During the middle of the 19th century, South Wales was rocked by the civil disturbances known as the Rebecca Riots. These riots were predominantly aimed at the destruction of tollgates belonging to the turnpike trusts that charged excessive fees for the use of their roads. The mainly peaceable town of Llanelli did not escape this turmoil for in the summer of 1843, the ‘Sandy’, ‘Furnace’, and ‘Tyrfran’ Gates, were either destroyed or damaged by Rebecca. The house of the town’s harbour master, Captain John Paisley Luckraft R.N. was also attacked. Rebecca had warned Luckraft that his life was in danger if he did not leave town!
As a result of these disturbances the government sent the Metropolitan Police and troops to the district to keep order. The troops consisted of detachments from the 75th and the 76th Regiments of Foot, backed up by a ‘flying squadron’ of cavalry in the form of the 4th Dragoon Guards. Accommodating and billeting these soldiers was a problem for the smaller towns of West Wales and as it was considered unwise to put them up in the inns and public houses, the authorities of the town of Llanelli decided to billet them at The Union Workhouse. This workhouse was later converted into Bryntirion Hospital. The little known but important history of the workhouse is that it was the base for the military during their operations against Rebecca in and around the town and district of Llanelli.
Following the attack on the Pontardulais gate in September 1843 some of the captured Rebeccas were taken prisoner by the 76th Foot to the Workhouse at Bryntirion to be interrogated by the magistrates Neville, Rees and Chambers, all Llanelli JP’s. The prisoners, still attired in women’s clothes included William Hugh a lad of 15 years and son of a respectable farmer of Talyclyn, Thomas Williams a servant to a farmer at Llangennech , Henry Rogers a farm servant of Penllwyngwyn and Lewis Davies a respectable farmer of Scybor Uch near Pontardulais all were examined and remanded. Later that month, the Metropolitan Police captured the famous Rebecca leader, David Davies alias ‘Dai Cantwr’ in the Plough & Harrow public house in Five Roads. He was placed in the custody of the military at the Workhouse until his removal to Carmarthen Jail.
As to the soldiers themselves? A local JP writing at the time is quoted as saying, ‘It has given me great satisfaction to hear from every one that the conduct of the soldiers ever since they had been stationed in the workhouse has been most exemplary’. The ‘Dragoons’ were said to be seen on parade every morning at a place called Caeffair, a field once used for cattle and horse fairs near the Thomas Arms Hotel. Today, its site is marked by the private nursing home bearing that name.