The Rebecca riots 6


An early Victorian policeman from Mid Wales

Photograph by kind permission of Llanidloes Museum

Victorian policemanThe forces of order
The authorities stepped up their response to the demonstrations and attacks in the area. A detachment of the 7th Fusiliers was stationed in Rhayader and the Metropolitan police contingent increased to 12 constables and a Superintendent. There was fear that the attacks might spread to Knighton and police and soldiers were drafted into the town where they undertook day and night patrols until January 1844. Although Rebecca had given up the attacks elsewhere in Wales, the Llangurig gate was again destroyed and a gate at Glasbury suffered the same fate.
The last incidents came in September 1844 when gates at Builth and Rhayader were attacked. The County Constabularies were a relatively recent concept at the time of the riots and it is doubtful how much training local police forces received at that time. The Special Constables - drawn from the local community - must have been especially vulnerable to influence and pressure from local people.
The Commission of Inquiry
After the arrest and transportation of the ringleaders there seems to have been a genuine attempt on the behalf of the authorities to get to the bottom of the whole outbreak and look fairly at the causes. Thomas Frankland Lewis of Harpton Court on the Radnorshire borders was appointed chairman of the Commission. Although a landowner himself he had experience of turnpikes and seems to have taken his role very seriously.
The Commission toured the South Wales trouble spots - including Rhayader and Presteigne - and seems to have been energetic in its enquiries. The outcome of this was a bill steered through parliament by Lord Cawdor which was sympathetic to the grievances of local people and sought to rectify the confusion and abuses of the Turnpike Trusts. A commission, again chaired by T.F. Lewis, transferred the work of the trusts to new County Roads Boards.


In later years Thomas Frankland Lewis looked back on the Rebecca riots as a justified and well organized struggle against local injustices describing them as "a very creditable portion of Welsh history".
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