Thomas Rees (Twm Carnabwth)

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Depiction of the Rebecca Riots, Illustrated London News 1843 RebeccaRiots.gif
Depiction of the Rebecca Riots, Illustrated London News 1843

Thomas Rees (c.1806 - 17 November 1876), generally known as Twm Carnabwth, was a leader of the first "Rebecca Riots" in 1839.

Rebecca Riots a series of civil disorder between 1839 and 1843 in South and Mid Wales

The Rebecca Riots took place between 1839 and 1843 in South and Mid Wales. They were a series of protests undertaken by local farmers and agricultural workers in response to perceived unfair taxation. The rioters, often men dressed as women, took their actions against toll-gates, as they were tangible representations of high taxes and tolls. The riots ceased prior to 1844 due to several factors, including increased troop levels, a desire by the protestors to avoid violence and the appearance of criminal groups using the guise of Rebecca for their own purposes. In 1844 a Parliamentary act to consolidate and amend the laws relating to turnpike trusts in Wales was passed.

Nobody knows who called the meeting in the barn of Glynsaithmaen farm in the Preseli hills, and nobody knows who attended. But the man selected to lead the attack on the new toll-gate at Efail-wen was the 33-year-old red-headed Thomas Rees [1]

Cilymaenllwyd is a community on the extreme northwest of Carmarthenshire in Wales. The community population at the 2011 census was 743. It lies about 25 miles (40 km) west of Carmarthen, 12 miles (19 km) southeast of Fishguard and 19 miles (31 km) northwest of Haverfordwest. The A478 road runs through the community.

The first attack took place on 13 May 1839 with Twm and some of his followers dressed as women. On 6 June 1839 there was a second attack, the gate was again destroyed and the tollhouse set on fire. Despite the frantic efforts of the authorities, the mobilisation of the Pembroke Yeomanry and the taking of the 80-year-old Efailwen blacksmith in chains to Haverfordwest gaol, Twm was not identified and no convictions were obtained.

Twm was a large man, religious and excitable. He was chief reciter of the "Pwnc", the catechism of the points of the Scriptures in his local chapel on Whitsun Sunday, and had done so the day before the first attack. And he was a keen participant in the traditional justice of the "Ceffyl Pren" (literally "wooden horse"), a form of public humiliation by which adulterers, harsh landlords and the fathers of bastard children were punished. The use of blackened faces and women's clothing was a well-established part of the Ceffyl Pren.

The Ceffyl Pren was a traditional Welsh form of mob justice. It was a form of ritual humiliation in which offenders would be paraded around the village tied to a wooden frame. The custom was similar to practices known in England as "rough music" or in Scotland as "riding the stang". It seems to have persisted until the mid 19th century. In later times, an effigy was sometimes burned instead. The justice of the Ceffyl Pren was administered by a jury led by a foreman, with all of the men involved seeking anonymity through the use of blackened faces and female garb. This bizarre tradition led to the adoption of "female impersonation" as one of the key features of the Rebecca Riots which swept across South and West Wales in the period 1839-1844 in protest against tollgate charges and the corruption of the Turnpike Trusts.

Adulterers, harsh landlords, the fathers of bastard children who hid behind the hated provisions of the 19th century Poor Law making the mother entirely responsible for her own predicament, all faced the frightening, embarrassing effects of these riotous affairs .

Twm's action terrorised the local magistrates and the owners of the toll-gate into submission, and these particular gates were not replaced.

It was three years before Thomas Bullin of the same hated Whitland Trust put up a new gate just outside St Clears. It was destroyed a few hours later by a re-enactment of Efailwen and a new Rebecca in woman's clothes.

Thomas Rees died aged 70 and his grave-stone stands in his beloved Bethel Chapel at Mynachlog-ddu.

"Er cof am THOMAS REES trial o'r plwyf hwn bu marw Med 17 1876 yn 70 oed Twm Carnabwth"

"Nid oes neb ond Duw yn gwybod/ Beth a ddigwydd mewn diwrnod. Wrth gyrchu bresych at fy nginio,/ Daeth angau i fy ngardd i'm taro"

"No one but God knows what may happen in one day. While fetching a cabbage for my dinner, death came into my garden and struck me"

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References

  1. "And they blessed Rebecca" by Pat Molloy, ISBN   0-86383-031-5. Published by Gomer Press, Llandysul, Dyfed