I am told however that for two or three years before the last Harvest  the crops had been unusually deﬁcient, so that not only had they no surplus to dispose of, but in many instances were obliged to purchase for their own use.
The Harvest of last year, however, was above on average; and this, combined with the diminution of demand in the iron districts of Glamorganshire, and the neighbourhood, has had the effect of throwing down prices in a ruinous proportion. Barley, which last year fetched 6s/ the Winchester bushel, realises 3s/6. Other corn has fallen almost in the same proportion. Cheese from 3 1/2d. and 4d. to 2d. Butter likewise. A large farmer at Newcastle Emlyn, who has ordinarily carried over 2 Cwt of butter per fortnight to Glamorganshire can scarcely now sell this same quantity at the reduced price, once a month. Horses are almost unsaleable – lean cattle, low – but, I think, not so low.
(W. Day, from Carmarthen, to George Cornewall Lewis, 9 July 1843, Public Record Ofﬁce, Home Ofﬁce papers, 45/1611)
[The farmers meeting at Llangendeirne (Carms.) on 1 August 1843 to discuss tolls of the Kidwelly Trust] say there is not a by- lane of any sort by which a cart can get to the lime-kilns which has not a bar or chain across it. They say if ever there is a lane by which one or two farmers can get to their farms, without paying toll, an application is immediately made to the trustees to grant a bar on the lane, which is always of course acceded to; that there is never a fair held in any of the villages or principal towns but the toll contractor surrounds the town by every approachable access to it with a cordon of toll-bars. Chains are fastened across the roads close to the town, and thus they catch every farmer who has cattle, or sheep, or horses, or carts to bring to the fair ... In many of these lanes, by going a mile or two round, the farmers could escape toll. The lanes are kept in repair by the parishes, and are many of them quite as good as the high roads of the trusts ... it is impossible for a farmer to stir two miles from home in any direction without having a bar or gate to pay toll at. This, with the fact that many of these roads are maintained by themselves, naturally has greatly exasperated them, and the toll bars and gates are continually being demolished.
(The Times, 4 August 1843, ‘From our own reporter’, Carmarthen, 1 August)
They are not satisﬁed now with tollgates, but they hold large meetings frequently in the daytime and demand that rents shall be lowered by at least a third ... Our own tenants [of Middleton Hall estate, near Llandeilo] have signed and sent to Mr Adams [the landlord] a petition demanding rather than requesting a return of not less than a third of their Rents – Many of these Rents are very low but generally they are shamefully high.
(Thomas Cooke, steward of Middleton Hall, to his mother in England, 24 August 1843, National Library of Wales MS21209C)
Mynachlogddu June 19, 1843 William Peel Esq.,
Sheriff [of Carms.] Taliaris
Sir, ... in my journey of doing good to the Poor and distressed farmers I took notice of you as one who not careful enough of your Tenantry do by your oppressing and arbitrary power make them to languish under your hand. You know very well I dare say that every article the farmer has to sell is of a very low price in this county [Carms.] and you know too well that your rent is as high as ever therefore if you will not consider in time and at your next Rent day make a considerable allowance to your Tenantry I do hereby warn you in time to mind yourself for as sure as this letter will come to your hand I and my dutiful daughters from 5 to 10 hundred of us will visit your habitation at Taliaris in a few days and you will do well to prepare a secure place for your soul we will do well with your body your ﬂesh we will give to the Glansevin [a Carms. estate] hounds and your bones we will burn with those of Sir James Williams [of Edwinsford] and Lewis Gilfach in Tophet [symbolic for the torments of Hell, or Hell itself] unless you and them will make more good to the poor farmer than you do. Down the rent and all will be good.
I remain your faithful Servant Rebecca Do good
(A Rebecca threatening letter, Public Record Ofﬁce, Home
Ofﬁce papers, 45/454)
The Tithes have generally been taken in kind, and, odious as the system was, habit had rendered it tolerable. The farmer indeed lost the tenth part of his Crop, and was moreover exposed to annoyances in the harvesting of it – but that done there was an end of the question till the next year, and he had no further solicitude on the Subject. If the crop was abundant, the Parson carried off the larger quantity – if scanty, his proportion was reduced – not so, however, now – the Commutation is ﬁxed – and alters slowly with every seventh year – the amount is to be paid with little annual variation, however unproﬁtable may be the season to the farmer – and is to be paid in money.
(William Day, from Carmarthen, to George Cornewall Lewis, 9 July 1843, Public Record Ofﬁce, Home Ofﬁce papers, 45/1611)
A tithe Collector of ye name of Morgan living near Llangrannog was I am told sold in this way [i.e. by mock auction] a few nights ago. The purchase was declared as ‘The Devil’ and ye security was given in ye name of ye Clergyman of ye parish.
(Letter of Edward Crompton Lloyd Hall, a Liberal barrister and heir to Cilgwyn estate [Cards.], to Sir James Graham, the Home Secretary, 23 June 1843, Public Record Ofﬁce, Home Ofﬁce papers, 45/454)
Evidence before the Rebecca Commissioners of Revd Eleazar Evans, vicar of the parish of Llangrannog and Llandissiliogogo (Cards.)
They request me [in a threatening letter of ‘Becca’, 5 August 1843] to send back the advance in tithes and the law expenses by such a day, and that Becca and her daughters are sure to take notice of me if I do not do so; that Becca had found a place for my body, and they desired me to ﬁnd a place for my soul, and the place for my body was to be at the end of the National Whore, that is at the end of the Established Church, that is the title they give to it.
(Minutes of Evidence before the Commissioners of Inquiry for South Wales, 1844, set up speciﬁcally to inquire into the riots)
The New Poor Law
Many of the complaints upon the subject of the Poor Law are traceable to that cause, which is at the root of most of the ‘Welsh grievances’, the poverty of the people, and the difﬁculty of ﬁnding wherewithal to meet the continual demands of local taxation. Under the lax and irregular system which formerly prevailed in the rural districts, the Poor-rate was frequently paid in grain or in any other commodity more convenient at the time for the farmer to part with than money ... In this instance again the enforcement of a deﬁnite pecuniary impost in lieu of the cheaper and more indulgent system of composition heretofore allowed has fallen with the weight of a new tax on the occupier of the land.
(Report of the Commissioners of Inquiry for South Wales, 1844)
I [the Times reporter] had the question put to the meeting [of about 100 farmers at Conwil Elfed, Carms., on 16 August, 1843] – ‘If the poor generally were satisﬁed with their treatment in the workhouse?’
The answer was, ‘No; when they are sent to the workhouse the poor think they are going to be incarcerated there, the same as if any one of us were to be sent to prison.’
A farmer said, ‘Under the old system we relieved and maintained our poor among ourselves. The former system [of outdoor relief as distinct from sending the able-bodied poor to the workhouse] was not nearly so costly ...’
I had the question put, ‘Is the New Poor Law as unpopular amongst the farmers and ratepayers generally as it is amongst the poor?’ The answer was, ‘Everyone is against it.’
I then had the question put to the meeting in Welch [sic] – ‘If you had the power, would you wish to return to the old system of relieving the poor, in preference to the present?’
The answer was an immediate and unanimous shout, ‘Yes, tomorrow, if we could.’
(The Times, 19 August 1843, ‘From our own reporter’, Conwil, 16 August)
[Translation of original sent in Welsh]
Avenging of blood.
June 19 1843
As thy soul liveth and as we live if thou do not come out thou and the paupers that are under thy care before next Wednesday we are determined to destroy it wholly and woe be to thy body for we shall take care of thee that thou shalt not escape (!Beware!) joke we do not any more.
Rebecca Miss Brown
[to] Mr Davies Ye Master of ye
Union Workhouse Newcastle Emlyn
(Public Record Ofﬁce, Home Ofﬁce papers, 45/454)
Regulation of landholding
No farm which has been vacated is to be taken by another or else – these two last words close all their threats.
(Thomas Cooke, steward of Middleton Hall, to his mother in England, 24 August 1843, National Library of Wales MS 21209C)
The county of Carmarthen is being valued by the Emissaries of these miscreants, and any Farmer who pays more for his farm than their ideal standard will have the midnight incendiary to enlighten him of his error.
(J. Lloyd Davies, Esq., of Alltyrodyn Mansion, Cards., 17 June 1843 to Home Ofﬁce, Public Record Ofﬁce, Home Ofﬁce papers, 45/454)
It is only within these few days that I received information of one incendiary ﬁre that was completed, another that broke out and was extinguished almost immediately; and I am led to believe that those ﬁres were in consequence of the parties who owned the property having a farm, and another portion of land which they held as well, and that the ﬁre was supposed to be the visitation of Rebecca for that supposed offence. About a fortnight or three weeks ago, there was a threatening notice placed upon the door of a farmer in the neighbourhood of Whitland, ... and his offence was supposed to be that of holding three farms, I think.
(Evidence of Col. George Rice Trevor, Vice-Lieutenant of Carms., before Rebecca Commissioners, 7 November 1843, Minutes of Evidence before the Commissioners of Inquiry for South Wales, 1844)
Correction of public and private wrongs
In ye same parish [Llanﬁhangel-ar-arth] a gentleman farmer a Mr Bowen of Wernmackwyth ... had a visit from ‘Rebecca and her daughters’ who brought with them a child which they told him was an illegitimate of his own and on pain of having his premises ﬁred, made him promise to take care of it in future.
(Letter of Edward Crompton Lloyd Hall to Sir James Graham, 24 August 1843, Public Record Ofﬁce, Home Ofﬁce papers, 45/454)
Farm labourers and the riots
I hear that they [farm labourers] are holding meetings every night on the hills in this county [Carms.] and Cardiganshire.
They complain that the farmers pay them ill and treat them badly. They say to the farmers, ‘We have heard your grievances and helped you to get them redressed; and now we will tell you ours’.I have heard of several meetings of this kind in which the labourers have pretty loudly grumbled at their treatment by the farmers, in being underpaid ... The farmers are beginning to express much alarm at these proceedings.
(The Times, 5 September 1843, ‘From our own reporter’, Carmarthen, 30 August)
Rebecca and politics
It is a matter of great satisfaction to state our belief that the disturbances of the country, though so widely extended, were not connected with political causes, and that nothing like a general spirit of disaffection, or organised hostility to the laws, pervaded the community.
(Report of the Commissioners of Inquiry for South Wales, 1844, p. 1)
I was rather surprised to learn during my inquiries that the text I sent to you some time ago, the 24th chapter of Genesis, and 60th verse, on which the Rebeccaites are said to found their proceedings, has frequently been preached from in the Baptist, Independent, and Dissenting chapels, and that the preachers have advised the people of their outrageous proceedings. The Wesleyan Methodist preachers, on the contrary, have pursued an opposite course, and have urged the people not to break the law.
(The Times, 29 July 1843, reporting on ‘the state of South Wales’)
Poor Rebecca! ... You are a Chartist! Why, you don’t know the meaning of the word. A political incendiary! – Politics and you are perfect strangers – more’s the pity and the worse for you.
(Editorial, The Welshman, 21 July 1843 – a radical newspaper)
It seems the impression of several gentlemen and magistrates with whom I have conversed that many Chartists are prowling about the country and doing a great deal of mischief. Numbers of strangers are about who conduct themselves suspiciously. I much doubt, however, if such be the case, whether they meet with any success. It is difﬁcult to stuff the head of a Welsh farmer, who speaks and reads only Welsh, with the political crotchets of Chartism.
(The Times, 18 August 1843, ‘From our own reporter’, Carmarthen, 15 August)
Justice and the magistrates
I inquired, – ‘You state your chief grievance to be that you cannot get redress for oppressive exactions. Now, if you could get what you call ‘justice from the magistrates’, would the present disturbances cease?’
A farmer who spoke English answered – ‘My opinion is, if we could only get justice, it would be perfectly unnecessary to have either soldiers or policemen ... if proper means of redress were afforded there would be no disturbances in Wales. If the magistrates now would only take proper means to satisfy the country by doing simply justice they may take away the soldiers whenever they please.’
(The Times, 19 August 1843, reporting a Rebecca meeting of 100 farmers at the Blue Bell Inn, Conwil Elfed (Carms.) on 16 August)
That conduct of the magistrates at petty sessions is quite unbearable that we are treated like dogs we are told to hold our tongues or go out of the room, and the law that is dealt out to us is the law of the magistrate’s clerk and not the law of the Queen, and the magistrates’clerks charge us what they please.
(National Library of Wales MS 14590E:Letter18 (nodate), but referring to a statement made at the Conwil Elfed meeting of Rebeccaites of 16 August 1843)
Ceffyl pren and Rebecca
And as Turnpike tolls are most extraordinarily heavy and ye gates placed upon ye most catching system throughout this country, they naturally endeavour to relieve themselves of that burden and there being a custom in this part of ye country called carrying ‘Cefﬁl pren’ ... ye mode of getting rid of such a grievance by nocturnal violence is perfectly familiar to their minds.
(Edward Crompton Lloyd Hall to Sir James Graham, 15 June 1843, Public Record Ofﬁce, Home Ofﬁce papers, 45/454)