This article has been extracted by Gareth Hicks (July 2004) with the permission of the Carmarthenshire Antiquarian Society from original material provided by Deric John.
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A FILE OF " REBECCA " PAPERS.
BY EVAN D. JONES, B.A.
This is Page 1 of 4 (contains pages 21-30 of the journal
In his Report to the Committee of Council on Education, 1847, Ralph Robert Wheeler Lingen, one of the Commissioners of Inquiry into the State of Education in Wales, refers to a collection of contemporary documents and depositions, concerning the period of the Rebecca Riots, which W. Chambers, junior, of Llanelly House, had shewn him. In March of this year (1944), Sir Godfrey J. V. Thomas, Bart., K.C.B., presented this file of documents to the National Library of Wales. 1 The papers had descended to him through his grandmother, eldest daughter of William Chambers, who married Sir Godfrey Thomas (d. 1861), 8th Bart. of Wenvoe. William Chambers, junior, (1809-82), took a prominent part in quelling disturbances and removing grievances in the Llanelly area to which the papers mainly relate. It was his father, William Chambers, a native of Kent, with a life interest in the Llanelly estate under the will of Sir John Stepney, bart., who came to reside at Llanelly House. The son also lived there until the estate reverted to the Stepney family upon the father's death in 1852. The following year, William Chambers, junior, purchased the famous house and estate of Hafod Uchtryd in Cardiganshire which became his home for nearly twenty years. He sold Hafod in 1871 and went to reside in Kent.
The association of the Chambers family with the Rebecca Riots is already known to readers of these Transactions through a collection of letters addressed to William Chambers, senior, and others, by the Hon. George Rice Trevor (afterwards 4th Baron Dynevor), vice-lieutenant of the county at the time, which were printed in Vol. XXIII, pp. 60 --77. Reference should be made to those letters in reading the transcripts and abstracts printed below as many of them relate to the same incidents. On returning the file to William Chambers, Lingen had urged him to paste the papers in a book, chronologically, with just enough of narrative to connect and explain them. Unfortunately, Chambers did not take Lingen's advice and we have the papers without the narrative which would have added greatly to their interest. Lingen predicted that in twenty years time they would be valuable " as contemporary history of a very singular phenomenon." Now, after the lapse of a century, their historical value is no less. In normal times with no restriction on paper the documents might be printed in extenso, but under present circum.................
( Notes 1. N.L.W. M.S. 14590E.)
................. stances most of them must be content with pretty full abstracts. Some however have to be printed in full to give justice to their style and content. The deposition of Thomas Phillips (No. 45) was singled out by Lingen as being " without exception, one of the most graphic pieces of writing " he had ever read. He quoted from it in his paragraph on the popular character of the Welsh as illustrative of the vividly descriptive and imaginative powers of the people. Much of the information is accessible in H. Tobit Evans : Rebecca and her Daughters and in newspaper reports of the main trials, but the local colour, the sidelights thrown by these preliminary depositions and examinations, and the few primary records included in the file, justify a full description of the contents.
1. RESOLUTIONS made at a meeting of the Three Commotts District of Roads Trust held at the Shire Hall in Carmarthen, 5 August, 1843
The Trustees present were John Edward Saunders, John Lloyd Davies, John Davies, Thomas Jones, Daniel Prytherch, Rees Goring Thomas, John Walters Philipps, William Chambers (junior), with Edward Adams in the chair.
It was resolved to remove such gates and bars as might be shown to be oppressive. The following gates or bars were to be removed as soon as arrangements could be made
Pantybedw. Treventy. Penrhiwgoch.
Velinygate. Maesybont. Castellyrhingill.
Heolfawr. Fforest. Mansel's Arms, otherwise Drefach.
& Dryslwyn bar.
A ticket from the New Bridge gate to clear Porthyrhyd gate on payment of an additional three-halfpence per draw, and a ticket from Porthyrhyd to clear New Bridge gate. A payment at either Llanfihangel Aberbythich, Troedyrhiw goch, Rhydyffynon, Cross Hand, or Tyfran, to clear all the other four gates. Porthyrhyd to clear Tyfran and vica versa. A meeting to be held on 26 August to give effect to the resolutions.
2. A REPORT, dated 11 August, 1843, of a committee appointed 23 June of the same year to investigate the accounts of the Carmarthen and Newcastle Emlyn Turnpike Trust.
The accounts were investigated from 1835 and a balance sheet drawn up showing receipts and expenditure of £12,631 : 7 : 5, from tolls (£8,131 : 7 : 5), Exchequer Loan Commissioners (£3,500), and private loans (£1000). The loans were applied in making new roads to Pontwely and to Conwil.
The Committee recommended that tolls should be lowered to the rate abtaining before the Act of 1835 (which authorised a 50% increase) except at Francis Well and Pontwely where an increased toll should be taken on account of the convenience of these lines and the saving of expense in horse labour to those who used them. Suggestions concerning certain gates were made. The gates at Bwlchydommen and Velindre not be re-erected, as the projected road had not been carried out and the parishes had to repair and pay toll. The gate at Nantyclawdd not to be erected, as it inflicted a local grievance and its return was trifling. The Pontwely gate on the Llanpumpsaint road not to be re-erected for a twelvemonth in order to secure fuller information. The Bwlchyclawdd gate to be re-instated on account of the income derived from it and the burden which its discontinuance would place on the parish. Newcastle and Wernfach gates to be re-erected. The ticket of the Newcastle gate to clear Bwlchclawdd and Wernfach gates, and the tickets of either Newcastle or Wernfach gates, together with the difference in the amount of toll, to clear Pontwely gate.
Talley holders to be invited to reduce their interest from 5 to 3 1/2 % to meet the reduction of income which would result from the non-erection of gates.
The committee hoped that the Trustees would adopt the suggestions and that the inhabitants would assist to preserve uninjured the property of the Trustees.
Signed --- R. Goring Thomas, Chairman, B. Lewes, Thos. Lloyd (Bronwydd), John Beynon, L. Evans, Jno. Davies, Edwd. Cr. Lloyd Hall, Lewis Morris. Printed.
3. THE INFORMATION AND DEPOSITIONS of Jenkin Hugh of Llanelly, Catherine his wife, Edward Chalinder, and William Lewis, taken on oath 14 August, 1843, at the Town Hall, Llanelly, before John Hughes Rees, David Lewis, and Richard Janion Nevill, justices of the peace, on the examination and in the presence of Francis McKiernin of Llanelly, victualler, George Laing of the same place, victualler, and John Phillips of the same place, labourer, brought before them on the charge that about eleven of the clock on the night of Wednesday the second day of August, 1843, about twenty persons, some of whom were armed with guns, did riotously and tumultuously assembled together, to the disturbance of the public peace at a certain toll gate called the Sandy Gate near Llanelly, unlawfully and with force begin to demolish the toll-gate house, being the dwelling house of the deponent, and did also demolish the said toll-gate, and that Francis McKiernin was one and George Laing and John Phillips were two of the persons so assembled and were then and there aiding and abetting in the commission of the offence.
Jenkin Hugh said that he lived at the Sandy tollgate house; his wife was the collector at the gate. On the second of August he met the Llanelly letter carrier who had a twopenny letter for him. He went to the Ship in Llanelly and paid the twopence and then to Mr. Jones's Office shewing the letter to him. He then went to McKiernin's house and shewed him the letter. They drank three dobbins of beer. He asked him what he thought of the letter and McKiernin said he thought it came from (?) of the teetotals. Deponent asked him whether he should take his wife and children out of the house. He said " never mind, Jenkin, if the Gate will be broken, I will take care that neither your wife or children shall be hurt ? " Deponent then went home. It was between nine and ten at night and he told his wife that he was afraid that the gate would be broken that night. She went to bed and he sat up. He had received several joking letters about the gate. About eleven at night he heard a noise of men about the gate and laughing, but it passed away. At about one o'clock in the morning he heard people striking at the iron posts of the gate. He looked out of the window and saw people sawing the tollgate. Immediately after, two shots were fired through the window. Two or three people who had their faces blacked broke the door in. He then went out to the turnpike road and went on his knees begging them not to take the house down upon his children, and to let him get his wife, children, and furniture out. He saw McKiernin standing on the railroad and asked him to make them let him have his wife, children, and furniture out. McKiernin told the people to stop, to let the man get his wife and children out. Laing jumped to the middle of the road and said " Take it down, don't stop, take it down, to the devil with them." Deponent then went to the house and tried to get the clock out. Somebody fired a shot into the house after him. The shots struck the chimney piece. He carried the clock out and his wife took the children out of the back window. A person blackened helped him to carry the clock which was damaged.
The people then went away. He was struck on the arm with a gun. He did not see any other person there except McKiernin and Laing that he knew except a neighbour. He did not know who struck him. He saw three or four men on the house taking the tiles off. The windows were broken in and the porch before the door broken down. They went into the house and pulled down the dresser with the dishes on it, and also the mantelpiece. They fired at the chimney. McKiernin had nothing on his face. He had a white shirt over his clothes. He did not see Laing's face, but he had a white shirt on and something like a handerchief round his face. Laing went from the railway to the road and desired the people to go on. He ran after him to beg him to stop the people. He gave no answer. When the people went away some went towards the Town and some towards the Furnace Gate.
Cross examined by Mr. Gardnor for prisoners ---
It was after one o'clock when he met the letter carrier. He was quite sober when he went to McKiernin's and when the people came to the gate. He knew Laing by his voice and ran after him. His face was not blackened. Deponent was drunk the following morning. He was not sober when he made the depositions at Mr. Chambers' office. He did not say that Mr. Chambers was there. McKiernin had, he thought, a straw hat or bonnet on his head, something white. He knew Laing by his voice and body. He knew him from seeing him every day.
Catherine the wife of Jenkin Hugh sworn said ---
She recollected the night of the second of August. She went to bed about one o'clock in the morning. Her husband lay on the settle. At about a quarter to two she heard a knocking at the windows of the house. She heard the gate being broken and jumped up directly. She awakened her husband and he went on his knees on top of the table to look over the shutters at the people breaking the gate. The window was then shot in. The glass in it was broken to pieces. She saw marks of shots on the window frame the next morning. She begged her husband to ask the people to be quiet that she might get the children out of the house. He cried out " Halt " and begged them to let him have his furniture out of the house. The door was then broken in. Some of the people then came in. Her husband begged them to let him have the children and furniture out of the house. They told him to go out or they would kill him. Some of the people helped to take some of the furniture out of the house. Her husband was with them by the door. She was in the back room with the children. Her husband then went out to them as the tiles were falling into the house and she heard him say he depended on their honour not to hurt the children. He was about five minutes amongst them. She went backwards and forwards to the bank but did not know any one there. They fired over her head into the house but she did not think they had shots. Her husband was not drunk at that time, but he had taken beer. He named some persons as having been there before he left the house.
He named McKiernin and Laing. She told him to hold his tongue. He was sober at that time. He had no liquor in the house. Her husband complained of his arm that one of the persons had struck him with a gun. The people pulled the mantelpiece down and untiled part of the roof. The porch was pulled down and the crockery broken and also the chairs and clock which was carried out and placed on the dunghill.
Edward Chalinder sworn said ---
He was a tidewaiter in the Customs and lived close by Sandygate. He was at home on the night of the second of August. He saw a crowd of people tearing down the gate and taking the tiles off the toll house. There were fifteen or twenty people that he saw. He could not see all. He heard firing, some saying " go on go " and others " stop, let the children come out," " wake him, he is asleep." The people were there about half an hour. He did not know any of the persons there. The night was dark and rainy. Some were on the railway and had white dresses on. Jenkin Hugh told him some of his friends were there. He appeared as if he had been drinking beer but appeared to know what he was out, --- was pretty steady under it.
William Lewis sworn said ---
He was the lessee of the Kidwelly district of Turnpike Gates. On the morning of Thursday the third of August he was at his house in Swansea at about eight o'clock when a person came to him to desire him to go to McKiernin at the fina William in that town. He went and saw him. He told him that the Sandy gate had been destroyed that morning and part of the house, and that Jenkin Hugh's clock was destroyed. He said that the Furnace gate was destroyed and the toll house burnt and advised deponent to go to Llanelly, that no one would hurt him in the day. He said that Mr. Broom had called at his house that morning and had informed him that the gates had been destroyed.
Cross examined by McKiernin.
He was not aware that McKiernin had told him that the people of Capel Gate had told him to inform him of that. He might have for he was hurried. McKiernin was a publican and had two coaches on the road.
Prisoners declinded (sic) to say anything. The cases were committed to the Assizes. William Lewis bound in £50 to prosecute and give evidence. Jenkin Hugh bound in £100 that he and his wife would give evidence. McKiernin bound to appear in the sum of £200 with two sureties in £100 each, vi(. (sic) Williams Webb and Thomas Jenkins, saddler, both of Llanelly. Laing bound to appear in the sum of £200 with William Isaac of Llanelly and John Rees of Maesardaven as sureties in £100 each.
4. RESOLUTIONS passed at a meeting of the parishioners of Llanelly in vestry assembled the 17th August, 1843. Wm. Chambers, esq., junior, chairman.
It was resolved that it was the opinion of the meeting consisting of 130 tithe payers in the parish that they were paying a higher rate of tithe than they could, from the depressed state of agriculture, afford; that they earnestly requested Mr. Rees Goring Thomas, the inn propriator of the tithes, to communicate with the chairman of the meeting what reduction he was disposed to make; that the chairman be requested to communicate with the Tithe Commissioners and ascertain whether from the circumstance of there being a local tithe act in the parish, it would be precluded from the general Tithe Commutation Act; and that the meeting be adjourned to 31 August to receive the answers.
On the dorse is a letter, dated the following day, by Wm. Chambers, junior, informing Rees Goring Thomas of the resolution. He emphasised that he was not the instigator of the agitation thought he was fully impressed with the exorbitant amount paid by the parish for tithe. Copy.
5. A LETTER from R. Goring Thomas, from Llysnew[ydd], 23 [August, 1843], to [William Chambers].
He has received his letter with a copy of the resolution agreed to by some of the Llanelly tithe payers. He was fully sensitive of the very depressed state of all agricultureal produce and should no improvement take place between then and January he would be prepared to meet tithe payers as landlords and tithe owners ought to do under such circumstances. He felt however that he ought not to be pledged to any specific amount of abatement. If the tithes were exorbitant the parishioners themselves had fixed the amounts twelve years previously. The vicar of Llanelly who at that time managed the tithes for him put their value at £3000 pes annum (sic) and he considered that he was making a sacrifice in accepting what the parish offered. There need have been no apology on the part of Chambers for attending the meeting. He was very glad that he was there.
6. A DRAFT OF THE RESOLUTIONS specified below, partly in the autograph of William Chambers, junior.
7. RESOLUTIONS passed at a meeting of farmers and other inhabitants of the parishes of Llanelly, Llanon, Pembrey, and Llangendeirne, held on Mynyss Sylen on Friday, 25 August, 1840.
(a) That the meeting viewed with great satisfaction the steps that had been taken by different Trusts to remove obnoxious and unnecessary gates, toll bars, etc., and deemed it further necessary to represent the propriety of letting each gate separately and annually and of seeing that the money taken at each gate be expended on the space of road it professed to clear.
(b) That the people employed on the road be the parishioners of the parish through which the road passed.
(c) That quarterly accounts be published of all monies expended and that an account detailing the expenditure of money laid out on bridges for the last 20 years be produced by application to the Clerk of the Peace and that carriages on springs subject to the assessed taxes pay the full toll and carts 3/4ths of what was then paid.
(d) That coal for lime pay half toll.
(e) That while the meeting reflected with pleasure upon the handsome manner in which the Right Hon. the Earl of Cawdor, Wm. Chambers, Wm. Owen Brigstocke, esquires, and Dr. Lucas had come forward in the then distressed state of the agricultural interest to meet their tenants with, a suitable reduction of rents, it deemed it necessary to present an humble address to each landlord in Llanelly, Llanon, Llangendeirne, and Pembrey, strongly representing the unparalleled depression of the farming interest and requesting most respectfully a reduction on their part to their tenancy in proportion to the depreciation of the produce of land consequent upon the general stagnation of commerce.
(f) That a memorial be presented from the parishioners of Llanelly to the impropriator humbly representing the unfair and deceitful manner in which the parishioners were inveigled to consent to the local tithe act, it being affirmed in the most solemn manner by parties then acting under Mr. Thomas that the tithes of the parish would not generally exceed one shilling and sixpence in the pound, while in all instances it had exceeded 4s. and in many cases 5s. and in some cases 3s. in the pound and begging of him to consent to receive 2s. in the pound and also to allow all tithe payers in the next payment the one shilling in the pound that was allowed to all persons the previous year; and that a memorial be sent from the parishioners of Llanon requesting the impropriator to receive 2s. in the pound.
(g) That the meeting could no less than express its deep coviction of the utmost importance of maintaining order in the removal of all those and similar grievances and that it determined to frown on nocturnal gatherings seeing that persons, characters and property were in danger from lawless and violent proceedings such as had been pursued lately under the mantle of night.The resolutions were moved by Stephen Evans of Cilcarw and seconded by John Jenkins of Coedmawr. The following resolution was then moved and carried
(h) That the meeting pledged itself to discountenance all nightly meetings by every means in its power and to use its influence in restoring order in that part of the country.
Signed: Wm. Chambers, jr. Chairman.
Wm. Rees, Tirheol. David Morris, Cappel Evans. John Thomas, Gynheidre.
John Thomas, Caercanvas. Lln. Thomas, Berwick. Aaron Jenkins, Gellyhire.
Richard Bonville, Sayborisha. Dd. Samuel, Blanant. Richard Edmund, Caerbigin.
William Rees, Soho. David Jones, Brynygroesfach. David Hugh, Bryngwinmawr.
William Robert, Glynea.
8. RESOLUTIONS (e-h) as above, with a list of the signatories.
9. RESOLUTIONS (a-d) as above.
10. A TRANSCRIPT of all the resolutions noted above.
11. A LETTER from Wm. Chambers, junior, from Pendine, 28 August, 1843, to Hugh Williams, solicitor, at Carmarthen.
He regretted that the Welshman should have noticed in the way it did Mr. Rees's amendment attributing motives which did not actuate him. As regarded the Rev. Dd. Rees it was still more wrong. The latter only expressed an anxiety that the position should be understood by the parties from whom it professed to come, namely, a meeting of Welshmen. Although the writer thought that Mr. J. H. Rees had pushed his amendment further than was necessary, he thought the observations in the Welshman were too strong and did not display the judgment which he had generally seen exhibited by the recipient. Williams was quarrelling with his own friends, he meant the people's friends. A heedless rabble would eagerly applaud anything that appeared to hit at those in authority and in those times magistrates were rather at a discount. He had thought him to be too old a soldier to be tickled by idle cheers. He feared that on the part of the editor there was some ill feeling towards the Rev. David Rees, than whom a more unflinching advocate of the people's rights and liberty did not exist. He prayed him to do what he could to put the matter right as between him and the magistrates and between the rival editors. It was a pity that the numberless enemies who were ready to pounce upon anything like a schism amongst the complaining and their advocates should have so good an opportunity placed at their disposal as that on Friday. Copy.
12. A LETTER from H. Williams to W. Chambers, junior, dated Sunday evening.
He regretted acutely the excessive goings on and particularly the outrages which had been committed on the recipients property. He had not the incentives alluded and every consideration of interest and of humanity induced him to hope and to exert himself to stem the torrent that seemed to threaten the country.
13. AN ANONYMOUS LETTER [? to William Chambers, junior].
Owing to a General Complaint having been made by your worker slaves against your monthly payments this is to give you three dais notis only, that you are to aquint them that you will pay them every fortnight from hence forthe and acording to your own promise made to them on the first of January last not taking it unto Cosnaidiartion to keep a penny from each man or other waise to suffer a visit from us on the night of the 30th instant with out any further notice.
Deated the 26th of Augst.
ever yours &c.
the night worker ?
14. A LETTER from R. Goring Thomas from Carmarthen, 29 August, 1843, to [? William Chambers, junior].
Col. Trevor was of opinion that as there seemed to be a prospect of getting further evidence (and the writer had seen J. Rees) the warrants should not issue until the result would be known. Edwards had made his deposition before Mr. Lewis of Stradey so that the warrant had better be issued by him and executed by the recipient's constables. Should Mr. Edwards think it necessary would he or Mr. Rees go with a guard to Gellywernen that night ?
15. A LETTER from H. R. Edwards from Gellywernen, 29 August, 1843, to [? William Chambers, junior].
The writer's father had every reason to believe that an attack would be made on Gellywernen either that night or the following night, and therefore begged the recipient to send or go up with some of the military that night.
16. A LETTER from H. R. Edwards from Gellywernen, Wednesday evening [? 3o August, 1843] to [? William Chambers, junior].
Gelly-glyd is situated near New Lodge on the Swansea road between Cross Hands and Pontardulais. He had no further information except that they were certain of being at the places which he had mentioned that night and he hoped that they would catch them. Every movement had better be kept very quiet as there were people in every corner.
17. A COPY OF THE RESOLUTIONS specified in No. 4 with a draft resolution passed on 31 August that
The chairman be requested to forward to Mr. R. G. Thomas a copy of the resolution passed on Mynydd Sulen. With regard to the 1s., Mr. Chambers having reported that Mr. Thomas expressed his intention of returning it to him and his tenants, they considered themselves entitled to the same and represented most strongly the injustice of his demanding it in future arising as it did from a mistake of Mr. Thomas's own agent. Meeting adjourned to 21 September.
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