What happened during them?
The Rebecca riots took place in the rural parts of west Wales, including Pembrokeshire, Cardiganshire, and Carmarthenshire, in 1839-43. They were a series of protests made by tenant farmers against the payment of tolls (fees) charged to use the roads. Turnpike Trusts, or groups of businessmen, owned most of the main roads. These men fixed the charges and decided how many tollgates (turnpikes) could be built.
During the riots, men disguised as women attacked the tollgates. They called themselves 'Rebecca and her daughters'. This is most likely to be after a passage in the Bible where Rebecca talks of the need to 'possess the gates of those who hate them' (Genesis XXIV, verse 60). People at that time knew the Bible well.
Tolls were a big expense for small farmers, who used the roads to take their crops and animals to market, and also to collect lime (a chalky mineral). Lime was used to improve the quality of the soil so farmers could grow better crops. It could cost as much as five shillings (25p) in tolls to move a cart of lime eight miles inland. The people of west Wales did not want to pay to use their roads.
- Why does the writer of the letter sign it 'Becca & children' instead of giving their own name?
- Why are the special constables ('those which has sworn to be connstable') being warned to take notice of this letter?
- Why does the letter object to 'Bowlin and company'?
- What is the writer's attitude to the police?
- How can we tell that the person who wrote this letter was not well educated?
- How does the language of the letter make it appear threatening?
1. Look at Source 1. This letter was addressed to the inhabitants of St Clears and others in Carmarthenshire in 1842.
- When did the attack on the toll gate take place?
- Do you think this is likely to be a reliable piece of evidence? Give your reasons.
- Why do you think the supporters of Rebecca wanted the toll keeper's account books?
- What things suggest that the attack was well planned?
- How do you think William Rees might have felt during this attack?
2. Look at Source 2. The toll collector describes an attack on the Trevaughan Turnpike Gate in August 1843.
- Why does Hall tell Rebecca and her daughters not to meet together on Wednesday night?
- How does Hall advise the Welshmen to act to get their views heard?
- How does the handbill aim to persuade people to listen? (Comment on: text size; strong adjectives and nouns; Hall's writing style.)
- What information does this source provide about the attitude of the authorities towards Rebecca and her daughters?
- Why do you think Hall had this handbill printed in English and Welsh?
3. Look at Source 3. Edward Crompton Lloyd Hall, high sheriff of Cardiganshire, offers advice to Rebecca and her daughters in 1843.
- What points does Ellis make?
- How do you think a farmer might feel about these points?
4. Look at Source 4. George H. Ellis was involved in gathering evidence at the start of an inquiry into the state of the Turnpike Trusts in Wales and the causes of the disturbances.
Read the extracts, think about how a farmer might feel about the points made by Ellis.