A Radio Cymru show was broadcast from Caffi Beca in Efailwen this morning – but why is the village so important?

The 1830s and 1840s were tumultuous decades in Welsh history as years of unrest among the working classes reached a violent climax. 1831 saw the Merthyr Rising, and the Chartists became the first working-class movement in Britain culminating in the 1839 Newport Rising. But one event during this period arguably captured the hearts and minds of the Welsh like no other – The Rebecca Riots or Terfysg Beca.

On May 3rd 1839 the tollgate in Efailwen, Carmarthenshire, was destroyed by a gang of men with blackened faces, clad in women’s clothes. But who were these men and what had made them so angry?

Why not visit the Southgate Tollhouse at St Fagans National History Museum?

Poverty and social inequality led these men to revolt against what they felt were unfair road taxes raised by the Turnpike trusts. These trusts were set up to improve Wales’ poor quality of roads. In return they were allowed to build toll gates. For example, between Pontarddulais and Carmarthen there were eleven tollgates. Farmers who regularly used the roads were hit the hardest. Efailwen tollagte was built in 1839 to catch out those who were not paying their way. This was the final straw.

The tolls were very much symbols of oppression, but as Neil Evans of the School of History and Archaeology writes here almost half  of the incidents ‘were about general economic conditions in the countryside and not about tolls at all.’

The economic hardship of the period meant life was hard and primitive. Below are some of the reasons why:

  • A population increase in rural Wales meant gaining a livelihood was difficult
  • Most farmers did not own their own land so had to pay high rents to wealthy landlords
  • Prices for livestock were falling
  • Common land which had been available for all the people in the village were now enclosed
  • Establishment of the Workhouse (one was built in Carmarthen in 1837)
  • Farmers had to pay tithes to the church – one tenth of all their produce each year – even if they attended chapel, which many did

Times were hard, but in 1842-3 when economic conditions were even worse the outbreaks once again spread through the south west….

 Now Discover for Yourself

There are a number of theories as to why the name Rebecca was chosen for the leader of the disturbances. Do some detective work of your own and find out what they are and which one you feel is the most convincing.

For those of you interested in reading some primary sources (original materials from the period) visit the People’s Collection Wales website. The National Archives website have some very useful and interesting primary source exercises so get involved!

You may even have seen episode 4 of The Story of Wales which was recently shown on BBC 2 which covered the Rebecca Riots. I was lucky enough to work as a runner on the series and the scene you can view here was filmed at St Fagans National History Museum just outside Cardiff, and took most of the night to film. The original gate was replaced with one specially made for the scene only so it could be smashed up by the rioters. It was all very fun.

If you’re feeling a little more adventurous take a walk or cycle along the Bro Beca Trail and explore the landscape of Rebecca.



Mansion House opens its doors to the history of Cardiff

Mansion House on Richmond Road

Mansion House. Heard of it? If you haven’t, then you almost definitely will have seen it. The Grade II listed house on Richmond Road is hard to miss. Situated behind grand gates, its flag poles, imposing double doors and Bath stone decorations set it apart from the area’s other buildings. But it’s when you step inside that you really get a feel of what this place once represented.

In a series of three lectures, Cardiff Council have opened the Mansion’s doors to give people the chance to explore its 120 years of history. The first lecture was given by David Clay on November 10th and traced the story behind “Cardiff’s hidden gem”, offering a chance for people to see its original interiors. It was built in the 1890s by one of the city’s most famous businessmen, James Howell, the name of whom I am sure all Cardiffians recognise (if you don’t, he’s the founder of the city’s famous department store on St Mary’s Street). The house was purchased by Cardiff Corporation in 1912, and in 1913 became the official residence of the city’s Lord Mayor, playing an integral role in the civic life of the city.

Second Lecture: Bute

I went along to the second lecture in the series on November 18th, on the subject of the 3rd Marquess of Bute, given by the Curator of Cardiff Castle Matthew Williams. Around thirty of us listened to how the once richest baby in Britain went on to become the maker of modern Cardiff. John Patrick Crichton Stuart spent the money his father made in the coal industry laying the civic infrastructure which would eventually transform the town into a city. As a public benefactor he spent a lifetime “flexing the muscles of civic independence.”

Despite being a prolific writer, keen astrologer and philanthropist, his most lasting contributions are rooted in the city’s architecture. Partnered by the great Victorian architect William Burgess, they reconstructed and redesigned Cardiff Castle and Castell Coch, considered two of the era’s finest Gothic Revival creations. For a man who brought so much aristocratic glamour to his civic role it only seems appropriate that a lecture chronicling his life be held in a building which was once central in the local community.

After the lecture I spoke to David Clay and Kate Branch, both Protocol Officers at Cardiff Council about the talks and the importance of letting the general public explore such prominent buildings..

David Clay

Kate Branch

The third and final lecture takes place on October 31st at 6pm. Victoria Rogers from the Cardiff Story Museum will trace the city’s journey from town to the capital of Wales. Click here to book tickets.

To explore Mansion House for yourself you can view a panoramic gallery of its interior here.