On the 13th of May 1839, the first of the Rebecca riots took place at Efailwen near St Clears. The Rebecca riots took place between 1839 and 1843, in the rural parts of Wales, here where I live in West Wales. Throughout Pembrokeshire, Cardiganshire and Carmarthenshire protests against the payment of tolls to use on the roads.
During these protests, men disgiuised as women with blackened faces attacked the tollgates calling themselves "Rebecca and her daughter," probably referring to a passage from the Bible where Rebecca ( my sisters name incidentally) talks of the need to "possess the gates of those who hate them."
The tollgates were seen as symbols of oppression, and became the focus of discontent.The protesters also hated paying high taxes to the church and resented local magistrates that did nothing to help them. This movement sweeped my local countryside, a popular uprising off the oppressed peasantry. By day the countryside seemed quiet, but at night fantastically disguised horsemen careered along highways and through narrow lanes on their their rebellious quests.They developed uncanny skill in evading the police and the infantry, and although their mounts were unweildy farm horses they also succeeded in outwitting the dragoons, after all the rioters knew their territory much better and could spread false information about when they would strike next, often leading troops on a wild goose chase.
They ceased as suddenly as they started, and for three and a half years my countryside was quiet and undisturbed. Then in the winter of 1842, they broke out again with greater violence, and this time continued throughout the following year. The reduction of tolls in 1844 because of the actions of the Rebecca rioters took away the major grievances of the protesters , and by 1845 my corner of West Wales was quiet again.
An inspiring uprising that had justice and reason on their side and is still remembered as one of the most striking protest movements in modern Welsh history. That still strikes the imagination in our hearts, minds and deeds.
Further reading :- The Rebecca Riots- David Williams, University of Wales Press, 1986.