Rebecca in Pontarddulais by Ivor Griffiths 

150th Anniversary of the Rebecca Riots

The year of 1993 marked the 150th anniversary of the Rebecca Riots in South Wales which reached its peak with the first and only pitched battle between the Rebeccaites and the civil forces at the Pontardulais gate on September 6th 1843. where an unknown number of the rioters were wounded and three of the leaders captured.

The Cause

What caused these riots? How did a normally peaceful and God fearing people, so accustomed to hardship and injustice, suddenly resort to violence to try to right their wrongs...and why the name 'Rebecca'? It was first heard during an attack on the Efail Wen tollgate in 1839 led by a huge man dressed in a woman's nightgown and wearing a wig of ringlets. This formidable figure was Thomas Rees (Twm Camabwth), a devout member of Bethel Chapel, when sober and also a well known prize fighter. The story goes that only one woman - a tall and stout old maid named Rebecca could provide him with a suitable garment, and during the raid, Twm was laughingly addressed as Rebecca by his followers. But the biblical quotation from Genesis, chapter 24, verse 60, was continually on people's lips during the disturbances: 

Rebeca Stone

'And they blessed Rebecca and said unto her, be thou the mother of thousand and let thy seed possess the gate of they that hate them.' This verse was shouted out from the pulpits and repeated by the God-fearing country folk who believed that by destroying the gates they were doing God's work. Letters were being dispatched daily to the Home Secretary Sir James Graham by the panic stricken magistrates. and eventually he sent a request to the Duke of Wellington, Commander-in-Chief at the War Office that a company of infantry under the command of Colonel Love be dispatched immediately to Carmarthen; troops that eventually numbered more than 2000. Colonel Love was a veteran infantry man who had fought in every major battle from Corunna to Waterloo and had a great deal of experience in quelling insurrections in many parts of the country. He had seen action in Merthyr against the ironworkers, had saved Bristol from being destroyed by rioters, and had taken part in the quelling of the Canadian Rebellion of 1831, returning in time to end the Chartists march on Newport. However, the type of 'Guerilla' warfare employed by the Rebeccaites would make this assignment the most frustrating of his career.

The Story

Early on Thursday morning June 22nd 1843, Colonel Love's carriage and escort travelled through Pontardulais on its way to Carmarthen, to be followed later by the 73rd Regiment of Foot, marching the 28 miles in two 5 hour stages. It is possible that this display of military strength passing through Pontarddulais would have been keenly observed by a young weaver named Daniel Lewis from his cottage on the Goppa. It probably impressed the villagers, especially the young maidens, when Major Parlby and his troops of the 4th Light Dragoons rode leisurely through the village on the previous Monday in their resplendent uniforms and gleaming sabres. The leisurely pace was changed to a full gallope once the troop had topped forest hill and were on the road to Crosshands. It was here that Major Parlby received an urgent message from the Mayor of Carmarthen informing him that rioters were attacking the Workhouse. He immediately ordered the troop to a full gallop which they maintained all the way to Carmarthen. There they charged with sabres drawn into the crowd milling before the Workhouse, scattering men, women and children in all directions. More than ten years would pass before the 4th Light Dragoons would make a similar charge, and it would not be against terrified men, women and children, but Russian artillery at Balaclava, in that ill fated charge of the Light Brigade.

It was inevitable that the Rebecca movement would spillover into West Glamorgan, which eventually happened at midnight on July 6th, when about 200 men attacked and destroyed the Bolgoed gate near the Fountain Inn on the outskirts of Pontardulais. The 'Rebecca' leading the rioters was Daniel Lewis, the weaver who lived with his parents in a cottage beside Goppa Chapel. He was a 'devil may care' young man who wrote poetry under the name of 'Petrys Bach'; enjoyed a drink in the Fountain Inn, and had a 'happy-go-Iucky' disposition. He had won the heart of Elizabeth, the eldest daughter of Richard Davies of Ystomenlle farm in Hendy but had not won the approval of her father who was determined that his daughter would marry a farmer. Equally determined was Elizabeth that she would marry no one but Daniel and Elizabeth Davies was a very headstrong young woman. She managed to wheedle the plan of the raid on the Bolgoed gate from Daniel and on the night, accompanied by a maidservant, she stealthily made her way through Pontardulais to the Fountain Inn, and watched the whole action from an upstairs window.

drawing of women in the rebecca riots

The Glamorgan Constabulary

The destruction of the Bolgoed gate immediately received the attention of the Glamorgan Constabulary under the command of their Chief Constable, Captain Charles Fredrick Napier. The Glamorgan police force was less than two years old, having been formed when Captain Napier was sworn in as Chief Constable in October }841, Arriving in Pontardulais on the morning after the raid, accompanied by Inspector Rees and 2 Constables, he went from cottage to cottage, asking questions but obtaining little information. He was not unduly discouraged, hoping that the substantial reward being offered might bring him an informer. Eventually this did happen on Saturday July 22nd. when a John Jones of Cwmscer, Llangyfelach walked into the police station in Swansea and gave Inspector Rees the names of six of the leaders. The magistrate, John Dillwyn LLewelyn of Penllergaer immediately made out warrants for the arrest of Daniel Lewis, weaver of the Goppa; Griffith Vaughan of the Red Lion Hotel; William and Henry Morgan of Cwmcille Fach Farm in Felindre. Matthew Morgan and David Jones of Llangefelach. Captain Napier left Swansea after dark. accompanied by Inspector Rees and 3 Constables. David Jones and Matthew Morgan were quickly arrested and the party returned to Swansea; had a hurried breakfast and were back on the road by 7.30 a.m. heading for Felindre. William Morgan was arrested in his cottage near Cwmcille Fach, but not without the police suffering a torrent of abuse from his wife. Because the track leading down to Cwmcille Fach farm was rough and narrow, Captain Napier decided to leave the wagon at the cottage in the care of the Constables Jenkins and Lewis while he would ride with Inspector Rees to the farm to arrest Henry Morgan. Arriving at the farm they found Henry sitting in the kitchen surrounded by his family consisting of parents; two brothers, Rees and John and his sister Margaret. Captain Napier read the warrant but Henry claimed that he was too ill to travel to Swansea. Napier ordered the Inspector to put the manacles on him and as the Inspector moved forward, the Mother, along with Margaret and Rees attacked him, while the Father and John attempted to prevent Napier seizing Henry. Napier managed to drag Henry out to the yard, warding off the blows being rained on him by the old man and his son. In the kitchen the Inspector had been thrown to the floor with the three attackers on top of him holding him down. while out in the yard the hard pressed Napier drew his pistol and in the struggle it was fired, wounding John Morgan. Rees and Margaret hearing the shot, dashed out to the yard; Rees attacking Napier with a hammer while Margaret struck at him with a gridiron. The Inspector managed to throw off the old woman and staggered towards the door, narrowly missing a pan of boiling water that Mrs. Morgan threw at him.

Meanwhile, Constable Jenkins,. waiting by the wagon also heard the pistol shot echoing through the valley and jumped on his horse and galloped with all speed towards the farm, shouting to Lewis to follow with the wagon. Jenkins charged into the farmyard waving his cutlass just as Inspector Rees appeared at the door with his pistol in his hand. The battle was over and Henry was bundled into the wagon as the Morgan family helped the wounded John indoors. Napier was bleeding profusely from a head wound and the Inspector had several cuts and bruises, so they returned to Swansea, where a furious John Llewelyn, seeing the state of the Chief Constable and his Inspector, immediately dispatched a strong force of policemen backed by a detachment of the 73rd Regiment of Foot to Felindre to bring in the whole Morgan family. which was achieved without trouble.

The Arrests

The task of arresting Daniel Lewis and Griff Vaughan fell to Superintendent Peake and Sergeant Bennet. Griff Vaughan was arrested quickly at the Red Lion before the question of jurisdiction could be argued, as the Red Lion was in Carmarthenshire. A point of law did arise up the Goppa where Daniel, a well known prankster. insisted that the wagon had to be brought to his door according to the law. Peake, already worried about the arrest outside the County, did not wish to create further problems, so the wagon was brought down t: narrow lane with great difficulty and much merriment from the neighbours and Daniel stepped inside with as much dignity as the manacles would allow.

Why had John Jones betrayed Daniel and his companions? It was claimed that it was not for the reward... in fact he never collected it. Two reasons were presented. The first was the long standing feud between Jones and the Morgan family over some grazing land on Llangyfelach common, so the betrayal may have been an act of revenge. But the other reason given was the fact that John Jones desired the hand of Elizabeth Davies of Ystomenlle farm, and saw this as an opportunity to get rid of his rival, Daniel Lewis. The late Wynford Vaughan Thomas. Daniel's grandson, always insisted that Jones' act of betrayal was to see his grandfather condemned to transportation, leaving the field clear for himself to win Elizabeth.

The Rebecca movement was now becoming more violent with a criminal element infiltrating its ranks. Johnnie Jones (Shoni Scubor Fawr), an arrogant bully with a long criminal record, and his henchman, David Davies (Dai Cantwr), with their gang of ruffians from the Stag and Pheasant in Five Roads, were terrorizing the people of the Gwendraeth Valley by running a sort of 'protection racket' under the banner of Rebecca. This was the situation when Jack Hughes of Ty Isha near Tumble decided to organise an attack on the Hendy and Pontardulais gates. News of the plan leaked out and on Wednesday morning, September 6th. Miss Hannah Edwards of Gelliwernen heard that it was to take place that night so she immediately sent a servant galloping to Llanelli with a note to the magistrate, William Chambers Junior, who in turn sent a messenger with all speed to Swansea to inform Captain Napier of the impending attack on the Pontardulais gate and also sent a request to Major Parlby in Carmarthen for cavalry support. So, as Jack Hughes and his Rebeccaites rode from Lannon that night, William Chambers Jnr., with 20 men of the 76th Regiment of Foot were preparing to defend the Hendy gate with no knowledge of what preparations Captain Napier had made in Pontardulais.

Civil & Armed Forces

Napier had no soldiers; his party consisting of 8 Police Officers:- Captain Napier, Superintendent Peake, Sergeant Jenkins (promoted after the Felindre incident), Sergeant Jones, with Constables, Thomas Jones, John Price, W .R. Williams and Peter Wright. They were also accompanied by three magistrates. John Dillwyn Llewelyn, Lewis Llewelyn Dillwyn, of Penllergaer and Matthew Moggridge. They rode out of Swansea and on reaching Penllergaer they continued their journey across the fields past Coedbach farm so as not to give any warning of their approach. They stopped and tethered their horses a few hundred yards from the tollgate (The S.W.E.B. Depot stands on that spot today) and waited to move out on foot. Shortly after midnight, the sounds of hunting horns and shouts of a large number of men heralded the arrival of 'Rebecca's daughters'. They swarmed down Fforest hill giving a loud cheer and firing a volley into the air as they passed the Red Lion where Griff Vaughan was on bail. Led by Rebecca on a white horse shouting 'Come on Lads', they charged across the bridge and with axes, crowbars and sledgehammers began to demolish the gate and gatehouse. They were so preoccupied with their task that Napier and his men arrived without being observed. He lined his men across the road and shouted 'stop!' Immediately three of the mounted leaders wheeled to face the line of Policemen, and Rebecca on the white horse aimed his pistol at Napier and fired. The shot missed and Napier shouted 'Mark that man' followed by the command 'Fire!' The line of policemen and magistrates fired a volley into the crowd at the gate who returned with an erratic volley. The rioters then broke up, dashing in a wild panic towards the bridge as the police and magistrates fired another devastating volley. The rioters fired aimlessly as they ran into the mass of bewildered men on the bridge struggling to gain the apparent protection of Carmarthenshire and ignoring the flailing hooves of frightened horses and deaf to the appeals of their wounded comrades, staggering and crawling to reach the safety of the woods of their home county.

Meanwhile, Napier had dragged Jack Hughes off his horse and succeeded in overpowering him, but was suddenly struck from behind and momentarily rendered unconscious. Sergeant Jenkins once again came to his chiefs rescue, firing at Jack Hughes, shattering his arm with a pistol shot. Hughes made a dash for the bridge. but was captured by Constable Price. Lewis Llewelyn Dillwyn apprehended David Jones who struggled fiercely in spite of gunshot wounds in the back and several deep cutlass wounds on his head. John Hugh had been captured by Constable Thomas Jones and the three bloodstained prisoners were manacled and made to sit on the ground by the partly demolished gatehouse and attended by the magistrates while Captain Napier supervised the collecting of abandoned weapons and horses scattered around the remains of the tollgate.

William Chambers and his soldiers guarding the Hendy gate listened to the distant sounds of gunfire believing that the Pontardulais gate was being destroyed by a large body of armed men without opposition and it would be their turn next. When the firing died away, Chambers decided to march his men towards the Black Horse Square to intercept the rioters and keep them away from the Hendy gate. This almost ended in disaster, as the soldiers of the 76th Regiment of Foot almost collided with a troop of the 4th Light Dragoons riding to support the defense of the Hendy gate. Seeing horsemen approaching, the infantrymen formed a line across the road near Neuadd Fach House with their muskets ready to fire, while the cavalrymen, confronted by a line of armed men ~ drew their sabres in readiness to charge. Fortunately the moon came out from behind a cloud at that tense moment illuminating the bright uniforms of the opposing groups, otherwise British troops would have attacked each other for the first time since the Civil War 200 years earlier.

Inquests & Trials

In their anger at what they considered to be a shameful ambush at Pontarddulais, Shoni Scubor Fawr and his gang of ruffians in the Stag and Pheasant decided to complete Jack Hughes plan and two nights later they destroyed the Hendy gate, killing Sarah Williams, the gate keeper in the process. So, now murder had been added to the list of alleged crimes of the Rebeccaites... or had it? At the inquest on Sarah Williams held in the Black Horse Inn on the following Monday and in spite of the details of the gunshot wounds given by John Kirkhouse Cooke, the surgeon who carried out the post mortem, the jury returned a verdict of 'death from effusion of blood into the lungs from an unknown cause'. Mr Bonville, the coroner was speechless with disbelief while Kirkhouse Cooke walked out in disgust. This verdict had two results; Mrs Martha Philpot, landlady of the Black Horse did a roaring trade all day... and the authorities decided to move the trials of the Pontardulais men to Cardiff, away from the influence of Rebecca's popular supporters.

The trials took place in Cardiff in October before Justices Baron Gurney and Sir Cresswell Cresswell, with the Attorney General, Sir Fredrick Pollock himself conducting the prosecution and Mr Davenport Hill defending, assisted by the well known Chartist and rumoured secret leader of the Rebecca movement, Mr Hugh Williams, the Carmarthen lawyer. The first to be tried was Jack Hughes who stood alone in the dock as he faced the additional charge of attempting to shoot Captain Napier. He had pleaded not guilty, but the overwhelming evidence brought in a verdict of Guilty. Next morning, he stood in the dock alongside his two companions, David Jones and John Hugh to be sentenced, as Jones and Hugh had pleaded guilty and thrown themselves on the mercy of the court. Jack Hughes was sentenced to 20 years transportation and Jones and Hugh were given 7 years each.

The Morgans family of Cwmcille Fach farm were next to stand in the dock to be sentenced as they had already entered a plea of guilty and a stir ran through the court when the Attorney General announced that the prosecution had withdrawn the felonious charge of the assault on Captain Napier and Inspector Rees and replaced them with the lesser charge of misdemeanor. The reason given for this forebearance on the part of the prosecution was that the Morgans had resisted in the mistaken belief that it was illegal to make an arrest on a Sunday. The parents, Morgan and Esther were discharged due their advanced years and their promise of good behaviour. The two sons were each given 12 months imprisonment and their sister Margaret received 6 months... all sentences to be served without hard labour because of their previous good character.

Sentences & Outcomes

Next Daniel and his five companions stood in the dock and an embarrassed Sir Frederick informed the judges that he was unable to proceed due to the only witness not being present. The judges decided to adjourn the case to the Spring assizes in Swansea... Napier still being hopeful of finding John Jones, who, unknown to him had already fled the country, making a hurried emigration to America.

So, as the three men from Llannon were on their way to Millbank Penitentiary in London to await a prison ship to take them half way across the world, the men from Pontardulais rode home to a rapturous welcome from the people of the village and Daniel was re-united with his Elizabeth.

What happened to the people who stood in the dock at the special assizes in Cardiff? Jack Hughes served his time; married and raised a family in Tasmania. His descendents still keep in touch with the family in Llannon and Tumble. David Jones died within a week of arriving at the penal settlement, the injuries he had received in the Pontardulais battle, plus the rigours of the long voyage on the convict ship had proven too much for him, John Hugh is also believed to have married in the colonies and never returned to Wales. The Morgan family resumed their normal lives after the children had served their sentences and Daniel... well, he had Elizabeth's heart, but Richard Davies of Ystomenlle farm stubbornly refused to let him have her hand. However, when Elizabeth became of full age; she married her Daniel on Christmas Day 1847 in Llanedi Church and many years later, one of their daughters named Morfydd presented them with a grandson, who was to become famous as a writer and radio and television presenter, the late Wynford Vaughan Thomas.

Daniel Lewis Gravestone

The Gravestone of Daniel Lewis 

Shortly before his death Wynford accepted an invitation to open a new lounge called the Rebecca Room in the Fountain Inn, where his grandmother had watched his grandfather lead the first raid by Rebecca on the Bolgoed tollgate. He later visited their grave in the graveyard of the Goppa only a few hundred yards away and gazed down at the traffic speeding along the Swansea road, and the distant M4 motorway and jovially commented, 'No charge, courtesy of Rebecca and her daughters'.