Sunday, 11 February 2018

144 Rebecca in Gower

144 Rebecca in Gower
Anyone eating or drinking at the Poundffald Inn in Three Crosses could hardly imagine they were at the scene of a disturbance which was brought to the attention of the Home Secretary during the mid-nineteenth century.  The unusual name Poundffald was that of the hamlet before it became encompassed within the village of Three Crosses.  It refers in both English and Welsh to a pound for keeping stray animals, like those still visible in Pennard and Penrice.  The pound is preserved within the pub buildings and now used as a cellar.
During the nineteenth century, a toll-house was on the site where the Poundffald Inn now stands, run by the Swansea Turnpike Trust to collect tolls from users of the road to Penclawdd.  Trusts had been set up during the 18th and 19th centuries by individual Acts of Parliament, with powers to collect tolls for maintaining the principal roads in Britain.  Members of the Swansea Turnpike Trust included such prominent people as John Henry Vivian MP of Singleton, Major Thomas Penrice of Kilvrough, with as chairman Matthew Moggeridge, brother-in-law of John Dillwyn Llewelyn. 
Local communities resented toll gates being set up, especially with exorbitant charges levied for using routes which had been freely traversed for centuries.  Toll gates could appear along routes to lime kilns, catching farmers on their way to collect lime for use as fertiliser.  Opposition was particularly intense in mountainous regions where alternative good routes were scarce.  Levying tolls on old routes sparked the protests known as the Rebecca Riots, which began in South-West Wales in 1839.  One night in May 1839 a gang of armed men disguised in women’s clothing demolished the newly constructed tollgate in Efailwen, on the border between Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire, and burned the adjoining toll-house.  Rioters were called Merched Beca (Rebecca’s Daughters) - taking the name from a verse in the book of Genesis that stated “they blessed Rebekah and said unto her let thy seed possess the gate of those which hate them”. 
Sporadic outbursts of vandalism and violent confrontation involved gangs of 50 or more local men, threatening gatekeepers with violence if they resisted.  In Carmarthen the following month a protest against how the Poor Law was administered turned into a major riot when 1,800 persons stormed the workhouse, releasing inmates and wreaking havoc.  Magistrates dispatched letters to the Home Secretary in Sir Robert Peel’s government requesting that a company of infantry be dispatched to restore order.
On the outskirts of Pontardulais at midnight on 6th July 1843 nearly 200 men destroyed the Bolgoed toll gate near the Fountain Inn.  Just over a week later, on 14th July, the Poundffald gate was destroyed by a gang of about 60 people with blackened faces, and the toll collector sent inside the toll-house and warned to keep out of the way.  The attack raised concern for the safety of toll gates at Cartersford and Kilvrough, the latter being on the corner of Vennaway Lane, where the Round House stands.  Police and special constables were engaged to patrol there at night-time, and the Home Secretary was kept informed of developments in South-West Wales.
Magistrates had powers to punish those who damaged turnpike property, broke gates, avoided tolls, or defaced milestones.  With financial inducements to provide information, many people were convicted of riot and transported to penal colonies in Tasmania.  The Commission of Inquiry in March 1844 recommended that county boards take over management from Turnpike Trusts, and tolls were reduced and simplified by the 1844 Toll Gates Act, which amended the laws relating to the South Wales trusts.  To some extent the Rebecca Riots achieved their aims, for the Poundffald, Bolgoed and Rhydypandy gates were removed permanently.
A Cartersford toll gate killing in January 1845 was unconnected with the Rebecca Riots, so the Poundffald toll gate attack in July 1843 was the final Rebecca incident in Gower - enabling Home Secretaries to concentrate on matters elsewhere.      


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