REBECCA'S CHILDREN: A STUDY OF RURAL SOCIETY, CRIME AND PROTEST. By David J. V. Jones. Clarendon Press, Oxford. 1989. Pp. xiii, 423. £ 40.00. In this excellent book, David Jones takes the Rebecca disorders of the period 1839 to 1843 as a way into an exploration of the three counties of south-west Wales in the first half of the nineteenth century. This was a sparsely populated land and though much of that which could be farmed was in the hands of great landowners, it was mostly worked as small farms of less than seventy-five acres by families with one or two helpers. The traditional view is that this area of Wales was loyal, religious and virtually crime-free and that Rebecca and her followers were primarily concerned with iniquitous toll charges on the main roads linking towns and providing access to the quarrying and mining districts. Once the turnpike trusts which adminstered these roads had made concessions, the noble Welsh peasant ceased his disorderly conduct; the more violent disorders, involving arson, animal maiming, cutting down trees, smashing fences and weirs, as well as physical assaults and even murder, were symptomatic of a degeneration of the Rebecca movement as outsiders, criminals and the seditious— 'the lunatic fringe'took over. This Whiggish interpretation has the familiar ring of the way that much popular disorder in the British Isles used to be characterised, and David Jones convincingly explains how this particular myth began to be constructed even as Rebecca and her children continued to stalk the land. A thorough analysis of the social and economic structure of the three counties both before and after the attacks on the tollgates and tollhouses, together with a detailed study of the disorders at which Rebecca or her daughters presided, presents a different and far more complex picture. Jones shows clearly that it is not possible to differentiate between those who attacked tollgates and tollhouses and those who attacked other property and persons. Nor is it clear that the turnpike riots obviously pre-dated the other attacks; the former peaked in June, July and August 1843, the latter in August and September 1843. The two kinds of attacks clustered in roughly the same areas; moreover there was a spate of mass meetings, hitherto neglected by the historians of Rebecca, which were held at roughly the same time and in roughly the same geographical pattern. These meetings were a feature of the late summer and early autumn of 1843: they drew up petitions to the Queen and to parliament; they protested about the continuing tolls and sometimes also about the New Poor Law, the Tithe Commutation Act, trade restriction and parliamentary representation; they formed farmers' committees to negotiate with landowners and tithe-holders; they appointed deputations to wait on government commissioners. Rebecca was a people's redresser; in her own words she was 'adverse to every tyranny and oppression' and the mass meetings and the direct action were part and parcel of the same response to discontent. The direct actions against persons and property were not unlike much of the crime and protest in the three counties before the first appearance of Rebecca, while the ritual and costume adopted by The Lady, her daughters, and her most active followers, were similar to those of the traditional Welsh charivari involving the ceffyl Pren (the wooden horse). Both before and during the Rebecca years, when the
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