of
Parliament led to the destruction of hedges at Pembrokeshire in 1816.'
It also tells us that 'a large mob burned fences, gates and a house on
what had been common land'. Here, it's telling us the sorts of
violence that were committed. This is a clear, factual source that
explains when these acts of violence occurred, and also why they
occurred (the reason being "Enclosures by Act of Parliament", leading
to the violence). These crimes were all acts against property. This
source, like the previous two sources, is a secondary source, not
written around the time of the violence. It was written by a member of
the Dyfed County Council in 1987. The three of these sources are
reliable in the sense that they are secondary, and therefore the
information used must have been well researched by experienced
historians. The three of these sources contain a lot of useful
information about what happened around 1839. They are reliable because
they all back each other up, saying that Rural Wales was a violent
place before 1839. They are all factual sources written by historians
that have researched their information well before publishing it into
their books. These sources are strong as they contain information that
is fair about the past, all of it being factual. They are not in any
way biased; they all have a fair background to the riots. However, the
evidence is strong, but it can be argued that they could be biased in
a small way, because they were written by welsh historians, so it can
be argued that they could be influenced from where they come from.
Unlike the first three sources, the evidence from Daniel Williams of
Steynton near Milford in 1828, and the extract from the Minute Book of
the Narberth Board of Guardians in 1838 are both pieces of primary
evidence. They were actually written at the time of the violence in
The evidence from Daniel Williams is evidence from a victim of the
attacks. "They carried me around the village of Pill and through the
town of Milford followed by a great number of men in disguise". This
tells us that this man, Daniel Williams was a victim of the riots. He
talks about what happened (from his point of view). He tells us that
there were riots in 1828, and that he was a victim of this violence.
He continues, "the constables failed to stop the mob". This shows me
that at this time in history, the police force was weak and didn't
manage to stop the rioting, and that people in the area took the law
into their own hands. This source is useful because it supplies us
with this information, and it also seems to be pretty factual, as the
man was there at the time and is describing what he saw, and what he
experienced. However, the fact that this man was a victim could also
suggest that this source is in some way biased. He could have possibly
wanted people to be sympathetic towards him. Apart from this, this
source seems to be quite strong in the sense that it tells you exactly
what happened. He clearly explains what the rioters did to him,
however, he does not explain why; therefore I think that the source is
biased by omission, as the victim does not explain why he was a victim
of the violence in Rural Wales. He doesn't say why the attacks were
committed. This source can be linked with the extract from the Minute
Book of the Narberth Board of Guardians in 1838. They are similar, as
this source seems factual, but then is also biased by omission because
it doesn't explain why the attacks were committed. It only says that
the warehouse was attacked, it doesn't say why the workhouse was
These two sources back each other up, because they both say that the
police for was week. The extract from the Minute Book states that "â€¦
this board do approve and confirm the offer of a reward and the
employment of a special constable as a result of the attempt to set
fire to the new workhouse". This is showing that the police force was
not even able to control the mobs, and offered someone who can do the
job a reward. This supports the evidence from the victim as previously
mentioned, "the constables were unable to stop the mob". Therefore,
the sources are reliable because they both say the police force was
The three secondary sources are supported by the two primary sources,
all confirming that there was a history of violence such as rioting,
and crime against property in Rural Wales before 1839. In the
secondary sources, we see why people turned to violence, and from the
two primary sources, we can see the sorts of violence that happened.
All of the secondary sources are factual. Their content supports each
other, and they all take a fair view. They are neither impartial nor
objective. They all show violence in Rural Wales before the Rebecca
After this violence, you see that rioting starts to increase further
between 1839 and 1843, which develops into the Rebecca Riots.
The first piece of evidence given is a Constabulary report on England
and Wales in 1839. It shows that the violence, "Ceffyl Pren" was
The aim of Ceffyl Pren was to prevent people from telling the police
about illegal events in the community, so many events of Ceffyl Pren
were not reported, as victims were afraid to come forward and tell the
police. This meant that there was little evidence to show that "Ceffyl
Pren" really was a rising crime in 1839.
The constabulary report is a piece of primary evidence, which makes it
fairly reliable because it was written at the time of the event, so
they had a fairly good idea of what was happening at this time. The
purpose of this source was to tell people that they needed more
funding for the West Wales police force, this being the reason as to
why the police force were actually admitting they were weak. However,
this is a weakness in this source, them admitting that they were weak,
but this is also a strength because they police force wouldn't lie
about the fact they were hopeless! This source is reliable because the
information is factual. There are not many weaknesses in it, apart
from the fact there is some opinion in it, when they say that
magistrates of Cardigan and the surrounding area are worried. This
source also lacks specific details about the number of times Ceffyl
Pren has taken place (although this would be a hard figure to get hold
of), and also the number of magistrates.
This piece of evidence supports a piece of evidence that was taken
from a victim, previously talked about in the first section. The
evidence was taken from Daniel Williams of Steynton near Milford in
1828. His evidence is supported by the Constabulary report because he
too comments on how Ceffyl Pren is increasing as a crime, and how the
police force was failing to prevent it. This makes both sources more
reliable as they support each other.
I am given an illustration from "The illustrated London News", which
is another piece of primary evidence. It's a picture of a group of
people attacking a gate was drawn in 1839. It was the "Rebecca Riots".
You can see that they are men dressed as women in dresses, attacking a
gate with axes and other tools. (We know that this gate was a tollgate
as this is commented on by Thomas Phillips in another source). This
source is useful to us because it was drawn at the time of the
rioting, so they might have known how violent the rioting was.
However, it was from a newspaper, which could have meant that the
level of violence at this time was perhaps exaggerated for media
attention. This source is not particularly reliable unless it's used
with other evidence. It's an artist's interpretation of what the
Rebecca Riots were like. The purpose of this source was for people to
look at it and think the Rebecca Riots were dangerous. The source
doesn't seem to be biased; it doesn't say whether the artist was for
or against the rioting.
If we look at the illustration with the information in the extract
from "The Carmarthen Journal" on 16th December 1842, the illustration
seems more useful. The extract from the newspaper tells us that 'the
leaders of the mob had painted their faces in various colours to
disguise their identity. They wore horse hair beards and women's
clothesâ€¦" The source is primary evidence, but still seems to be quite
reliable. The writer was not biased towards the riots; it's neutral
because it's an extract for a newspaper. It's a useful source because
it gives details about the riots. It could be argued that it's biased
in the sense that this article is trying to sell papers.
"Everybody was in their houses behind locked doors, not daring to show
a light in their windows." Here, 'Everybody' is a bit of a
generalisation - specific detail here is lacking. This is a weakness
in the source, but apart from this, the source is quite strong. It's
implying that the rioters were very dangerous, and that people in the
area were petrified, (hiding behind locked doors).
The illustration for the London News, the extract from the Carmarthen
Journal, and a second extract from The Carmarthen Journal written on
the 23rd June can all be linked together, as they all tell us about
the new kind of violence - the attacks on tollgates. The second
extract from The Carmarthen Journal written on the 23rd June seems to
be quite terrifying. It talks about how the workers were ordered
outside, a woman was assaulted, and anything the rioters could find
was thrown outside. It seems that the purpose of this source was to
warn the people of Carmarthen about how dangerous these rioters really
were. It's a useful piece of primary evidence. It doesn't seem to be
biased, it was only describing what was happening at this time.
This extract from The Carmarthen Journal on 23rd June can also be
linked with yet another extract from The Carmarthen Journal on 30th
June in 1843. This source talks about what 'Rebecca and her daughters'
did. It tells us that late at night, disguised men on horse back
wearing women's clothes with their faces painted black gathered at a
tollgate, "carrying swords, guns, pitchforks and other weapons. They
demolished the tollgate." This is showing us that rioters were still
going around attacking tollgates, and it didn't look like they were
going to stop doing this any day soon. This source is very strong, the
only weakness I can see is that specific detail is lacked, e.g. "a
large group were seenâ€¦ ". Apart from this, this is a strong source, as
it is pretty factual.
Thomas Phillips gave evidence to the Magistrates on 12th December in
1843. "â€¦ I was called upon by Shoni Sgubor Fawr and went with this
groupâ€¦ I was coming up Gellygwlwnog field arm in arm with him after
burning Mr. Chambers' haystacks." This was primary evidence taken from
someone who had actually taken part in these crimes against property.
To begin with, this evidence seems fairly strong, and just factual
evidence from Thomas Phillip, and doesn't seem to be containing any
opinion. This source is showing us that it wasn't only tollgates that
were attacked, but other property was also attacked, such as
haystacks. This source is fairly reliable, but there is a big
weakness: it seems that this man, Thomas Phillips followed 'Rebecca'
out of fear. "I was called upon by Shoni Sgubor Fawr and went with the
group." The fact that Thomas Phillips followed 'Rebecca' out of fear
then suggests that this source could by biased by omission, as other
details may have been left out. It seems that this source is a prime
example of Ceffyl Pren, and that Thomas Phillips was perhaps keeping
quiet after being forced to commit crime, and he was too afraid to
speak out to the police. When Thomas Phillips was giving evidence, it
was likely that he left out information on activities of the Rebecca
The final piece of information given in this section is an extract
from "People, Protest and Politics" by David Egan published in 1987.
This is a secondary piece of evidence, unlike all of the other sources
in this section, which are primary evidence. The violence had been
increasing - Rebecca and her followers had been going around
destructing tollgates and tollhouses, but this led to even something
more serious - the murder of Sarah Davies, an elderly toll keeper. Now
this source is reliable, because it is secondary evidence extracted
from a book. David Egan would have been an experienced historian, and
removed any opinion from researched evidence, leaving just hard facts.
This primary evidence has a high utility, because it shows us that the
violence committed by Rebecca and her followers had reached such a
climax that finally someone was killed during the attack of
Pontarddulais. This source doesn't say whether or not Sarah Davies was
in the way of the rioters, so we don't know whether her death was by
accident, or deliberate. But assuming it was deliberate, we can
conclude that between 1839 and 1843, violence in Wales had increased
so much that someone was finally murdered. It can be concluded that
the Rebecca Rioters were very dangerous, and resorted to violence,
even murder, to get what they wanted, or to prove a point.
But surely the rioters must have had a good reason to start abolishing
tollgates, and destroying property that was not their own?
There were many long-term causes as to why the rioting suddenly
erupted. For many years before 1839, there were reasons as to why
violence should break out in 1839.
This source showing a long-term cause of the Rebecca Riots is from
1841, from the census of the population. It's purpose was to show the
numbers and employment of able bodied adults over 21 years of age in
Carmarthenshire, Cardiganshire, and Pembrokeshire in 1841. The fact
that it's from a census means that it's strong evidence. However, not
all census returns were accurate, but the fact that this information
was taken from a census makes it reliable.
The purpose of this source is to tell us that there are probably too
many people relying on the countryside to make a living for themselves
- that there are too many people trying to earn a living in
agricultural farming in the countryside. This source alone doesn't
make much sense, but information from other sources would make it more
useful, like the source written by "Herbert and Jones, People and
Protest" editors from 1815-1880. This source talks about the rents.
"Rents were higher in Wales as a whole than in England. Some
landowners put up rents to take advantage of the number of people
wanting to rent land. The land often went to the highest bidder.
Leases were also becoming shorter". Here, it is clear that the rent on
farmland was rising because landowners put the rent up, and also made
the period in which the farmers could have this land, shorter. The
rents for tenant farmers were high because there were so many people
wanting to rent the land. This information is useful to have whilst
looking at the census results, because it shows the huge block of
people trying to earn a living in agriculture. The source from Herbert
and Jones, Eds. People and Protest 1815-80, was written in 1990, and
is therefore a secondary source, so it doesn't seem to be biased, as
neither a farmer nor a landowner wrote it (at the time). It is just
pure fact with no opinion involved. It tells us that there would be
little point in investing in land because after making the land worth
something, it would soon be lost to the landowners again.
The next piece of information is some primary evidence from Rev. J.
Evans. It's a letter he had written whilst touring through South Wales
in 1804. He talks about how backwards agriculture farming was at this
time, and there would be little point in investing because the quality
of the land was poor. "Wheat is not often grown, usually the same crop
is planted year after year, which ruins the soil. Marl is successfully
used in England, but rarely used by the Welsh. There is little
evidence of drainage of the land". This source is useful because it
tells us about how pointless and unprofitable farming was. It is
perhaps unreliable because it is unlikely that Rev. J. Evans visited
every single area in South Wales, but apart from this, the evidence is
fairly strong. It was written by a person on the outside, so does not
seem to be in any way biased.
The next piece of evidence was written for "The Times" newspaper in
1843. It's content is that the living conditions at this time were
poor, and also were people's diets very poor. "Beds were nothing more
but loose straw and filthy rags. Their diet consisted of mainly
potatoes. The tenant farmers' diets was a little betterâ€¦" The source
seems pretty factual, and is quite a strong piece of evidence, but
there is a weakness, it being that the number of cottages visited were
not mentioned, and it does seem that the writer could have been
jealous, and that there was some sort of resentment to the rich that
had everything compared to the nothing that the hardworking farmers
had. There are a few weaknesses, but the origin of the source makes it
stronger, because it was extracted from "The Times" in 1843, so is not
supposed to be biased towards the land-owners, or the farmers.
The origin of this secondary piece of evidence is from the Dyfed
County Council, Rebecca Riots in 1987. This is a secondary source, but
this is strength, because it means the information from this source
must have been well researched by historians that have the benefit of
hindsight, and can look over every single piece of evidence there is.
The purpose of this source is to give information about the power of
landowners. It shows the gaps between tenants and landowners, e.g. the
landowners spoke in English and they were well educated - welsh
farmers were the opposite of this. The landowners controlled the local
government and many were magistrates. This shows that the landowners
were of a higher class and had more control with the justice in the
area. This means that the only way the farmers could get their voices
heard was through violence, as many of the magistrates were owners of
the land, so they would not have understood about the difficult
situations the farmers were in. The source seems reliable - it can't
be biased because of whom it's written by, because it was written
after the time, so the writer was not there at the time talking from
the point of neither a farmer nor a landowner. However, it's possible
that it could be argued that the information was from the Dyfed point
of view, in the Dyfed area, so they may have favoured opinions of the
It's a fairly reliable source, because it's from someone from the
outside who's not biased. It purely explains that tollgates were put
up - there's no opinion from him about the tollgates, and whether he's
against them being erected or not. It's not a weak source whatsoever;
it's just pure fact. It's purpose was purely to explain that land
owners had begun to build tollgates which were going to affect tenant
farmers, and it seems that this was one of the main long term causes
of the Rebecca Riots.
This next piece of information was from a correspondent report of a
Rebecca meeting in 1843, about how farmers were treated in court. It's
the pure opinion of an angry farmer. It's biased by omission because
it doesn't say why the farmers were treated in this way. It is biased
because it's from the point of view of a farmer, it's not neutral
evidence, but it is reliable in the sense that is shows us how farmers
felt at the time. It was published in "The Times", from a
correspondent report of a Rebecca meeting in 1843.
From this evidence, I can see that there were many effects on the
landowners and the farmers. It seems to have had worse of an effect on
the farmers who ended up with very little. They lived in filth with
little to eat, while the landowners and magistrates went out
pleasure-hunting. The landowners had raised their rents and the
farmers were becoming increasingly poor. Surely, this was a main
long-term cause of the Rebecca Riots?
Apart from these long-term causes of the Rebecca Riots, there were
also many short-term causes that resulted in the farmers "exploding"
and start rioting.
The following six sources give information about the short-term causes
of the Rebecca Riots. They give us a clearer understanding and explain
the reasons about the short-term causes, and as to why the Rebecca.
Riots took place between 1839 and 1843
The first two sources; (from the Dyfed County Council, Rebecca Riots
in 1987, and from D. Egan, People, Protest and Politics from 1987)
tell us about the poor law at this time. The information from the
Dyfed County Council was written by a member of the Dyfed County
Council to be published in a text-book in 1987. This is a secondary
source, so therefore has been well researched by experienced
historians. This source basically tells us what happened to the poor
people - they had previously been cared for by the parishes, but then
a law was passed which ordered the poor to work in workhouses of
incredibly poor conditions. This source is useful because it shows us
that the change in law may have been a direct cause to the Rebecca
Riots. The source tells us that the poor had to go inside the
workhouse because the cost of the parishes looking after the poor was
too great; they wanted to cut the cost of looking after the poor. The
source displays to us three things: the attitude to the poor had
changed; conditions inside the workhouse were worse than the lowest
paid workers outside the workhouse; and if the poor were desperate,
they would go into the workhouse. The fact that the source states that
the conditions inside the workhouse were worse than the lowest paid
workers outside implies that perhaps some poor people would rather
starve than enter these appalling conditions. However, this source
does lack detail, as it doesn't say how much it cost to look after the
poor, and how much the lowest paid worker outside was earning.
This first source can be linked with information written by D. Egan
from "People, Protest and Politics" in 1987. It states that
'agricultural labourers would rather starve than go into the
workhouse'. This statement agrees with the previous talked about
source from the Dyfed County Council. This source tells us how farm
labourers would rather starve than go into the workhouse. It was a
hard place to live. Using information from this source and my
background knowledge, I know that families were separated to stop them
from 'breeding', and that discipline was harsh. The food was described
as being nearly black, gritty, and had a sour taste. Work was hard in
the workhouse, and the poor were 'forced' to carry out tasks such as
breaking stones. This shows how bad conditions were in the workhouse,
and what the poor had to put up with. The source by Dyfed County
Council, and this source by D. Egan support each other, as both state
that the people didn't like the workhouses! The source by D. Egan had
also been well researched by experienced historians, as it is a
secondary source written in 1987.
An extract from Wales in Modern Times by David Evans in 1980, and
information from W. Day from Carmarthen to George Cornwall Lewis on
the 9th July 1843; talk about the 'tithe'. This used to be a 10% 'tax'
of a person's income that was paid to the Anglican Church for the
repair and maintenance of the church, and wages for the vicar.
However, this 10% changed to a fixed amount, and this source talks
about the farmers' opinions of this new system, and their great
dislike for it. The farmers were unhappy to pay this tithe because of
two main reasons. They were: because many of the farmers were
non-conformists (and the money was going to the Anglican Church), and
secondly; if the farmers had had a bad harvest that year, they would
not be left with very much for themselves.
The extract from Wales in Modern Times by David Evans in 1980 was
written to be published into a book called "Wales in Modern Times".
This, again is a secondary source, therefore must have been well
researched by a historian that has spent a lot of time searching
through evidence to select reliable information to use in his book.
The purpose of this source was to show us how farmers really disliked
the tithes that they were demanded to pay. He basically just explains
how farmers were obliged to pay the tithes. This source is useful - it
doesn't have any weaknesses because it doesn't seem biased whatsoever.
It contains pure fact, and is also backed up by information written by
a magistrate at the time - W. Day.
This source is a good piece of primary evidence. W. Day represented
the landowning classes, so the content of the source is 'odd' because
it's against the landowners, and supports the grievance of the
farmers. However, this source is not biased, it is just factual. It
tells us how the 10% 'tax' changed into a fixed amount - the source
contains no opinion, so is therefore a useful and reliable source.
The next two sources were written to tell us about the tolls on lime.
It is another source written by Dyfed County Council in 1987, from
"Rebecca Riots". This source is secondary, so well researched. It says
that, "a toll on lime was introduced". It says that it was a great
help for the farmers that there were no tolls on lime, and farmers in
West Wales used lime as a cheap fertilizer, so the introduction of
high tolls on lime must have surely been a direct cause to the attacks
on tollgates. There don't seem to be any weaknesses in this evidence,
as it is complete fact in the form of secondary evidence.
The evidence from this next source was given by William Williams of
Carmarthen, to "Commission of Inquiry into South Wales" in 1844. It is
useful because it provides information on the high level of tolls on
lime. However, as well as it being useful, it is also biased. William
Williams was a farmer being asked leading questions such as "is the
profit large?" (rather than, 'what is the profit like?'). The question
is biased, and will therefore lead to a biased answer. This is a
weakness in this source. Only leading questions are asked - he only
asks questions that he thinks the leading commissioner will want to
hear the answers to.
From all of the sources describing the short-term causes of the
Rebecca riots, I can see that there were many short-term causes for
the Rebecca Riots breaking out, including: the law that was passed
which forced the poor to labour in workhouses of incredibly poor
conditions; the new introduction of the tithe; and the tolls on lime
that were introduced. All of these issues would have been a direct
cause of the Rebecca Riots.
To conclude, I can say that there was a history of violence in Rural
Wales before 1839. Sometimes, this violence was a protest against
poverty and the harsh attitudes of some landowners. This tells us
that, for the same reasons as the Rebecca Riots, violence had occurred
in Wales. There was a history of violence in Rural Wales, so it was
not impossible for this violence to be repeated in the form of
rioting. There were also riots because of shortages of food in 1818.
There were also shortages of food just before the Rebecca Riots, so
there is some sort of link here, suggesting that it wasn't impossible
for riots to break out again. Ceffyl Pren was also starting to emerge
around this time, and lasted all through the Rebecca Riots which were
between 1839 and 1843. Between this time, the violence was steadily
rising. Tollgates were being destroyed by vicious people with axes,
and finally it reached such a crescendo in 1843, that an elderly toll
keeper was murdered during the riots.
Leading up to the riots, some of the main reasons for the riots were:
poor conditions of the farmhouses; poor diet; the social divide
between the land owners and the farmers; the power the land owners had
over the farmers; farmers were "treated like dogs"; rents to keep the
farmland were raised; leases became shorter; the poor had to enter
workhouses of incredibly poor conditions; the payments of the new
tithe, and the new toll on tithe.
All of these things would have added up, and finally the farmers had
enough, so between 1839 and 1843, rioting across Wales broke out.