The Eighteen Hundreds were hard times, particularly with the agricultural community of South West Wales
Extremely bad weather had caused successive seasons of failed harvests and to compound their plight, market prices for livestock were in severe decline.
The greed of “the gentry ” inflicted further hardship by increasing rents and taxes on the farmers and their tenants. They did n’t stop there, as wealthy landowners they enclosed the common land around the villages,where locals had grazed their animals and collected firewood for years before.
The Goverment introduced the so called “Poor Law”at this time under which, if you did not have enough money to support yourself yo were obliged to go into a Workhouse. Here conditions were unbearably bad ,and often families were split up.
In the past, farmers had provided food and fuel for the very poor, now with little spare cash, they were expected , via new taxes, to even pay for the new Workhouses.
With the hardships and conditions of these times, with the poverty that prevailed, disturbances were inevitable.
The trigger was the Toll Gate System. As a remedy to improve the poor roads, turnpike trusts were established to collect charges from road users by erecting toll gates.
Farmers were the worst hit, as they were the main users of the roads transporting their livestock as well as large quantities of lime to improve their soil.
In 1839, when a new gate was erected at Esailwen , to catch the farmers who were evading the tolls, it was the last straw.
Nobody knows who called the meeting in the barn of Glynsaithmaen Farm, nobody knows those who attended,but the man chosen to lead the attack on Esailwen toll gate was certainly Thomas Rees.
Thomas Rees or Twm Carnabwyth as he came to be known was an agricultural worker. He had built his house in one night, so by tradition he assumed the freehold and ownership of his home. Hence is nickname Twm Carnabwyth (Tom Stone Cottage).
Besides being a hard worker, the red headed Tom was also a bit of a bruiser and more than a bit if a boozer. He was also something of a Jeckyl and Hide. He was renown for his fists and with a warming drink or two inside ,he would take on and beat all comers at country fairs. Yet he was the main reciter of the “Pwnc” the catechism of the scriptures in his local chapel on Whitsunday morning.
He was also a keen participant in the traditional justice of the “Ceffyl Fren” (literally wooden horse).A form of public humiliation by which adulterers, harsh landlords, or even wife scolderers
were made a laughing stock within the local community. Often the victims were paraded through the streets on a wooden ladder, accompanied by ribald description of the crime by men disguised in women’s clothing. Later the wooden horse was used to hold to ridicule people who had betrayed the common people like the turnpike owners and unjust landlords
The first attack took place on 13th May1839. Twm never afraid to stand up for the rights of his neighbours led his band of righteous rebels right to the gate of Efailwen, the first of toll gates to be destroyed. Some say that these lowly workers were put up to it. By the larger farmers, who paid their tenants and labourers a going rate for appearing in women’s clothing at particular gates on particular nights. This may be true but it can never distract from the image of the first Rebecca leader well versed in scripture well able to recite the lines from Genesis mentioning Rebecca -they became a rallying cry to the impoverished country folk for whom the braking of the gates became a just cause.

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