Rebecca Riots, 1839 -1843 in West Wales, Remembered
The Rebecca Riots were a series of protests against conditions in the rural Wales, mainly Ceredigion, Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire, between 1839 and 1843. The riots were primarily directed at the high tolls imposed on the rural population in west Wales by the Turnpike Trusts. The riots were named after the pseudonym used by the protesters, "Rebecca", which was inspired by a passage in the Old Testament that referred to a matriarchal figure.
They are usually seen as attacks on toll gates on the roads of Wales. But many 'Rebecca' incidents were about general economic conditions in the countryside and not about tolls at all.
Celebration Days and Festivals in Wales
Here is a short list of celebration days and festivals in Wales. All these days are listed on this 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’. 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.
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.
The Rebecca Riots are remembered as a key moment in Welsh history, and they continue to be commemorated in a number of ways. The Rebecca Riots Trail, a walking trail that follows the route of the protests, has been established in West Wales. The protests are also commemorated in literature, with several novels and plays inspired by the events of the riots.
Located in Pembrokeshire Wales, our ethos is defined in the three words...