Mapping the Rebecca Riots #1

On another of our adventures around Wales, my wife and I stayed in a lovely, converted forge in Betws Ifan. It is in the grounds of a charming manor house that was built in 1835 by Abel Walters who made his fortune in the tanning industry. It was such a peaceful and relaxing location that I decided to photograph the grounds and publish a photo-essay on my website. During my research on the manor house, I discovered that it had been involved in the Rebecca Riots that took place between 1839 and 1844 in Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire, and Ceredigion. I had been aware of the riots, but to actually stay somewhere that had experienced the wrath of the rioters was spine tingling.  To aid my investigation our host at the manor house suggested that I check-out a published blog. This well-crafted blog inspired me to investigate the riots further. To further my knowledge of the Rebecca Riots I commenced research on the subject by visiting my local library in Llanelli. In addition to suggesting that I borrow ‘The Rebecca Riots’ by David Williams, they also recommended that I contact a well-known Llanelli historian, who was very willing to share his wealth of knowledge.

The Rebecca Riots proved to be such an absorbing, informative, and well-written book that I bought a copy – an ex-library book from Newport. My reading list has now extended to ‘Petticoat Heroes’ by Rhian E. Jones, ‘Rebecca Riot’s by Henry Tobit Evans, the novel, ‘The Rebecca Rioter ‘by Amy Dillwyn (second-hand purchase), and the one I am most looking forward to reading: ‘In Pursuit of Twm Carnabwth’, a recently published account by Hefin Wyn.

I am so grateful to my ever-expanding network of contacts, who are supporting my research and providing access to on-line essays and essential information. I have recently been made aware of the location of Beca’s Horn, and I’m hoping to gain permission to photograph it in a contextual location. I have also lately purchased a copy of the Dylan Thomas movie script that was first published in 1965. He wrote the screenplay in 1948, and it was released as the movie: ‘Rebecca’s Daughters’ 44-years later; 5th March 1992. A link to the Vimeo movie can be found here.

The Rebecca Riots have rapidly become my ‘passion project’, and I’m constantly endeavouring to enthuse others with my passion.

After much head scratching, internet searching, and book research, I finally managed to discover a comprehensive inventory of the riot sites and dates; it was at this juncture that I decided to photo-document the riot sites and to assign each of them with a geolocation using what3words in both Welsh and English. This is to enable others, who may follow in my footsteps, to locate the riot sites. Initially, this concept seemed a logical progression to my project, and I assigned it the title of Mapping the Rebecca Riots.

I was invited to a re-enactment of the destruction of the toll gate at Efailwen, Carmarthenshire in 1839. The performance took place at Caffi Beca on 17th July, which is the anniversary date. What an event! I was totally unprepared. There must been in-excess of 200 people there to bear witness to a passionate performance of Rebecca and her Daughters. The re-enactment was to commemorate the sacking of the toll gate, and to launch a campaign to raise funds for a statue of  Twm Carnabwth. Or to quote Professor Martin Johnes of Swansea University: “For me, a statue of Twm Carnabwth would not be commemorating the man himself but what he represents.”  A GoFundMe account has been established to achieve the target of £10,000.

One of my objectives is to organise exhibitions to commemorate the riots and the outcomes. The Senedd has expressed an interest in hosting an exhibition in 2025. I am, however, looking to present an exhibition in 2024; somewhere central to the three counties,  easily accessible, and with a substantive and contextual connection to the farming communities; perhaps a barn or old warehouse.  I have engaged a Welsh ballad singer to perform ‘Iesu difyrrwch f’enaid drud’, which was Thomas Rees’s favourite hymn.

I have an interest in the social and historic significance of the Rebecca Riots, and to simplify access to the riot sites I shall apply the what3words location app. It is my ambition to obtain funding to produce substantial quantities of ‘Riot’ pamphlets detailing the sites, with supporting information in Welsh and English, for distribution to schools, and libraries.

A proposed visit to the National Wool Museum in Drefach Felindre will hopefully provide information as to the type and style of dress that Rebecca Philips would have lent to Thomas Rees to create his ‘Rebecca’ character. My objective is to locate a tall, large, pugilist-type character who will be willing to dress as ‘Rebecca’ and be photographed, hopefully outside of Thomas Rees’s original home.

I photographed the toll house at Sandy in Llanelli that was rebuilt in 1839, on 2nd August, which is the anniversary date, and on 25th August, again, an anniversary date, I shall visit and photograph Mynydd Sylen, Pontyberem, which is where a gathering of 3,000 men took place in 1843.

My objective is to visually document the landscape, structures and remnants that still bear witness to this turbulent period in Welsh history; to photo-document the physical remains of buildings such as Toll Houses, Toll Gates, and landscapes that retain historical import, and to commemorate the significance of Thomas Rees (Twm Carnabwth). However,  my research has highlighted the wider aspect and consequences of the riots, and my project narrative is no-longer clear-cut. The people that I have met, and the passion they have displayed, implies a more contemporary narrative, that I have yet to realise.

2 responses to Mapping the Rebecca Riots #1

  1. Gaynor says:

    Wonderful story….your passion is catching…poss locations for exhibition….depends on the size of it… Carmarthen Museum?….get in touch with Cllr Andrew Lenny on Carms County Council…he is an enthusiastic historian..or may be it vould be held across numerous venues. Happy to help you with dome ideas if i had more info

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