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How and Why Did The Rebecca Riots Develop?

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Emma Mackintosh 11A How and Why Did The Rebecca Riots Develop? Before 1839, the types of violence being carried out in rural West Wales varied. We can see this from studying evidence, both primary and secondary. These three secondary sources, written by historians, give us a general idea of the kind of crimes being committed. David Evans wrote that sheep stealing and poaching occurred frequently in the late 18th and early 19th century. He describes this as a 'protest against poverty and the harsh attitudes of some landowners.' This historian should try to put across a non-biased viewpoint, but instead has omitted to represent the case of the landowners, and has described their attitudes as harsh - this could be counted as anti-landowner bias. Gwyn A. Williams names riots in 1801, 1818 and 1831 due to shortages of food, and notes that Carmarthen had a history of disorder. This source is useful as it is purely factual. A book written for Dyfed County Council tells us that enclosures by Act of Parliament in 1816 led to destruction of hedges in Pembrokeshire. These enclosures had caused trouble in other places - acts such as arson were committed - because the land was no longer public land. As before, this source is useful because it is factual. We know that Welsh historians wrote these sources, so they could be biased because of the way they have been brought up learning about Welsh history. It may have affected their ability to be a fair judge. But they do back each other up - they each mention violence occurring in West Wales in the early 19th century. They also comment on the possible reasons behind these outbreaks - poverty, food shortages, and anger over land enclosures. The following primary sources show us two more specific crimes - a practice called Ceffyl Pren, and attacks on workhouses. Daniel Williams of Steynton gave evidence in 1828, saying that 'people who have angered the community are carried about on a wooden horse and humiliated, a practice called Ceffyl Pren,' and notes that 'constables failed to stop the mob.' ...read more.


It is coincidental that he met both the leaders of the rioting group, which leads us to believe that this is informer's evidence and the informer could have just been eager to name names. David Egan, an historian, wrote a book detailing more tollgate attacks occurring in the space of just a few days. We see, from this piece of secondary evidence, that a 75-year-old toll keeper named Sarah Davies was killed. This is the first death we have seen in one of these attacks and it is undeniable that the violence carried out by the Rebecca Rioters worsened after 1839. We know there were several causes for the Rebecca Riots - poverty, shortages of food and enclosures of public land. Nevertheless, these were not the only causes. Looking at information taken from the 1841 Census of Population, which investigated the numbers and employment of able-bodied adults over 21 years old, we see that the majority of people were working in agriculture. Therefore, agriculture was very important because so many people relied on it. This is a factual piece of primary evidence because it is a bar chart and only deals in numbers and statistics. However, there could be gaps in the information because some people may have refused to participate; and it only deals with people over the age of 21 - it may not give a very accurate picture of the populations' employment. Reverend J. Evans wrote a series of letters whilst on a tour through South Wales in 1804. He talks of how soil is ruined when the same crop is planted year after year. He also says that while marl - clay, used as fertilizer - was used successfully in England, it was not so in Wales. If the soil was of poor quality, there would be less output, which would be dangerous for an industry that so many people relied upon. ...read more.


W. Day from Carmarthen wrote to George Cornwall Lewis on the 9th of July, 1843. In an extract from this letter, we can see that before 1836, one tenth of the farmer's crop was taken by the church, and sometimes more if it had been a good year. This means that the amount taken was proportional to the amount successfully produced. However, after 1836, the amount taken was fixed, regardless of whether the farmer had had a good or bad year. As mentioned before, this primary source (taken from Home Office papers) elaborates on what David Evans wrote, making both sources more reliable. We also know that W. Day was a magistrate/landowner, which makes this source rather unique - it is the only evidence so far to have been written from the landowner's perspective. It is a great admission for a landowner to make, and balances the evidence. This source is totally factual. William Williams spoke about the price of lime to a Commission Inquiry Into South Wales in 1844. Unlike several of the previous sources, this one does have some weaknesses. The interrogator asks a leading question, putting words into the man's mouth, something that is not allowed in court. William Williams refers to 'they' instead of 'we' or 'I', which indicates that he is not perhaps a tenant farmer but knows a lot about the tolls on lime etc. Alternatively, he may just not speak English very well. Towards the end of the source, the man seems unsure and answers with 'I think so', which is quite vague and unhelpful. This extract is backed up by another source, taken from the Dyfed County Council book, because they both mention a toll on lime. Therefore, it would appear that the toll on lime was the spark that ignited more rioting after 1839. However, the reasons behind the types of violence used by farmers covered many different areas. The violence came to a stop after 1843, as did the appearance of 'Rebecca and her daughters.' This can most likely be attributed to an improvement in agriculture. ...read more.

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