The Rebecca Riots are perhaps one of the more unusual British protest movements of the 19th century. Taking place in west and mid Wales between 1839 and 1843 they were undertaken by local farmers and agricultural workers in response to deteriorating economic conditions in the countryside. Nothing unusual there, however what marks these riots out is that they were usually undertaken by men dressed as women. Rebecca was their mythical leader and the name came from the Bible:
“And they blessed Rebekah, and said unto her, Thou art our sister, by thou the mother of thousands of millions and let thy seed possess the gate of those that hate them” (Genesis 24 Verse 60).
The rioters targeted toll-gates which were seen as the property of the gentry ('those that hate them') and were therefore tangible representations of high taxes and tolls. Consequently, the gates became a symbol of many different discontents about the land and the church. The rioters became known as Merched Beca (Welsh for "Rebecca's Daughters") or merely the Rebeccas.
In the late 1830s and early 1840sm the agricultural communities of West and Mid Wales were in dire poverty. Most farmers did not own their own land but paid rent to wealthy landlords (known as gentry) for the use of their farms. Rents were quite high - and out of proportion to what farmers could earn from their produce. The prices they received for cattle and sheep were falling. The common lands which were once available for the use of all the people in a village were now enclosed - that is they had become the property of the landlords and were leased out to farmers. Labourers (who worked for the farmers) had used the common to graze animals or for gathering firewood, suffered as a result.
The farmers also had to pay burdensome tithes to the church, to support the local vicar. But most people who went to religious services regularly went to chapels rather than the church. They still had to pay, even if they went elsewhere.
To compound matters, in 1834 the Poor Law Amendment Act was passed. The Act meant that if people did not have enough money to support themselves, they would be forced into one of the new workhouses where conditions were meant to be worse than the worst paid labourer outside. Families were split up; husbands separated from wives and sisters from brothers. The financing of the new system fell upon the local rate payer. In the past, farmers had often given food and goods to the poor but now they were expected to pay for building the hated workhouses. Therefore, the new system was not only seen as cruel, but expensive too.
The farmers and agricultural workers were therefore hit with a combination of a drastically reduced incomes, static rents and other business costs and an increase in local rates. Seeing themselves as victims of 'tyranny and oppression', the farmers and their workers took the law into their own hands to rid themselves of these unjust taxes. The first institutions to be attacked were the hated toll-gates.
In the early 19th century many toll-gates on the roads in Wales were operated by turnpike trusts, which were supposed to maintain and improve the roads, funding this from tolls. However, many trusts charged extortionate tolls and diverted the money raised to other uses. Even where this was not done, the toll-gate laws imposed an additional financial burden on poor farming communities.
The 'oppression', felt by the farmers, began in the late 1830s, when a group of toll-renters took over the region's trusts. This group was led by Thomas Bullin, who was hated by those who paid his tolls. The main reason for his dislike was the exacting method of the toll collection and the big toll increases of side-bars. The side-bars were simple toll gates, away from the main trunk roads, placed strategically on by-roads to catch any traffic that had tried to bypass the main toll booths via side lanes. These side-bars increased the cost dramatically of farmers' carting lime to their fields that was needed as fertilizer or to counteract acidity in soil: e.g. it was said that it cost an amount to buy a load of lime in Cardiff docks, and then ten times as much in road tolls to cart it to a farm in the hills inland.
The first riots took place in May 1839 when a new toll-gate at Efailwen in Carmarthenshire was destroyed. The Whitland Turnpike Trust rebuilt the gate, only for it to be destroyed again in June. A second new tollgate was attacked at Llanboidy while the new workhouse in Narbeth in Pembrokeshire was also attacked. Landlords were sent threatening letters to intimidate them into lowering rents and Anglican clergymen from the established Church of England were targets on several occasions. Trouble died down when it was agreed by the authorities that the gates would not be rebuilt.
It would however not be until 1842-43, when economic conditions were even worse that the movement would not become popular. In 1842 the Whitland Trust built a new gate at The Mermaid Tavern, on the lime road at St Clears in Carmarthenshire. This was destroyed in November, as were the tollgates at Pwll-trap and Trevaughan. The gates were rebuilt, but all gates in St Clears were destroyed by December 12th. The government refused to send soldiers and so the magistrates called in the marines from Pembroke Dock and the Castlemartin Yeomanry Cavalry. The rioting continued.
In May 1843, the tollgates at Carmarthen were destroyed and in June a crowd of 2,000 tried to burn down the workhouse there. Troops were called in as the movement became more violent. On July 6th the Bolgoed tollgate near Pontarddulais was attacked and destroyed by a group of some 200 rioters and in August riots took place in Llanelli.
The riots resulted in at least two deaths, the first on September 7th 1843, in which a young woman and gate keeper named Sarah Williams was shot and another in October when the tollhouse keeper of Hendy Gate near Swansea was killed.
From August 1843 things had begun to change with the farmers generally moving away from riots and instead holding open protest meetings. This was partly in response to an increasing presence of troops in the area but also because a group of petty criminals had started opportunistically masquerading as Merched Becca to commit crime. This group, led by known trouble-maker John Jones (Shoni Sguborfawr) and his associate David Davies (Dai'r Cantwr), were eventually convicted and transported to Australia, but before this they were enough to turn more respectable people away from Rebecca.
By late 1843, the riots had stopped completely. Although Merched Becca had failed to produce an immediate effect on the lives of the farmers they had sought to serve, the very nature of a leaderless uprising of the downtrodden peasantry in an attempt to obtain justice from an unfair system, was an important socio-political event within Wales. In the aftermath of the riots, some rent reductions were achieved, the toll rates were improved (although destroyed toll-houses were rebuilt) and the protests prompted several reforms, including a Royal Commission into the question of toll roads, which led to the Turnpikes, South Wales Act 1844. This Act consolidated the trusts, simplified the rates and reduced the hated toll on lime movement by half. he ending of the Corn Laws in 1846, and attempts in 1847 to make the Poor Law less cruel, also helped.
More importantly, the riots inspired later Welsh protests. These included opposition to the privatisation of salmon reserves on the River Wye in the 1860s and 70s, which became known as 'the second Rebecca Riots', and the formation in the 1970s of the radical arts collective known as the BECA group.
These scenes were built by Dan Harris as part of a series of models on people and protest. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
the noble Mortimer,
Leading the men of Herefordshire to fight,
Against the wild and irregular Glendower,
Was by the rude hand of that Welshman taken,
A thousand of his people butchered
William Shakespeare in Henry IV, Part 1
On this day in 1402 a Welsh army under Owain Glyndŵr won a significant victory over a larger English force at the Battle of Bryn Glas, near the towns of Knighton and Presteigne in Powys. The English were there to crush the war of independence that was being waged by Glyndŵr and his supporters. However, instead of bringing the rising to an end it renewed Welsh enthusiasm in the cause while also inflicting a destabilising blow upon English politics, from which it would take years to recover.
Glyndŵr had declared himself the true Prince of Wales and raised the banner of rebellion in 1400 after Reginald Grey, 3rd Baron Grey de Ruthyn, had unlawfully seized some of his lands and falsely caused charges of treason to be brought against him. In England, Richard II had just been overthrown by Henry Bolingbroke, the Duke of Lancaster, who became Henry IV of England, leaving the kingdom in a precarious position. Most of the nobility in Wales and the Welsh Marches were supporters of Richard, so the opportunity for insurrection was very much alive.
Despite leading a punitive expedition into north Wales, which initially appeared to have suppressed the revolt, Henry had not been able to deal a killing blow. Then in 1401 the Welsh captured Conwy Castle and won a victory at the Battle of Mynydd Hyddgen, boosting the resolve of the Welsh.
Early in 1402, Glyndwr's men ambushed and captured Grey de Ruthyn and held him for ransom. Then in June, Glyndwr moved his men towards Knighton and within 12 miles of Leominster, then an important English garrison and market town in the Welsh Marches.
There he was met by "almost all the militia of Herefordshire" under the command of Sir Edmund Mortimer. Mortimer was uncle to the young Edmund de Mortimer, 5th Earl of March, who both had a better hereditary claims to be King of England than Henry. However, Sir Edmund had so far loyally supported the new king. In any case, as a substantial holder of lands in Wales and on the borders, Mortimer had already suffered from the depredations of Glyndŵr's rebels and appeared to have much to lose should the revolt continue.
It's estimated that Mortimer had around 2,000 men under his command and so he sought to face Glyndŵr's smaller force in a decisive battle. Although the location was only just inside Wales, Glyndŵr undoubtedly had many local informants and sympathisers, and was therefore able to hatch a plan that would counter these odds. He had also probably been able to summon reinforcements from other parts of Wales, which moved rapidly over hill tracks, and was therefore far stronger than Mortimer realised. It's estimated that Glyndŵr was able to deploy around 1,500 men on the day.
Though always a risky tactic, Glyndŵr divided his army. Part of the army, including many archers armed with the powerful longbow, was placed on the slopes of the hill. The remainder were concealed in a valley to the left of the hill, camouflaged by thick foliage.
Mortimer's army formed up and advanced up the slope, against the Welsh archers clearly in view. With the advantage of height, Glyndwr's archers outranged Mortimer's (themselves armed with longbows). As Mortimer's men-at-arms tried to close with Glyndwr's archers, the Welsh troops who had been concealed in the valley emerged to attack Mortimer's right flank and rear.
At some stage, contingents of Welsh archers in Mortimer's army defected, and loosed arrows against their former comrades. It's not known whether their defection was planned in advance, or whether they chose to back Glyndŵr in the middle of the battle as the likely winner. Their action contributed to the confusion of Mortimer's army which, attacked from the steep slopes above, and from their flank and rear, was destroyed. The slaughter was said to be horrendous, and accounts put the numbers killed at between 200 and 1,100. Among those killed were Sir Walter Devereaux of Weobley, and Sir Robert Whitney, who was Henry IV's Knight-Marshal.
The outcome was one of the greatest Welsh victories against an English army in the open field; an English county levy had been utterly overwhelmed by the Welsh. News of it brought many Welshmen who had hitherto been undecided to openly support Glyndŵr. On the English side, it resulted in some panicked appointments of officers and hasty reinforcements of garrisons all over Wales.
Mortimer was captured in the battle. Henry, who was in financial difficulties, made no effort to ransom him. Mortimer subsequently renounced his allegiance to King Henry IV, put forward his nephew's claim to the throne of England and married Glyndŵr's daughter Catrin.
It was claimed by contemporary accounts that immediately after the battle, many English corpses were mutilated by Welsh women camp followers in revenge for the punitive expeditions of Henry IV in the previous years, which had been marked by many acts of brutality and rape. Whether these mutilations took place remains open to debate, as some historians suggest it was a story perpetrated by the English parliament to portray the Welsh as savages. According to the historian Philip Warner, the English dead lay unburied, and the stench caused the area to be avoided for months.
This scene was created by Dan Harris as part of a series of models on Welsh history. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
In May and June 1831 the workers of Merthyr Tydfyl, Wales, rose up against the British Government in what would become known as the Merthyr Rising. It is believed that the red flag of revolution was flown as a symbol of workers' revolt for the first time during this event.
In 1829 the iron industry entered a depression that would last three years and as a result Merthyr Tydfil’s Ironmasters took action by making many workers redundant and cutting the wages of those in work. This was set against a background of rising prices and combined this forced many people into unsustainable debt. Consequently, creditors turned to the Court of Requests, which had been set up in 1809, to allow the bailiffs to seize the property of debtors.
In 1830 the Radicals of Merthyr, as part of the National movement for political reform, organised themselves into a Political Union and in November of that year held demonstrations to protest against the Truck System and the Corn Laws. By the end of 1830 the campaign had broadened to embrace the Reform of Parliament.
In March 1831 William Crawshay announced cuts in the wages of his workers and redundancies at Cyfarthfa Ironworks, which would take effect in May. It was this, combined with similar situations in other ironworks, the hatred of the activities of the Court of Requests, and some stirring up by political agitators which lit the spark of rebellion. On May 30th 1831 at the Waun Common above Dowlais a mass meeting of over 2,000 workers was held and tensions were high.
On May 31st bailiffs from the Court of Requests attempted to seize goods from the home of Lewis Lewis (Lewsyn yr Heliwr) at Penderyn, near Merthyr. However, neighbours rallied behind Lewis and the bailiffs were prevented from entering his home. The Magistrate, John Bruce, was called and he arranged a compromise between Lewis and the bailiffs which allowed the latter to remove a trunk belonging to Lewis. The next day workers from Merthyr marched to the Ironworks of Richard Fothergill at Aberdare where they demanded bread & cheese and created a disturbance. At the same time, at Hirwaun, a crowd led by Lewis Lewis marched to the home of a shopkeeper who was now in possession of his trunk, took the trunk back by force, and prepared to march to Merthyr.
On the march to Merthyr the crowd went from house to house, seizing any goods which the Court of Requests had taken, and returning them to their original owners. By this time the crowd had been swollen by the addition of men from the Cyfarthfa & Hirwaun Ironworks. They marched to the area behind the Castle Inn where many of the tradespeople of the town lived and in particular the home of Thomas Lewis, a hated moneylender and forced him to sign a promise to return goods to a woman whose goods he had seized for debt. Bruce arrived at the scene and recognising what was the start of a revolt withdrew. He then quickly enrolled about 70 Special Constables, mainly from the tradespeople, to help keep the peace. He also advised the Military Authorities at Brecon that he might need troops.
On June 2nd an attempt was made to persuade the crowd to disperse and when this failed the Riot Act read in English and Welsh. This was ignored by the crowed who drove the magistrate away and attacked the home of Thomas Lewis. That evening they assembled at the home of Joseph Coffin, President of the Court of Requests, seizing the books of the Court, which they burned in the street along with his furniture. On hearing of the attack Bruce called for troops to be deployed and so soldiers of the Royal Glamorgan Light Infantry were dispatched from Cardiff and a detachment of the 93rd (Sutherland) Highlanders were sent from Brecon. Meanwhile the crowd had marched to the various ironworks in the town and persuaded the workers to join them.
By the time the Highlanders had reached the Castle Inn where they were met by the High Sheriff of Glamorgan, the Merthyr Magistrates and Ironmasters and the Special Constables, a crowd of some 10,000 had gathered. The Riot Act was once more read and once more it was ignored. The crowd pressed towards the Inn with the soldiers drawn up outside. The workers demanded the suppression of the Court of Requests, higher wages, the reduction in the cost of items they used in their work and parliamentary reform; these were refused outright. They were told that if they did not disperse that the soldiers would be used. The result was to anger the crowd, which surged forward throwing stones and clubs at the soldiers. In the fight the soldiers outside the Inn were bludgeoned and stabbed, eventually provoking the soldiers stationed within to open fire, killing three of the rioters with their first shots. The fighting continued for a further 15 minutes before the crowd withdrew. Altogether 16 soldiers were wounded, 6 of them severely, and up to 24 of the rioters had been killed. The authorities withdrew to Penydarren House while rioters sent word to the Monmouthshire ironworks in an attempt to obtain further support.
By June 4th more troops including the Eastern Glamorgan Corps of Yeomanry Cavalry and the Royal Glamorgan Militia arrived in Merthyr. A troop of the Swansea Yeomanry Cavalry were ambushed on their arrival at Hirwaun, having apparently been greeted in a friendly manner. They were however quickly surrounded, their weapons seized and forced into a retreat back to Swansea, where they re-armed and joined the Fairwood Troop for the march back to Merthyr. A similar ambush was laid at Cefn Coed y Cymmer to stop ammunition being delivered from Brecon, forcing the Cardiff Troop of Glamorgan Yeomanry Cavalry into retreat. A troop of 100 Central Glamorgan Yeomanry was sent to assist but were unable to break through the mob. By now the rioters commandeered arms and explosives, set up road-blocks, formed guerrilla detachments, and had banners capped with a symbolic loaf and dyed in blood. Those who had military experience had taken the lead in drilling the armed para-military formation, and created an effective central command and communication system.
On Sunday June 5th delegations were sent to the Monmouthshire Iron Towns to raise further support for the riots and on June 6th a crowd of around 12,000 or more marched along the heads of the valleys from Monmouthshire to meet the Merthyr Rioters at the Waun Common. The authorities decided that rather than wait for this mob to attack them they would take the initiative, and 110 Highlanders, 53 Royal Glamorgan Light Infantry Militia and 300 Glamorgan Yeomanry Cavalry were despatched to stop the marchers at Cefn Coed. Faced by the levelled muskets of the army the crowd dispersed without bloodshed. The Rising was effectively over.
Panic spread through Merthyr and arms were hidden, the leaders fled and workers returned to their jobs. On the evening of June 6th the authorities raided houses and arrested 18 of the rebel leaders. Eventually Lewis Lewis was found hiding in a wood near Hirwaun and a large force of soldiers escorted him in irons to Cardiff Prison to await trial.
The trials began on 13 July 1831 at Cardiff Assizes. 28 men and women were tried. Most of those found guilty were eventually sentenced to transportation. Lewis Lewis and Richard Lewis (Dic Penderyn) were charged with attempting to murder a soldier, Donald Black of the 93rd Highland Regiment, outside the Castle Inn on June 3rd, by stabbing him with a bayonet attached to a gun. The main evidence against the two Lewis' was from Black himself, James Abbott, a hairdresser and Special Constable and James Drew, also a hairdresser and Special Constable. On the evidence it was adjudged that Richard Lewis (Dic Penderyn) was guilty but that Lewis Lewis was not (though he was already under sentence of death for the attack on Thomas Lewis' house). Dic Penderyn was sentenced to death.
Joseph Tregelles Price, A quaker Ironmaster from Neath, took up the case of Dic Penderyn and Lewis Lewis and presented a petition to have them transported. Evidence was produced that Abbott had threatened Penderyn prior to June 3rd and people said that Penderyn was not there when Black was attacked and that they knew who had carried out the attack but it was not Dic Penderyn. Strangely Lord Melbourn, the Home Secretary, reprieved Lewis Lewis, who was certainly one of those most responsible for the riots, and transported him to Australia, but would not reprieve Penderyn, who seems to have been much less involved. Richard Lewis (Dic Penderyn) was taken from his cell at Cardiff Prison on August 13th 1831 to the gallows at St.Mary Street, Cardiff and there he was executed protesting his innocence. He was 23. His body was transported across the Vale of Glamorgan to be buried at Margam.
In 1874 the Western Mail reported that a man named Ieuan Parker had confessed to a Minister on his death bed in Pennsylvania, USA that he was the man who attacked Donald Black. James Abbott, who had testified at Penderyn's trial, later said that he had lied under oath, claiming that he had been instructed to do so by Lord Melbourne.
In 2000 a legal case was started by Lewis's descendants to seek a pardon and in June 2015, Ann Clwyd MP presented a petition for a pardon in the House of Commons. However Mike Penning, Minister for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice, responded that pardons were only granted where evidence has come to light which demonstrates conclusively that the convicted individual was innocent and that the relevant appeal mechanisms have been exhausted. In July 2016, Stephen Kinnock MP presented a 600-signature petition to the Ministry of Justice, calling for a pardon. The Ministry of Justice replied that 10,000 signatures were required to trigger a parliamentary debate, and referred to the answer given by the ministry in 2015. Kinnock said that the fight for a pardon would continue.
This model was built by Dan Harris as part of a series of models on people and protest. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
On this day in 1284 the Statute of Rhuddlan was enacted providing the constitutional basis for the government of the ‘Principality of Wales’ following it’s annexation by England. The Statute introduced English common law to Wales but also permitted the continuance of Welsh legal practices within the country.
In 1267 Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, Prince of Gwynedd had been recognised by the English Crown as Prince of Wales, holding his lands with the king of England as his feudal overlord. However, following the death of Henry III in 1272, the relationship between England and Wales broke down as the new and ambitious King Edward I pressed his ambition to master of the whole island of Great Britain. By 1276 Llywelyn had been declared a rebel and diplomatic pressure was followed by a massive invasion force the following year. Edward forced Llywelyn into submission, confining him to lands above the Conwy.
In 1282 however, many of the lesser princes who had supported Edward against Llywelyn in 1277 had become disillusioned with the exactions of the English royal officers. On Palm Sunday that year, Llywelyn’s brother Dafydd ap Gruffydd attacked the English at Hawarden Castle and then laid siege to Rhuddlan. The revolt quickly spread to other parts of Wales, with Aberystwyth Castle captured and burnt and rebellion in Ystrad Tywi in south Wales, also inspired by Dafydd according to the annals, where Carreg Cennen castle was captured.
Though he claimed not to have been involved in the planning, Llywelyn felt obliged to join his brother’s ill prepared rebellion. The Archbishop of Canterbury tried mediating between Llywelyn and Edward, and Llywelyn was offered a large estate in England if he would surrender Wales to Edward, while Dafydd was to go on a crusade and not return without the king's permission. In an emotional reply, which has been compared to the Declaration of Arbroath, Llywelyn said he would not abandon the people whom his ancestors had protected since "the days of Kamber son of Brutus". The offer was refused.
Llywelyn now left Dafydd to lead the defense of Gwynedd and took a force south, trying to rally support in mid and south Wales and open up an important second front. However, on December 11th 1282, Llywelyn was killed in an ambush at Cilmeri. His leaderless army was routed shortly afterwards and English forces moved to occupy Powys and eastern Gwynedd.
Following these events Dafydd ap Gruffydd proclaimed himself Prince of Wales and attempted to continue the fight. However, the English encircled Snowdonia, systematically crushing any effective resistance, starving the local people and compelling Dafydd to move desperately from one fort to another. He was eventually forced to flee, living as a fugitive, sleeping outdoors and forced to keep moving from place to place to avoid capture. In May 1283 he is recorded leading raids from the mountains, but his forces were now in a state of disarray. On June 22nd, he was captured in the uplands above Abergwyngregyn, having apparently been betrayed, and it is said that he received serious injury while being taken. He was taken to Edward on the night of his capture, then moved under heavy guard by way of Chester to Shrewsbury where in October he was hanged, drawn and quartered. He holds the distinction of being the first person to be executed by the Crown for the crime of "treason." His children and legal successors were locked away and never released: his sons Llywelyn ap Dafydd and Owain ap Dafydd in Bristol Castle; his wife (another cousin of Edward, originally given in marriage to Dafydd when they were friends and allies), daughter and niece in separate convents for the rest of their lives.
It is by this means that Wales became "united and annexed" to the Crown of England as under the auspices of Llewelyn and Dafydd’s treason, Edward I was able to take possession of the lands and titles of the House of Aberffraw.
The Statute of Rhyddlan was issued from Rhuddlan Castle in North Wales, one of the "iron ring" of fortresses built by Edward I to control his newly conquered lands. It provided the constitutional basis for the government of what was called "The Land of Wales" or "the king's lands of Snowdon and his other lands in Wales", but subsequently called the "Principality of North Wales". The English Crown already had a means of governing South Wales.
The Statute introduced the English common law system to Wales, but the law administered was not precisely the same as in England. The criminal law was much the same, with felonies such as murder, larceny and robbery prosecuted before the justiciar, as in England. The English writs and forms of action, such as novel disseisin, debt and dower, operated, but with oversight from Caernarfon, rather than the distant Westminster. However, the Welsh practice of settling disputes by arbitration was retained. The procedure for debt was in advance of that in England, in that a default judgment could be obtained. In land law, the Welsh practice of partible inheritance continued, but in accordance with English practice:
The Statute would be in force until the early 16th century when it was superseded by the Laws in Wales Acts 1535 and 1542 when Henry VIII made Wales unequivocally part of the "realm of England".
These scenes were created by James Pegrum and Dan Harris as part of a series of models on British history. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
Today we bring you a blog about coracles, the small, rounded, lightweight boat of the sort traditionally used in Wales, and also in parts of the West Country, Ireland and Scotland. The word "coracle" is an English spelling of the original Welsh cwrwgl, cognate with Irish and Scottish Gaelic currach, and is recorded in English text as early as the sixteenth century.
Designed for use in swiftly flowing streams, the coracle has been in use in the British Isles for millennia, having been noted by Julius Caesar in his invasion of Britain in the mid first century BC, and used in his military campaigns in Spain. Remains interpreted as a possible coracle have also been found in an Early Bronze Age grave at Barns Farm near Dalgety Bay, and others have been described at Corbridge and near North Ferriby.
The coracle's structure, which has essentially remained unchanged for centuries, is made of a framework of split and interwoven willow rods, tied with willow bark. The outer layer was originally an animal skin such as horse or bullock hide (corium), with a thin layer of tar to waterproof it – today replaced by tarred calico, canvas, or fibreglass. Oval in shape and very similar to half a walnut shell, the coracle has a keel-less flat bottom to evenly spread the load across the structure and to reduce the required depth of water – often to only a few inches. This makes it ideal for use on rivers.
They are an effective fishing vessel because, when powered by a skilled person, they hardly disturb the water or the fish, and they can be easily manoeuvred with one arm, while the other arm tends to the net; two coracles to a net.
Today, coracles are now only seen regularly in tourist areas of West Wales, with the Rivers Teifi and Tywi being the most common places to find them. On the Teifi they are most frequently seen around Cenarth, Cilgerran and Llechryd.
In 1974 a Welsh coracle piloted by Bernard Thomas of Llechryd even crossed the English Channel to France, clocking a time of just thirteen and a half hours. This journey was apparently undertaken to demonstrate how the Bull Boats of the Mandan Indians of North Dakota could have been copied from coracles introduced by Prince Madog in the 12th century. We're not sure how this feat is supposed to prove anything of the sort, but the whole Prince Madog thing is a strange and interesting story that we'll have to tell another day.
These coracles were built by James Pegrum and if you would like to see more models like this follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
At 2am on February 22nd 1797 troops of Revolutionary France, under the command of Irish American Colonel William Tate, landed at Carreg Wastad near Fishguard, Wales, marking the beginning of the last invasion of mainland Britain. They had originally been part of a much larger invasion force, however, owing to atrocious weather, outbreaks of mutiny and indiscipline, only Tate’s force made landfall, and he did so in the wrong place. The original plan was to land near Bristol, some 100 miles further east.
Tate and his well armed force of 600 Regular Troops, plus another 800 Republicans, deserters, convicts and Royalist prisoners, made their way inland and established a base near Trehowel Farm, about a mile from their landing site. Unfortunately, it appears deserters, convicts and prisoner do not make reliable soldiers, and within a few hours, most had decided to part with the invasion force and engage in a bit of looting. Discipline broke down even further when those who remained discovered the local wine supply (salvaged from a Portuguese wreck a few weeks earlier), and with some enthusiasm, set about the task of devouring it.
Originally the French had hoped that they would be seen as liberators and that the Welsh would join them and rebel against the English, making the task of invasion a whole lot easier. However, by looting, shooting and perhaps worst of all, drinking all the booze, the French failed to impress their local hosts, and by the evening of the 23rd a ragtag force of around 700 reservists, militia and sailors, plus an unknown number of angry locals, had assembled in Fishguard to face them. Demoralised and by now outnumbered the French considered surrender and approached the commanding British officer, Lord Cawdor, to discuss terms. Cawdor demanded nothing short of unconditional surrender and issued an ultimatum to Colonel Tate.
At 8am the following morning, the British forces lined up in battle-order on Goodwick Sands, and up above them on the cliffs, the inhabitants of Fishguard came out to watch and await Tate's response. Tate tried to delay but eventually accepted the terms of surrender and at 2pm the remaining French force lay down its arms, thus ending the last invasion of Britain.
Legend has it that Tate, mistaking the traditional red costumes of the spectating women on the cliff tops for the red uniforms of British soldiers, thought his opposing force was much larger than it actually was, persuading him to surrender without a fight.
This scene was created by Dan Harris as part of a series of models on British history. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
For the last few years we've had little LEGO goats in our models. These goats have proved surprisingly popular, so popular that we've decided provide you with the instructions of how to make them. But we can't do this without first introducing you to a bit of goat based culture.
It's a cliche to say that Wales is a land of song and an exaggeration to claim that there's a male voice choir in every town... although there might be, it's difficult to tell, we've not been to them all. But it's no exaggeration to claim that Wales has some good songs, especially folk ones. One such song is a song about goats called Cyfri'r Geifr, which means 'Counting the Goats', or Oes Gafr Eto?, which means 'Is There Another Goat?'. Both the tune and the words are traditional and have evolved over the centuries.
The song begins slowly, but the speed increases in each new verse and the first four lines are repeated before each new goat is counted. Further choruses can be added by choosing new colours for the goat. The song is a bit of a tongue-twister and a popular test-piece in choral competitions but is best sung as part of a drinking game - whoever messes up, drinks! Simple but effective.
Watch this video to hear it sung.
Anyway, here are the instructions:
Now build yourself a herd and mix up the colours!
And don't forger to make your gafr binc!
On this day in 1839, around 10,000 Chartists, led by John Frost, marched on the town of Newport, Monmouthshire, in what would become known as the Newport Rising. It was the last large-scale rebellion to take place in Britain and would result in the deaths of 22 demonstrators, who were shot by troops guarding the Westgate Hotel. The leaders of the rising were convicted of treason and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered, though their sentence was later commuted to transportation.
Chartism was a working-class movement for political reform in Britain that existed from 1838 to 1857. It took its name from the People's Charter of 1838 and was a national protest movement, with particular strongholds of support in Northern England, the East Midlands, the Staffordshire Potteries, the Black Country and South Wales. The People's Charter called for six reforms to make the political system more democratic, namely:
The Newport Rising occurred in the wake of the House of Commons' rejection of the first Chartist petition in July 1839 and in August, the conviction and imprisonment of Chartist Henry Vincent in Monmouth Gaol. Because of Vincent’s imprisonment, the authorities were alert to the possibility of a riot. They had not however anticipated the potential scale of the reaction until November 3rd and so, the day before the Chartists would arrive, began to make hasty perpetrations. Frost and his associates had gathered around 10,000 people on their march towards Newport, many of whom were armed with home-made pikes, bludgeons and firearms. 500 Special Constables were sworn in and troops sent were sent for to bolster the 60 men already present in Newport. Crucially, 32 men of the 45th (Nottinghamshire) Regiment of Foot were stationed at the Westgate Hotel where Chartist prisoners were held.
The Chartists arrived in Newport on November 4th. The exact rationale for the confrontation is uncertain, although it may have its origins in Frost's ambivalence towards the more violent attitudes of some Chartists, and the animosity he felt towards some of Newport’s establishment. They arrived at the small square in front of the hotel at about 9.30 am and demanded the release of Chartists they believed to be held inside. A brief but violent battle ensued. Shots were fired by both sides, contemporary accounts indicating that the Chartists attacked first. Despite being heavily outnumbered, the superior training, disciple and firepower of the soldiers quickly broke the crowd. The Chartists did manage to enter the building temporarily, but were forced to retreat in disarray. After a fiercely fought battle, lasting approximately half an hour, around 22 Chartists had been killed and upwards of 50 had been wounded.
In the aftermath more than 200 Chartists were arrested and twenty-one were charged with high treason. The main leaders of the Rising, including John Frost, were found guilty and were sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. Though it was later commuted to transportation, they were to be the last people to be sentenced to this punishment in England and Wales. Frost was transported to Tasmania.
In response to the conditions, Chartists in Sheffield, the East End of London and Bradford planned their own risings. Samuel Holberry led an aborted rising in Sheffield on January 12th 1840; police action thwarted a major disturbance in the East End of London on January 14th, and on January 26th a few hundred Bradford Chartists staged a failed rising in the hope of precipitating a domino effect across the country. After this Chartism turned to a process of internal renewal and more systematic organisation, but the transported and imprisoned Newport Chartists were regarded as heroes and martyrs amongst workers.
Frost was given an unconditional pardon in 1856 and immediately returned to Britain. He retired to Stapleton near Bristol and continued to publish articles advocating reform until his death there, aged 93, in 1877.
This model was built by Dan Harris as part of a series of models on people and protest. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
"Heavy weather, heavy soul, heavy heart. That is an uncomfortable trinity, isn't it?"
Hedd Wyn, 2017
On this day 100 years ago, the Welsh poet Ellis Humphrey Evans, better known by his bardic name Hedd Wyn, was killed during the Battle of Passchendaele in World War I. He is known by few outside of Wales, but within the country and in particular among Welsh speakers, he is widely recognised. While Hedd Wyn’s death is no more tragic than any of the other 31,000 Allied soldiers who fell that day, or indeed the deaths of the thousands in the German lines, Hedd Wyn’s story and his work have become an important part of Wales’ wider cultural heritage.
It’s a cliché to describe Wales as a land of bards and the importance of poetry may be overemphasised in conversations on Welsh national identity. However, it is almost certainly given greater prestige as an art form than in other parts of the UK; central to this is the eisteddfod, a cultural tradition that is said to have begun in the 12th century court of The Lord Rhys of Deheubarth, but in the modern tradition goes back to the late 18th century. Hedd Wyn’s story is tied to the National Eisteddfod of 1917; an eisteddfod is a festival of literature, music and performance in which the top prize goes to the best poet, or bardd in Welsh. The prize is a chair, which at the many smaller town and community eisteddfodau is usually symbolic and given in the form of a trophy, but at the National Eisteddfod it is an ornately carved fully sized wooden chair.
After a brief training period at a camp near Liverpool, he was sent to Flanders as a private in the 15th Battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers; he arrived at the front in early June. During that month he finished work on his entry to that year’s National Eisteddfod Chair, the subject for which was Yr Arwr (The Hero) and it was sent along with a collection of other poems back to Wales.
On July 31st Allied forces launched an offensive that would become known as the Battle of Passchendaele. Hedd Wyn was among the among the first to attack and the first to fall; he was killed at Pilckem Ridge, aged 30 years old. His death was witnessed by Private Simon Jones, a member of his company, who recalled it in 1975:
“We started over Canal Bank at Ypres, and he was killed half way across Pilckem. I've heard many say that they were with Hedd Wyn and this and that, well I was with him... I saw him fall and I can say that it was a nosecap shell in his stomach that killed him. You could tell that... He was going in front of me, and I saw him fall on his knees and grab two fistfuls of dirt... He was dying, of course... There were stretcher bearers coming up behind us, you see. There was nothing – well, you'd be breaking the rules if you went to help someone who was injured when you were in an attack.”
In September the National Eisteddfod was held at Birkenhead. In the main pavilion the adjudicator announced that the winning poet with the nom-de-plume of ‘Fleur-de-lis’ fully deserved to win, but nobody came forward to claim the prize. The audience were informed that the winner was Private E. H. Evans - Hedd Wyn - and that he had been killed in action just six weeks earlier. Solemnly, the empty chair was covered with a black cloth. Hedd Wyn’s body is buried at the Artillery Wood Cemetery near Boezinge and the words Y Prifardd Hedd Wyn (The Chief Bard) were later added to his gravestone.
Following his death, Hedd Wyn's works were anthologised in a book compiled in his home town of Trawsfynydd, Cerddi'r Bugail. He has inspired a mountain of poetry and prose eulogising him and a 1992 Oscar nominated film about his life.
While it was Hedd Wyn's poem Yr Arwr that won him the chair, his best known work is perhaps the much shorter but no less powerful Rhyfel, which simply means War.
Writing on her excellent War Poetry blog, Behind their Lines, Connie Ruzich eloquently describes the poem’s key themes: “Hauntingly, the poem weaves together nature, faith, and war in a lament not only for the dead, but for all who live in a time of war”. The poem is also deeply political; in its second line the word teyrn, which is usually translated as ‘King’ or 'Lord', is actually more closely related to the word for tyrant, and as Ruzich puts it “...in a world gone wrong, the burdens of death and suffering fall disproportionately upon the poor, and song itself has been silenced”.
While translated poetry almost always loses some of its meaning and can also end up gaining meaning that doesn't exist in the original language, a good translation has been made by former National Poet of Wales Gillian Clarke. Clarke's work delicately balances literal translation with poetic style and the result, which admittedly loses some of the original's power, is the best this Welsh speaker has read.
The blog was created by Dan Harris, who grew up in a small town in west Wales. The first LEGO scene is by Dan and the second by James Pegrum. We will be posting more blogs on the First World War over the coming year.
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