David Leigh

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DAVID LEIGH (1769-1849)

Son of Rev. Edmund, Rev Richard Nash, John,Oakley I & back to Richard I and Ancestor of many Descendants

David Leigh was born in 1769, the son of the Rev. Edmund and Elizabeth William of Llandeilo-Talybont (church of St Teilo at the end of the bridge), the parish where his father had become the curate in the previous year. Edmund was then 33 and Elizabeth 24, but they did not marry, and when Edmund eventually married four years later he chose another farmer’s daughter Anne Pugh. The evidence that Edmund was the father comes partly from David’s surname, which stood out from the very numerous Jones, Williams and Davies names of the area, and partly from the oral testimony of many of David’s descendants, but the final proof was given by the statement to that effect given in the Utah journal of Edmund’s grandson Samuel Leigh. There is no documentary evidence that Elizabeth was David’s mother, but subsequent events in their lives leave us in no doubt. His name may have been chosen jointly by his parents as they both had a brother David, but it was Edmund who gave it to him because he would have performed the christening.

With the William family of David’s mother we enter the lovely hilly countryside of the Glamorgan-Carmarthenshire border, where the many small farms carried centuries-old picturesque names in Welsh. Their owners (or more often hereditary leaseholders) knew each acre of their land as well as they knew each branch of their intermingled genealogies. Earlier Leighs had tended to be town dwellers in the professions and trades, but David Leigh’s descendants started from this traditional farming life.

David’s mother Elizabeth was the daughter of John William of Llwyn Ifan Ddu (black Evan’s grove), a 79 acre farm in the Loughor valley in the north of the parish, where he had been the tenant since at least 1753, which is the date of the first listing of the ‘free rents’ paid to the feudal overlord the Duke of Beaufort (Badminton Manorial Records for the manor of Gower Anglicana, MS2613-6, NLW), and he also had a smallholding nearby called Tir Isaf (lowest land). John and his wife Elizabeth christened two children Anne and David on 30 October 1741, but the christening of their daughter Elizabeth was not recorded, and her year of birth has been calculated as 1745 from her age when she died.

David Leigh would have been born on this William family farm and brought up there initially. When he was 7 his mother married John Morgan III (her brother David had married John’s sister Hannah in the previous year). John was the owner of Llandremor Fach in a secluded valley in the hills a mile to the south of Pontarddulais, where his great great grandfather John Morgan I had bought land over 100 years earlier (NLW, SD/1673/67). By 1766 John’s father Morgan John II had taken the lease of Hendrewen, the next farm to Llwyn Ifan Ddu (Land Tax for Swansea Hundred, Cardiff Record Office), and John may well have gone to live there and got to know Elizabeth as a result, but when his father died in 1771 John’s younger brother Morgan took over there.

John and Elizabeth Morgan had four daughters, Elizabeth in 1777, Mary in 1780, Ann in 1782 and Sarah in 1784. In 1778 they had moved again, as John had taken the lease of Llandremor Fawr, the 350 acre farm in the centre of the valley. Their descendants came to own this farm too, and they continued to live there until the year 2000. The name Llandremor derives from ‘llodre’, which is cognate with Irish Gaelic ‘lathrach’, meaning a substantial building, and the second part, ‘mor’, is an old personal name (John 49). It is interesting to reflect that the Loughor valley was settled by Irish immigrants in the Dark Ages as part of the upheavals following the Roman withdrawal. The names ‘Fawr’ and ‘Fach’ applied to the two farms mean ‘large’ and ‘small’, respectively. The only other farm in the valley was Llandremor Uchaf (‘upper’), which had been occupied by a cousin, and was where the first Methodist meetings in the area took place in 1743 and 1744 (Glamorgan County History 531).

Llandremor Fawr farmhouse

Llandremor Fawr farmhouse in its valley

When Elizabeth’s father John William made his will in 1783 (NLW, SD/1783/101) it was Edmund Leigh who wrote and witnessed it, and the first bequest was ‘I give my Mare and Saddle to David Leigh’.

Entry from John William's Diary

He also made bequests to his other grandchildren, and made Elizabeth’s husband his executor and residuary legatee, as a result of which John Morgan inherited the lease of Llwyn Ifan Ddu and Tir Isaf, making a total of over 500 acres under his control. The lease did not go to Elizabeth’s brother David William, who does not appear to have been a farmer and was probably a craftsman. John signed his will in a strong hand, but he died only a few weeks later. Signature of John Williams

In 1796 David Leigh married Mary Robert, the eldest daughter of William Robert, and one can imagine the feelings of his father Edmund when he conducted the service, and again later that year when he christened their daughter Mary, his first grandchild. Edmund and David both signed the marriage register, as did William Robert and William David, Mary’s cousin.

David Leigh’s marriage certificate

Later that year too, Mary’s brother Thomas Robert II married David’s stepsister Elizabeth Morgan, and they went to live at Llandremor Fach. Then in 1801 Mary’s youngest brother Evan Robert married David’s stepsister Sarah Morgan, though both were only 17, and the witnesses were Thomas Robert and David Leigh. They joined Sarah’s parents at Llandremor Fawr. Sarah and Elizabeth’s sister Ann married David Hopkin in 1798 and lived on the farm he owned in Bettws parish, north of Llandeilo-Talybont, and the other stepsister Mary married David’s brother Richard II Hopkin in 1800, witnessed by David Leigh and David Hopkin, and they took over Llwyn Ifan Ddu.

The Robert family are to figure strongly in this story, and it is instructive to examine their background. Mary’s father William Robert had been born further east in Llangyfelach parish in 1742 and had married there in 1764, but in 1782 he moved to Llandeilo-Talybont, taking over a farm by the river south of the church from his sister Sarah, together with lime kilns and three other leases. It appears that he had lent money to her, as when her husband died earlier that year William had been granted administration of his affairs as ‘Principal Creditor of the Deceased’ (NLW, SD/1782/78). Sarah moved to her late husband’s own farm, Glynllwchwr (Loughor valley), which in the second half of the 19th century became enveloped in the expansion of the village of Pontarddulais following the construction of tinplate works. In 1785 William moved to Pentre Priscedwyn (end farm of Cedwyn’s copse), south of Pontarddulais, having rebuilt the two houses on the site. He also took two other leases, and by 1790 he was farming over 300 acres (Land Tax for Swansea Hundred, Cardiff Record Office). He had 5 sons and 5 daughters, and they all married and had children of their own.

View west over Pontarddulais and the Loughor valley towards the Llanedi hills

There is one story about his son Rees Robert that is worth recording. His first wife died in 1809, and in the following year he married again by licence, with David Leigh and Evan Robert as the witnesses. In accord with the custom adopted in Carmarthenshire and surrounding areas they issued a bidding letter requesting wedding gifts, usually in return for gifts made previously by the families of the bride and groom, and the rare bidding account book has survived. The first name on the list is that of Mrs Ann Leigh of Persondy (Parsonage), Edmund’s wife, who was related to the bride, and the last name is that of David Leigh, and a few places higher up is the name of his mother Elizabeth Morgan.

When they had married in 1796, David and Mary Leigh had gone to live at the 46 acre Alltygraban (hillside of the corn marigolds), not far from her father’s farms, which was owned by the widow of the previous vicar the Rev. William Jones (1780-92), under whom David’s father had served as curate. The farmhouse was typical of many in the area. It had been built in the 17th century as a longhouse, and the upper part of the house, which was an inner room or parlour, was cut deep into the hillside. The outer room or hall was originally entered from the cross-passage between the house and the cowshed through a door beside the large fireplace and chimneystack in the thick end wall of the house. The parlour was entered from the hall, and both rooms were ceiled over with beams and square joists to provide semi-attic accommodation under the thatched roof, with access to the upper floor provided by a stone stairway built within a projection at the back. Later a lean-to kitchen and dairy were added to this side. In the 18th century the original entry from the passage was blocked, and a new entrance was broken through the front wall to enter in line with the front of the hall fireplace. A brewhouse or bakehouse was added at the lower corner of the cowshed, to which a first floor granary was added during the 19th century.

Alltygraban farmhouse
Alltygraban farmhouse

Alltygraban farmhouse (National Monuments Record of Wales)

In 1811, some time after the death of Mary’s parents, David took over two of her father’s farms in addition to his own, making a total of about 300 acres, and he retained them for the next 11 years. He and Mary had five children, and they gave their own names to the first two. The other three were named Elizabeth after David’s mother, and Sarah and Anne after Mary’s sisters, but it is also the case that the four daughters bore the same names as David’s stepsisters. The eldest daughter Mary died at the age of 13. David made his will at Alltygraban in 1840, leaving nominal amounts to his three surviving daughters, who would have received their inheritance when they married. He left Ł30, a cow, and a bed and bedclothes for his son David’s only child Margaret, but all the rest went to his wife and son (NLW, SD/1850/41).

The witnesses to David’s will were Daniel Lewis and William Hopkin, and both were active in fostering Welsh culture and its history and language, so it may be possible to conclude that David had similar interests. We know also that when the two witnesses died the first words on their gravestones were carved in an alphabet which was invented by Iolo Morgannwg, who had re-introduced the Welsh tradition of the Eisteddfod, a competitive festival of music and literature that is still held every year in Wales. David’s grave in the churchyard has not survived, but it may perhaps have had a similar engraving. We will see later that Daniel married a granddaughter of one of David’s stepsisters.

Gravestone of Daniel Lewis Gravestone of William Hopkin

Inscriptions on the gravestones of Daniel Lewis and William Hopkin

David's son David (IV) continued to live at Alltygraban, but in 1856 he moved with his daughter Margaret and her husband William Williams to Caeglas (green field), a new farm which incorporated some of the fields of Pentre Priscedwyn, and he died there six years later. Margaret was twice widowed
and brought up her four daughters there, and many of her descendants still live in the area. The family of her daughter Gwenllian James continued to own the farm, but the only photograph we have of the house was taken in recent years after it had been abandoned and just before it was demolished prior to the construction of the M4 motorway. Click here to go to Margaret's descent chart.

Caeglas farmhouse

Caeglas farmhouse. Photo provided by Selwyn Williams

Two of David’s children married children of his stepsisters, and there were further intermarriages in the next generation, so to continue the story we need to catch up with what had been happening to the Morgan children. David’s stepfather John Morgan had made his will in 1812 (NLW, SD/1815/86), and David Leigh and a farming friend had been named trustees of his freehold properties Llandremor Fach and Tir Isaf, the latter having been purchased in the previous year. The profits were to go to his wife Elizabeth (David’s mother) and then equally to their four daughters after her death, and after the death of each of the daughters the trustees were to pay her share of the profits equally among her children. The lease of Llandremor Fawr was bequeathed to the occupants their daughter Sarah and her husband Evan Robert, subject to the payment of a certain amount each year to Sarah’s sisters Elizabeth, Mary and Ann, and a similar arrangement was made for Mary and her husband Richard Hopkin at Llwyn Ifan Ddu. John Morgan also had the lease of four houses in Pontarddulais, one of which was occupied by the postmistress, and these too were to be shared between his daughters. His wife Elizabeth was made the executrix, but she died in 1814 a year before her husband.

John and Elizabeth’s daughter Ann Morgan lived with her husband David Hopkin in Bettws and had 8 children, and their eldest son Richard Hopkin III married David Leigh’s daughter Sarah, who was his first cousin. Similarly, Elizabeth Hopkin, one of the 11 children of Ann’s sister Mary, married David Leigh’s son David IV, but she died only a year later, and their only son died aged 18 months. Elizabeth’s sister Mary Hopkin also married a cousin, John Roberts III, who was a nephew of her mother’s sisters Elizabeth and Sarah.

John and Elizabeth’s daughter Elizabeth Robert had died before her parents in 1813, leaving her husband Thomas with 6 children. With one exception they remained on the farm unmarried for the rest of their lives, the survivor being assisted eventually by a nephew until her death in 1882. Elizabeth’s sister Sarah Robert died in 1833, and she and her husband Evan (who lived to 81) were buried with her parents at Llandeilo-Talybont church, though she had been a prominent member of Goppa Methodist chapel. They had 10 children, one of whom farmed Llandremor Fawr until his death in 1886, after which Sarah’s youngest son returned to live there, and one of his descendants bought Llandremor Fach and recombined the two farms. The farmhouse at Fach was eventually abandoned in 1950 and it is now ruinous.

Llandremor Fach farmhouse

Llandremor Fach farmhouse

Most of the other children married and moved to other farms, apart from two brothers who went to Llanelli, where one was a founder of Trinity Methodist church and was a grocer, and the other was a railway clerk.

Sarah and Evan’s eldest daughter Elizabeth married yet another cousin through the Robert family, Richard Davies, who farmed on the other side of the valley in Llanedi parish, and their daughter Elizabeth married the same Daniel Lewis who had witnessed David Leigh’s will. Daniel was a weaver who lived in a cottage next to Goppa chapel in Pontarddulais and wrote poetry, and his happy-go-lucky disposition had not at first enamoured him to her parents. He led the attack on the tollgate near the chapel during the Rebecca Riots, as will be described later. After their marriage in 1847 he became a woollen manufacturer and auctioneer. He fostered Welsh culture, as we have seen, and he named his children after figures from Welsh history and legend, such as (King) Arthur and his wife Gwenhwyfa (Guinevere). One of his grandchildren Wynford Vaughan Thomas first came to fame as a war correspondent for the BBC during World War Two and later became a writer and a radio and TV commentator. In one of his books he related how his aunt Bessie went to Montana in the 1870s, where her husband ran a general store and invested unsuccessfully in silver mines in the mountains, and returned as a widow 40 years later and lived in Swansea near her sister. Shortly before his death, Wynford returned to Pontarddulais and visited his parents’ grave at the chapel. He was asked for his thoughts as he watched the traffic speeding along the motorway in the distance, and he replied “I would like to see a sign put up at the site of every tollgate with arrows pointing in both directions with the words ‘No charge, courtesy of Rebecca and her Daughters’ “.

The Rebecca Riots (1839-1844)

This uprising of an oppressed peasantry against the burden of the tollgates has become part of the folk-tradition of West Wales.

Why did such a docile and law-abiding people rise in this way? The gates were convenient objects of attack, but the causes were far more deep-rooted. The early 19th century saw a breakdown in the social structure of rural Wales, with its outmoded systems of government and administration, when the pressure of a greatly increased population upon a backward economy produced disturbances. In common with the rest of England and Wales, the population of Carmarthenshire had increased by 60% between 1801 and 1841, and this inevitably led to competition for farms. As a result, rents that were already high due to inflation during the Napoleonic War of 1789 to 1815 had continued to rise, whereas the prices of farm produce had fallen. The system of leasing for three lives, which provided reasonable security, had been phased out by the landlords as a result of the enormous increase in land values during the war, and had been replaced by leases for years and then by yearly tenancies. The Welsh farmer was attached to his land, and was prepared to pay a ridiculous rent rather than give up the farm held by his forefathers. Farms were already too small, many being less than 50 acres and barely providing a livelihood. Merging small farms was profitable to the landowners, for it saved them from the expense of maintaining the abandoned homesteads, but this had serious consequences for the country people, since there was little alternative occupation in this remote region.

The gentry as a class were themselves in a state of decay, and the consequence of this decay was serious, since the gentry constituted the landed interest that alone was represented in parliament. The authority which the gentry exercised over the countryside was all the more secure since it continued unchanged in the administration of justice and local government, as the magistrates were also drawn from this class. The links between the gentry and the peasantry had weakened appreciably. Many estates had passed to Englishmen by purchase, and by marriage to heiresses after the failure of the male line in the old Welsh families, and non-resident landlords appointed stewards from England and Scotland to supervise their properties. The pride in their ancestry of the Welsh gentry that remained had not led them to retain the language of their forebears, for they were rapidly becoming anglicised. The differences in language hindered administration, as cases were tried in a language that defendants barely understood.

The Church as a body had shown itself too closely associated with the landowning gentry and indifferent to the social conditions of the poor (though there were individual exceptions, such as William Leigh Morgan, and Edmund Leigh in an earlier period, and William III Leigh in his isolated parish in an industrialised east Glamorgan can probably be included). There had been a remarkable increase in Nonconformity since 1810, and by mid-century a religious difference between the gentry and their tenants was now added to the already existing differences in social standing and in language. The Nonconformists built chapels that were able to accommodate the increased population, and they provided Sunday Schools such that in Carmarthenshire by 1847 there were 8 times as many children in these schools as in those of the Church of England. The great measure of equality in Dissenting congregations helped to integrate the peasant class, and they acquired self-confidence, just at the time of the Rebecca Riots.

The Riots primarily reflected the interests and fears of the small farmers. It was they who paid tolls to the turnpike companies when transporting their produce to market or when carting lime from the kilns, and it was they who paid rent, rates and tithes, three of the burdens about which Rebecca was especially vocal. And it was they, it may be assumed, who were most perturbed by the possibility that they might end their days in the workhouse, which had been built as a result of the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834. Tithes had also recently changed from payment in kind to a monetary charge at a time of cash shortage, and in west Wales they had been increased by about 7%. The farmers objected to paying church rates and tithes, and as many landowners had purchased the right to receive tithes this meant that farmers were having to pay these as well as local taxes and rent to their landlord. In their distress there was no-one they could turn to for support.

The spark that ignited this smouldering pile of disaffection and unrest was the reaction to the Turnpike Trusts and the tollgates. Two routes into the area had become well defined. The road from London to Gloucester continued to Brecon and then down the Tywi valley through Llandovery and Llandeilo to Carmarthen and St Clears and thence to Pembrokeshire and Ireland, and a coastal route from Gloucester to Swansea crossed the Loughor at low tide to Llanelli and then to Kidwelly and Carmarthen, or went north to the bridge at Pontarddulais. Like all roads they were maintained by the parishes through which they passed, but were not kept in good condition, so in the 18th century a law had been passed enabling private companies called Turnpike Trusts to be set up to build roads.

In 1763 Carmarthenshire gentry set up a Trust by Act of Parliament to improve the road down the Tywi valley, and two years later other Trusts were created to do the same for three other roads, that from Pontarddulais through Llanelli to Kidwelly, a direct route from Llanelli to Carmarthen, and another from Pontarddulais to Carmarthen through Llannon. In each case a large number of trustees advanced money, which was to be recovered by tolls over a period of 21 years, but as was the case throughout the country, insufficient money came in, and the Acts had to be renewed. The location of the gates, and the various tolls charged for carriages, carts and animals, were set out in the Acts, and lime was among the commodities that were exempt.

Some of the better-off farmers were among the trustees, such as John Habakkuk the grandfather of John Griffiths who married Elizabeth VII Leigh, and William Mathew of Tyllwyd who was related to William Williams who married Margaret II Leigh, and they supported the construction of the Wych Tree bridge north of Swansea in 1778 because they owned their farms on the road linking the bridge with Llangyfelach and Pontarddulais. In 1831 a bridge was built further west across the river at Loughor to reduce the journey from Swansea to Llanelli by 4 miles, avoiding Pontarddulais, but the tolls were high, and it never paid its way.

Further Trusts were formed to construct roads across the Tywi at Capel Dewi, Dryslwyn and Golden Grove and then south across Carmarthenshire, but lime was not exempt because their main purpose was to provide access to the kilns where limestone outcropped on the rim of the coal seams. Their tolls were a severe penalty to the farmers, as lime was the main fertiliser that they applied to their poor acid soils. The penalty was felt more keenly in Carmarthenshire and surrounding districts than anywhere else, as the many Trusts were interlaced, and each had gates where their roads met. By coincidence this was the same region as where Bidding Letters were sent to invite wedding gifts. The diagram below shows the various Trust roads in south Carmarthenshire, with Carmarthen itself just out of the picture on the top left-hand side.

South Carmarthenshire Trust Roads

South Carmarthenshire Trust Roads (from The Rebecca Riots)

Most Trusts let their gates annually, and the sums paid showed a steady rise. The lessees were usually local men, but professional toll-farmers appeared, such as Thomas Bullin who from 1830 leased gates in various parts of England and Wales. They generally took over all the gates of a Trust and increased tolls, and set up side bars to catch lime carts which dodged in and out of turnpike roads.

The winter of 1838-9 was particularly severe, and it followed poor harvests in 1837 and 1838. In May 1839 at the start of the lime-carting season, a new tollgate installed by Bullin was destroyed on the night of the 13th at Efail-wen (white smithy) on the border of Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire, and the flimsily constructed tollhouse was set on fire. The Trust re-erected the gate, whereupon notices were posted on public doors facetiously summoning a meeting on 6 June ‘for the purpose of considering the necessity of a gate at Efail-wen’. On the appointed night the gate and the house were destroyed, and a week later another new gate nearby received the same treatment. Finally on 17 July the chain that had been placed at Efail-wen was removed in broad daylight.

On each occasion the several hundred rioters were disguised, some with blackened faces and some dressed in women’s clothes, and there was a feeling of carnival, with much noise and the firing of guns; all these features drawing on the local custom of the ‘ceffyl pren’ (the wooden horse), in which a person who had offended against the strong rural sense of morality and justice was ridiculed by being carried in effigy on a wooden pole. The leader of the rioters was addressed as ‘Rebecca’, and the others as her ‘daughters’, the name coming from Genesis, XXIV, 60: ‘And they blessed Rebecca, and said unto her … let thy seed possess the gates of those which hate them’. The Welsh knew their Bible thoroughly.

Rebecca and her Daughters

Rebecca and her Daughters (from the Illustrated London News)

The outcome was that an emergency meeting of the Trust was held on 23 July at which a number of magistrates were present, including John Jones the Member of Parliament for the county, probably the person who had inherited William Rees’s Capel Dewi, and they overruled the trustees and revoked the order establishing the new gates.

The magistrates had been in a difficult position, as they had to rely on unpaid constables to keep the peace. In 1829 Peel had set up the Metropolitan Police, and a number of London policemen were sent to Wales during periods of turmoil. It was intended that counties would set up their own police forces, and Glamorgan did so in 1841, but the west Wales counties resisted on grounds of cost, and Carmarthenshire did not come into line until two years later when the Riots were all but over, though Carmarthen borough did have five officers. Pembrokeshire was eventually obliged to comply by a further Act in 1856. The magistrates enrolled special constables, a difficult matter in the circumstances, but they disappeared at the first sign of Rebecca. The Home Office was asked for troops, and 25 soldiers were sent from Brecon and marched with fixed bayonets through the streets of Narberth, the nearest town, on Sunday morning, 9 July. It has to be said for the rioters that throughout the whole period they never appeared on the Sabbath.

There were no further attacks on tollgates until the winter of 1842. After three very wet summers the harvest of that year was good, but it did not benefit the farmers because it coincided with a severe industrial depression and a fall in demand which brought prices down. Again Thomas Bullin was involved, as in November he persuaded one of the Trusts to install a gate a short distance east of the bottleneck of St Clears, but as soon as it was erected it was destroyed, together with a side bar and another gate less than a mile away. This began a period of several months in which very many gates were destroyed, together with tollhouses, sometimes many miles apart on the same night. The authorities believed that they were co-ordinated, but there was no one Rebecca. ‘Beca is the country’, wrote the Baptist magazine Seren Gomer, ‘it was Beca who obtained the Charter from King John … and who won the Independence of America’. In December the magistrates implored the government to send troops, but they had no troops to spare to deal with such a trifling affair as its forces had been so stretched in the disturbed manufacturing districts of England and in the strike-torn valleys of Monmouthshire.

On 26 May 1843 the Water Street gate in Carmarthen was destroyed, and the future historian Alcwyn Evans, then 15, recognised the Rebecca as a farmer from Trelech in the hinterland north of the town. Those who subsequently refused to pay the toll there were fined, and the constables and an armed posse who went to collect the fines on 12 June were resisted by about 40 men. This caused the government to send a troop of Dragoons. The farmers of the area held a meeting at which resolutions were drawn up expressing their grievances and requesting that the Trust finances be examined, and they planned a great demonstration in Carmarthen. On the following Monday morning a band led a parade through the streets of 300 horsemen and 2000 on foot, of whom only Rebecca was in disguise, to present their resolutions to the mayor. Unfortunately they were diverted by the Carmarthen ‘mob’ (who were usually brought in by the candidates at the time of elections to create havoc, most recently in 1831), and they attacked the hated workhouse, which was saved by the timely arrival of the Dragoons.

The event was described fully in the national press and in the Carmarthen Journal and the Welshman, and the London Times sent a reporter, T. C. Foster, whose dispatches appeared almost daily over the next six months. The government sent a very able soldier, Colonel Love, to restore order, and by the autumn he had 1800 cavalry and infantry troops under his command. As it turned out, Foster was much the more successful, as Love made no arrests.

Attacks on toll-gates continued, and it was inevitable that they would spill over the border into Glamorgan, as they did first on the night of July 6th 1843, when the Bolgoed gate on the Swansea road on the east side of Pontarddulais and the side bar leading to the Goppa were destroyed. As we have seen, Daniel Lewis who witnessed the will of David III Leigh was the Rebecca, and the story goes that his sweetheart Elizabeth Davies watched the proceedings with a maidservant from an upstairs window of the Fountain Inn, which still stands at the road junction. Elizabeth was a granddaughter of David Leigh’s stepsister Sarah Robert née Morgan, and she married Daniel in 1847 as described earlier. Daniel astride a white horse led about 200 men to the tollhouse and demanded that the gatekeeper should come out. He did, and, polite and considerate as ever, Rebecca commanded her daughters to bring out all his belongings, stack them on the roadside, and mount guard over them. Then, turning in the saddle, she called out ‘Come, come my daughters; there is work to be done’, and they reduced the house and gate to rubble to the noise of cheering, horns, and gunfire, and then disappeared. (In 2004 a stone with an inscription commemorating the event was erected on the opposite side of the road. It was designed by Eifion Davies who is descended from David Leigh’s granddaughter Margaret II Leigh. Click here to go to Margaret's descent chart.)

Site of Bolgoed Tollgate

Site of Bolgoed Tollgate

Two weeks later Daniel led an attack 5 miles away on the gate at Rhydypandy in Llangyfelach parish, and among those who took part were Matthew and Henry, sons of Morgan Morgan of nearby Cwm Cile farm. Morgan had inherited the farm, which was where David III Leigh’s wife Mary had been born, and his great-grandson Professor Morgan Watkins said that he was of yeoman stock. Recent research has shown that the will of his 2xgreat-grandfather was sealed with the arms of the last Welsh Lord of Glamorgan in the 11th century, and that a pedigree supports his claim to that descent. Among the descendants of Morgan Morgan’s daughter Hannah are Rhodri Morgan, currently the First Secretary of the Welsh National Assembly in Cardiff (the Welsh ‘parliament’), and the noted historian Prys Morgan.

An informer named John Jones claimed to have been present on both occasions, and he went to Police Inspector Rees in Swansea on the Saturday and named Daniel Lewis and the Morgan brothers as having been involved. Warrants were issued, and in the early hours of Sunday morning Inspector Rees accompanied Chief Constable Napier and two constables from the Glamorgan force to make the arrests. They took Matthew, who was left with the two constables, and the others proceeded to Cwm Cile, where the family objected vigorously to being disturbed on the Sabbath. They surrounded Henry to prevent him being taken, and a fierce struggle began. Both policemen sustained cuts, and to protect himself Napier fired and hit the youngest son John Morgan, and hearing the shot the constables came and helped to arrest the whole family.

Two police officers went with a carriage to Pontarddulais next day to arrest Daniel Lewis, and, ever the prankster, he insisted that by law the carriage had to be brought to his door by Goppa chapel, so it was taken down the narrow lane with great difficulty. They arrived at Swansea in front of an immense crowd of supporters as the magistrates were assembling and the other prisoners were brought in, and they were bound over for trial. Among those who provided surety in the large sum of Ł50 were two relations of Elizabeth VII Leigh’s husband John Griffiths. Napier was subjected to much ridicule in the London press for his fight with ‘the old woman with the frying pan’.

The trial took place in Cardiff in October. The Morgan family had pleaded guilty, and it was announced that their charge had been reduced from a felony to misdemeanour (because the family had mistakenly thought it was illegal to make an arrest on a Sunday), and the parents Morgan, 57, and Esther, 60, were discharged because of their advanced age. Their sons Rees, 20, and John, 18, were sentenced to 12 months imprisonment and their daughter Margaret, 23, to 6 months, all to be served without hard labour because of their previous good character. Next Daniel and his companions stood in the dock, and an embarrassed Attorney General informed the judge that he was unable to proceed because the only witness John Jones was not available to give evidence. Members of his own family had denounced him as a liar, and he had fled to America.

By this time both sides in the conflict had softened their stance. Colonel Love had written to the Home Office on 12 July suggesting an enquiry, and the Carmarthenshire magistrates had petitioned the government to appoint commissioners for that purpose, and to this the Home Secretary consented. The rioters were also holding meetings to discuss their grievances. The first of these took place on 20 July at Cwm Ifor near Llandeilo in the burial ground of the Baptist chapel and continued until midnight in the schoolroom, and the second was held on 3 August not far away in the barn of Penlan farm (both locations being strongly connected with the ancestors of Derek Williams in the Williams family). Both meetings were attended by the Times reporter Foster, who explained his purpose and was given an interpreter, and they were reported in the newspaper. The second meeting was held to consider the formation of a farmers’ union and its aims and objects, and when they were told that the government was sending commissioners, one farmer said ‘It is one of the best things that ever came into this country to see persons as well off in the world come and try to take off the grievances of the poor. When we elect members of parliament they do just as they please. We have no voice’. The union was duly formed, and eventually encompassed the whole of England and Wales and became the present National Farmers Union.

Further meetings took place during the next three months, some of which were chaired by magistrates, and several resulted in petitions to the Queen. The greatest of all the meetings took place on 25 August when well over three thousand gathered on the high open moorland of Mynydd Sylen near Llannon. Farmers came from all over the south east of the county including Llanedi and Llanelli, and colliers sacrificed a day’s pay to attend.

On Mynydd Sylen

On Mynydd Sylen (from the Illustrated London News)

The Llanelli magistrate William Chambers took the chair, and there were many eloquent speeches. Following discussion a number of resolutions were drawn up, and were moved in Welsh by a farmer who had acted as Rebecca on more than one occasion. The thirteen farmers who appended their signatures, presumably as representatives of their neighbourhoods, included William Robert of Glynea farm near Llanelli, who was a nephew of David Leigh’s wife Mary.

Signature of William Robert

Signature of William Robert


Mynydd Sylen Resolutions

Mynydd Sylen Resolutions (NLW MS 14590E 7)

Meanwhile, attacks by Rebecca continued with reduced frequency. The area around Llannon had seen disturbances for some time, and on 6 September a farmer from there named John Hughes (Jac Ty-isha) led about 100 men to break down the gate on the west side of Pontarddulais near the bridge over the river Loughor, which was at a bottleneck on their route to markets in Glamorgan.

South Carmarthenshire Roads

South Carmarthenshire Roads (from And They Blessed Rebecca)

Word had leaked out, and a Llanelli magistrate informed Chief Constable Napier. He took 6 policemen and three magistrates and hid near the gate, and 40 soldiers protected a gate at Hendy on the other side of the river in Carmarthenshire, which was also thought to be at risk. Napier called on the rioters to stop, and Jac turned and fired but missed. Napier shot his horse and grappled with him, and in the confusion Jac’s arm was shattered by a bullet, and another man, David Jones, was severely wounded. Both were taken prisoner together with a third man, and the rest of the rioters fled. Who fired the first shot was to become the subject of bitter controversy. One of the magistrates, Lewis Llewelyn Dillwyn, subsequently wrote an account of the engagement, and in 2004 a commemorative stone was erected on the site, which again was designed by Eifion Davies.

Dillwyn’s Account
(from Swansea University Archives


Memorial Stone
(Photo provided by Bernice Williams)

At their trial in October the prisoners were all sentenced to transportation to Tasmania despite a recommendation for mercy, Jac for 20 years and the others for 7 years. David Jones died of his injuries shortly after his arrival there, but Jac Ty-isha was pardoned in 1857 and settled and brought up a family, and his descendants have kept in touch with their cousins near Llannon.

The Leighs and their relations who lived in this area experienced in one degree or another the conditions outlined here, but it is not known how many of them apart from Daniel Lewis took part in the Rebecca Riots. Family stories record one, David III Leigh’s son David IV, who blew a bullock’s horn, probably at the Bolgoed gate on July 6, which has been handed down in the family and now belongs to Roland Jeffreys of Ottawa. Another story tells of David running home to Alltygraban and hiding under the bed, so it seems that he was present also at Pontarddulais on 6 September and was one of those who fled from the scene.

The bullock's horn

There is also a story that reveals a relation who did not take part. David’s sister Elizabeth VII (Leigh) Griffiths is said to have had an altercation with Daniel Lewis near his cottage by Goppa chapel. He wanted to know why her husband John Griffiths would not go with the Rebecca, and said that it was clear who wore the trousers in her house, at which Elizabeth, who is known to have had a quick temper, punched him in the face and knocked him to the ground.

Before the Pontarddulais incident, a barrister and an expert in turnpike law had been sent to Wales, and they had collected sufficient evidence during August to persuade the government that a full public enquiry was necessary. They also demonstrated to some of the Trusts their deviations from the letter of the law, as a result of which gates were removed, others were relocated, and payments at certain gates were regarded as clearing others. Foster claimed that if these concessions had been granted a few months earlier there would have been no disturbances.

The Commission of Enquiry met at the main centres in south Wales throughout November, taking 440 pages of evidence, and they produced a full report in March 1844. It was a complete vindication of the people’s discontent with what it called their ‘most obnoxious burthens’, and made recommendations for reforms. The chairman of the Commission said later: ‘The people saw that their only remedy was to take the law into their own hands. … The Rebecca Riots are a very creditable portion of Welsh history’.

An Act was passed in August 1844 which provided for the establishment of a Roads Board in each of the counties of south Wales, which were to take over the management of the turnpike roads, and by the 1850s the roads were of a higher standard than those of most other parts of the kingdom. Above all, the coming of the railways soon afterwards facilitated the migration of the surplus population to the expanding industrial areas, which in turn provided a market for the agricultural produce of those that remained behind. In addition, emigration to America had begun by 1840, and notices of shipping companies began to appear regularly in the weekly press. Small ships picked up passengers in the ports along the coast, even in tiny harbours, and took them to Liverpool for passage to New York, and soon ships took passengers direct from Cardigan and Carmarthen.

Pat Molloy, the author of a book on the riots, concluded that Rebecca was a champion waiting to be called upon. To the country people there was a higher law than man’s, but when man’s law intruded into their world it was obeyed, provided that it accorded with their notion of natural justice. When it failed or oppressed them they looked for justice, and when man’s law refused them justice, or set too high a price on it, they knew instinctively where to turn. Then they looked to their Bibles for a sign, without which, right would not be on their side nor success attend their endeavours. They found it; And they blessed Rebecca.

Industrial Growth in the Swansea Region

Most of David III Leigh’s immediate descendents were farmers, but his granddaughter Sarah Griffiths, the daughter of 91.Elizabeth VII Leigh and her husband John Griffiths, married a man who connected part of the Leigh family to one of the major industrial developments in Wales during the 19th century. Click here to go to Elizabeth's descent chart. Sarah’s husband Rees Williams was a hammerman in Landore in Llangyfelach parish by the River Tawe north of Swansea, and at that time it was already heavily industrialised. All of their sons participated in the child labour of the period, from age 10 working in the foundries and forges.

Industry had come early to Swansea. Cheap coal from pits close to the navigable river emptying into Swansea Bay had made the town (now a city) the third largest coal port in the country in the 17th century, and this led in the following century to the establishment of the world’s leading copper smelting industry. Housing or building plots were provided on favourable terms, the streets following the lines of the former coal tram roads. By 1870 the local copper industry was in decline, but it had been replaced by tinplate and steel. The open-hearth steelmaking process was invented in the area by William Siemens, and he built a steelworks in Landore in 1869. Tinplate was produced there from 1845, and by 1913 four out of every five tinplate workers in the country lived within 20 miles of Swansea, and towns such as Llanelli, Pontarddulais, Gorseinon and Gowerton were almost entirely dependent on the industry. It had built up its trade from the growing American market, providing cheap material for tin cans and household utensils, and though the tariff introduced in 1891 led to a recession, new outlets were developed.

Industry brought prosperity to Swansea, but also environmental damage. In the 19th century, close packed chimneys sent dense clouds laden with sulphuric acid across the valley, and vast heaps of slag were deposited. A descendant born in 1903 recalled that the glow when the furnaces were opened at night could be seen from Llandeilo-Talybont. In the late 20th century when the area was reclaimed, major problems had to be solved that resulted from poisonous metals soaked into the soil, and residual structures hidden below ground.

Industry in the lower Swansea Valley

Industry in the lower Swansea Valley (from Industrial Archaeology of the Swansea Region)

Other descendants of David Leigh also worked in industry. Sarah’s brother Samuel Griffiths was a platelayer on the railway, her brother William Griffiths had two sons who worked at a forge and a son-in-law who was a coalminer (Click here to go to Elizabeth VII Leigh's descent chart), and Sarah’s cousin Margaret II Leigh had a son-in-law David James who worked as a coalminer with two sons. Click here to go to Margaret's descent chart.

Since then further changes have taken place. The coal mines have closed, and only one large tinplate works near Llanelli remains. Farming continues but requires fewer farmers, and Alltygraban and Caeglas farmhouses have disappeared. Instead, a much wider range of employment opportunities is available in the area for the many descendants of David Leigh who still live there.


1. Deric John, Notes on Some Place-names in and around the Bont, Image Publications, 1999.

2. Glanmor Williams (ed.), Glamorgan County History, Volume IV, Early Modern Glamorgan, The Glamorgan County History Trust Ltd., 1974.

3. The Royal Commission on Ancient and Historic Monuments in Wales, An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments in Glamorgan, Volume IV: Domestic Architecture from the Reformation to the Industrial Revolution. Part II: Farmhouse and Cottages, HMSO, 1988, p366. For the plan of Alltygraban farmhouse.

4. David Williams, The Rebecca Riots, UWP, 1955. A comprehensive description by a member of staff of University College, Aberystwyth. The first half of the book provides an analysis of the underlying factors which led to the riots.

5. Pat Molloy, And They Blessed Rebecca, Gomer Press, 1983. A more detailed and animated account of the events by an Irishman who became Detective Chief Inspector, head of Dyfed-Powys CID; with a foreword by Wynford Vaughan Thomas the descendant of Daniel Lewis.

6. E. Lewis Evans (ed.), 'Hanes Pontarddulais', 1949: translated by Ivor Richards and published privately by him as 'The History of Pontardulais' in 1985.

7. Stephen Hughes and Paul Reynolds, Industrial Archaeology of the Swansea Region, Association for Industrial Archaeology, 1989.

By Derek Williams
October 2004

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