Thursday 8 March 2018

Remembering Frances Evans on International Women's Day and the Storming of the Carmarthen Workhouse by Nickglais

"Justice, and lovers of justice are we all "

Cyfiawnder a charwyr
cyfiawnder ydym ni oll

This was emblazoned on a banner held by one of the Rebeccaites has they entered Carmarthen on the sunny 19th June 1843 , all 2000 Rebeccaites on foot and 300 on horses were to present resolutions to the magistrates.

Social Justice was the Rebeccaites cause as the banner made clear.

The arms of the Rebeccaites had been stored in Newchurch, so they entered Carmarthen unarmed due to the persuasive intervention of Lloyd Davies, and Captain Evans. An Act which probably prevented fatalities on that fateful June day in 1843.

June had already been a tulmultous month with the sacking of Toll Gates and arrests and attempted of Rebeccaites

The behaviour of the crowd was quite orderly when they  entered Carmarthen by the Water Street gate and the procession turned westwards towards Picton's Monument, where it was joined by a contingent from St. Clears, then went down to the Quay, came back up Castle Hill, went along Spilman Street and around St. Peter's Church, on to the Cross (Nott's Square), and into the Guildhall Square.

They waited before reaching the Guildhall, where the Rebeccaites resolutions were to be presented to the magistrates.

The procession had been joined by people from the town who poured out of the congested back alleys and the slum houses along the quay.

Many of them were fishermen who, on occasion,had had a taste of workhouse . 

They linked arms at the head of the procession and led it on to the workhouse.

There they called on the Workhouse master to surrender his keys in order to let all the paupers out,and he complied.

The demonstrators  then rushed into the courtyard and broke into the house.

Frances Evans, a farm servant from the parish of Newchurch, who had recently given birth to her illegitimate child in the workhouse, led them in. 

She did a wild dance on a table in the hall as she urged the men upstairs. 

Frances Evans is now rightly beginning to be recognised has one of the female heroines in the fight for social justice in the 19th century.  

Suddenly there came a cry: 'the soldiers are here'. 

The 4th Light Dragoons were on their way to Carmarthen under the command of
Major Parlby who had received an urgent message from the Mayor of Carmarthen informing him that rioters were attacking the Workhouse. 

Major Parlby immediately ordered the troop to a full gallop which they maintained all the way to Carmarthen.

They galloped over the bridge and up into the town, scattering the amazed bystanders. 

A local magistrate had joined them. It was long remembered that he had
shouted to the dragoons to 'slash away' .

Their arrival at the workhouse led to a scene of indescribable confusion. 

The mounted demonstrators  stampeded wildly up Pen-lan Hill behind the workhouse.

Some were trapped in the courtyard others scrambled over the walls,abandoning their
horses, which they were afterwards afraid to claim.

The board, with its noble message Cyfiawnder a charwyr cyfiawnder ydym ni oill'
lay symbolically trodden underfoot by the 4th Light dragoons.

The demonstrators scattered in all directions over hedges and ditches through fields and woods.

While the soldiers rested,the magistrates immediately began the examination of some sixty prisoners taken in the workhouse.

They committed a number to jail while others were bound over to appear if required.

At the Summer Assizes a true bill was found against twelve men, but their trial was deferred and they were remanded on bail.

Among them was John Harries, and it is noticeable that his bail was very high.

Harries was then sentenced to a year's hard labour, and five other men to eight months' hard labour, but the remainder were discharged.

By that time the authorities were taking a more lenient view of the disturbances.

More than ten years would pass before the 4th Light Dragoons would make a similar charge. and it would not be against terrified men, women and children, but Russian artillery at Balaclava, in that ill fated charge of the Light Brigade.

Maybe there is a moral here that solidiers should not be used against their own people - but that is for the reader to judge.