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  • Rebecca Riots Remembered - 13th May

    Rebecca Riots, 1839 -1843 in West Wales, Remembered

    The Rebecca Riots were a series of protests by farmers and agricultural workers in rural west Wales, mainly Ceredigion, Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire. The riots were primarily directed at the high tolls and taxation imposed on the rural population by the Turnpike Trusts. The riots were named after the name used by the protesters, "Rebecca", a matriarchal figure from the Old Testament.

    Merched Beca

    In Welsh, the protesters were referred to as "Merched Beca" or Rebecca's Daughters.


    Rebecca Riots - 1839 to 1843


    Celebration Days and Festivals in Wales

    Here is a short list of celebration days and festivals in Wales. All these days are listed on the "Celebration Days in Wales" page below.



    Background to the Rebecca Riots

    The background to the Rebecca Riots was the economic depression that hit Wales in the 1830s, which resulted in widespread poverty and unemployment. The Turnpike Trusts, which were responsible for maintaining the roads and charging tolls for their use, were seen as a symbol of oppression by the rural population. The tolls were particularly onerous on the poor, who had to pay for every journey they made, and were often forced to take longer and more circuitous routes to avoid the toll gates. The rioters, who were mostly farmers and agricultural workers, would ride at night and destroy the tollgates but they also attacked the homes of turnpike officials.

    Rebecca Riots - First Protest in Efailwen, 13th May 1839

    The first protest took place in the summer of 1839 in the village of Efailwen, Carmarthenshire (between St Clears and Crymych) where a group of men disguised themselves as women and destroyed a toll gate. This was followed by a series of similar protests throughout Wales, in which gangs of men dressed in women's clothing would assemble and march on a toll gate and take the law into their own hands. These gangs would demand that the toll be abolished, and if their demands were not met, they would use sledgehammers and other tools to destroy the gate and the toll house.

    These gangs became known as ‘Rebecca and her daughters’, "Merched Beca" in Welsh. It is believed that they took their name from a passage in the Bible, Genesis XXIV, verse 60 – ‘And they blessed Rebekah and said unto her, "Let thy seed possess the gate of those which hate them". Usually at night, men dressed as women with blackened faces attacked the hated tollgates and destroyed them.


    Rebecca Riots - Merched Beca. Rebecca riots in West Wales


    Decline of the Rebecca Rioters

    The riots were initially successful in achieving their objectives, with many tolls being reduced or abolished altogether. However, the authorities responded by deploying large numbers of troops to the affected areas, and the protests eventually lost momentum. In total, over 250 people were arrested in connection with the riots, and several were sentenced to transportation to Australia.

    Rebecca Riots Remembered

    The Rebecca Riots were a significant moment in Welsh history, and they had a lasting impact on Welsh culture and identity. The protests were a symbol of resistance against the oppressive economic and political conditions of the time, and they helped to shape the popular perception of Wales as a nation that was prepared to fight for its rights.

    Today every August Bank Holiday, a Ras Beca (Rebecca Race) race is held near Ffynnon Groes in north Pembrokeshire. First run in 1977, the race is a five-mile course across the Preseli Mountains. The winner is given an axe and he/she smashes a gate to commemorate the Rebecca Riots.


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    Last updated 6th May 2024

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