The town of Llanelli has a long connection with toll gates. Many years before the civil disturbances of the mid-nineteenth century, known as the Rebecca Riots, the toll gate became a focus of Welsh history and folklore, early gates existing in the town at least fifty years before. These were sited at Old Road, below Capel Newydd, and at Island Place. [a] It appears that these gates became redundant and were replaced as the town expanded during the Industrial Revolution. As the network of roads linking the town to the outside world grew, so did the traffic and the number of toll gates. Some of these gates were at Sandy, Furnace, Felinfoel, Tyrfran, Capel, Halfway, Pemberton and Llwynhendy. There is a historical reference to the Island Place toll gate being moved to Halfway…
A gate of this kind stood on the site now occupied by the Island House. The old gate was removed fully a hundred years ago to Halfway. [b]
Toll gates were used as a method of taxing the road user to fund the maintenance and upkeep of the roads, attached were their associated toll houses. Toll houses were usually small white cottages built with their windows overlooking the roads that they took ‘gate money’ from. It was also the abode of the toll keeper and his family. The charges and costs for use of the road were usually displayed on a large board placed in a prominent position on the side of the building. A classic example of a toll gate can be seen at the Welsh Folk museum at St Fagans.
Toll Gate charges as displayed on the side of the house. Hover over image for zoom.
In 1843 the whole of west Wales was gripped in the civil disturbances known as the Rebecca Riots. Aimed mainly at the unfair tolls that were charged for the use of the turnpike roads, the rioters disguised with blackened faces and attired in women’s clothes would attack and destroy the offending toll gates and their attached gatehouses. As a result of these riots a government inquiry was set up to establish the causes of the riots and changes were made to improve the turnpike system. [c]
Roads still had to be maintained, tolls had to be charged and prosecutions were taken out against those people who eluded or evaded payment. In November 1868 James Francis of Carnarvon Farm, Llanelly, was charged with driving a flock of sheep off from the Turnpike road into a field at Cwmfelin Bar. It was recorded that the ‘defendant had done the same trick many times before’. Nevertheless, he was fined £1 and costs or seven days jail [d]. In July of 1882, Morgan Saunders was fined eighteen pence with costs of £1-8-6 for avoiding the payment of tolls at the Furnace Toll Gate. [e] But the end of the gates was nigh!
In December 1887, the Local Board of Health in Llanelli was canvassed to support legislation for the Abolition the Turnpike Tolls in South Wales. One of the reasons cited was that…
It must be obvious to all that the admitted cost of collection of tolls, amounting to 15 per cent. apart from possible loss through misappropriation, is in itself a heavy and unproductive expenditure, and that also in the maintenance of the toll houses and of separate staffs of Clerks, Surveyors and Treasurers, there is a considerable outlay, much of which could be saved, if the management of the roads within their respective districts were transferred to the Highway Boards. It may be assumed that scarcely a singular occupier does not now pay in tolls an amount equal to a 1d. Rate.
In short, the Turnpike Roads were uneconomical. [f]
At the beginning of April 1889, local newspapers in Wales carried the welcome announcement of the abolition of the turnpike gates. One Llanelli newspaper added a twist of humour to the news...
The Reign of the Gates Closing
After this month, by the provisions the Local Government Act, nearly 250 turnpike gates will be thrown open and become free from toll on the South Wales roads. The length of the highways thus to be dis-turnpiked is 986 miles. This announcement carries the mind back 45 years, to the time when Rebecca and her followers were making it lively throughout the neighbourhood, and possessing themselves literally of the “gates of their enemies”. The few Rebaccaites who survive will feel very great interest in the final swing of the turnpike bars. By the way, we hear a funny story of a parson in the neighbourhood passing a toll gate (Alltyfran we believe) and twitting the keeper with the coming disestablishment of the gate. The quick retort was – “your turn next!”. [g]
By the beginning of the twentieth century most of Llanelli’s toll houses had been removed. For instance, in 1915 it was reported that Sir Stafford Howard had written to the County Council referring to the Sandy toll house... the structure now served no useful purpose and that it projected into a busy main road, and was thus not only inconvenient but also a source of danger [h]
Today no trace of a toll house can be seen in Llanelli except for one, or the remains of one. This toll house can be found from the description given by John Innes in his book Old Llanelly… “The Llandafen Gate on the Swansea road, almost at the foot of the hill before reaching the Dafen Brook, on the left leaving Llanelly”. [I] Today the Llandafen Brook crosses beneath the old Swansea Road between Llygadyrych and Halfway.The name of Halfway is said to derive from the fact that it was situated between the toll gates at Capel and Pemberton, or from the tradition that it lies half way between Carmarthen and Neath and was used as a halt for rest by cattle drovers when travelling from one mart to another. The area was also known as Llygadyrych. [j]
Was Llandafen Toll Gate attacked by Rebecca?
In 1926, the recollections of ninety four year old Sarah Meredith were published in a local newspaper recollected her early life in Llanelli, she remembered...
how in the dead of night the Beccaites marched past her home to wreck the toll-gates at Hendy, Halfway, and Llanelly. It was at this occasion that at Hendy an old woman was, who was in charge of the toll-gate there, was shot dead by the rioters. When this occurred Mrs Meredith was eleven years of age. In connection with this affair she has recollections of the trial of “Dai’r Cantwr” for his activities in the “Beccas” and his conviction and banishment to Botany Bay [k]
Although the Rebecca attacks on the Sandy, Furnace, Tyrfran and Hendy gates are well documented in official government records and local newspapers, to date, nothing can be found to substantiate any such assault on the Llandafen Toll Gate at Halfway. The old toll house at Halfway has survived for over a century and a half, the building has undergone structural changes, perhaps the most significant being the demolition of the distinctive front vision bay that was uniquely associated with toll houses.
At the beginning of the twentieth century Llanelli was still using the archaic form of public transport the horse-drawn tram. Although the electric tram was already in use in many other parts of the country there was some reluctance to adopt this means of transport locally, many of the older generation at the time considered them as devil’s coaches. However, The Llanelly and District Electric Lighting and Traction Company Ltd (formerly a subsidiary of Messrs. Balfour Beatty Ltd.) changed all that. They had agreed with the Llanelly Urban Council to build a power station to light the town and provide an electric tram system. The inauguration dinner for the new tram system took place at the Stepney Hotel 18th July 1911, where a sumptuous dinner was served. [l] But there were teething problems, because many of the roads in Llanelly were not sufficiently wide enough to allow the free flow of traditional traffic as well as the new trams. The road past Halfway was widened in June 1911 when it was recorded that two or three gangs of workmen were replacing the pavement at Halfway Bridge. It was most likely that at that time the distinctive vision bay was removed. [m]
The Llandafen Toll House probably survived the test of time because it remained in use as a house and home to successive families. Records show that in 1851 Samuel Burford and his wife lived there and were the toll collectors, while in 1861, John Jones had to subsidise his wife the gate keeper, by working as a coal miner. Just before the Second World War it was the abode of Martha Lewis, Margaret Davies and Daniel Davies. Daniel worked a ‘Dipper’ in a galvanising works. [n]
Today the newly renovated Llandafen Toll House stands as a tangible link with Llanelli’s past, the turnpike road system and the Rebecca of long ago.
Note and citations top
[a] Gates at Old Road (Hen Gât) Old Llanelly John Innes, 1902 p91 (map) . Island Place, Island House, Howell’s Plan 1814.;‘Hen Gȃt below ‘Cae Halen’, Stepney Plan and Board of Health Plan.
[b] Reminiscences of Old Llanelly Llanelly Mercury 21 Sept 1893
[c] Report of the Commissioners of Inquiry for South Wales 1844 H.M.S.O.
[d] Llanelly Guardian Nov 5th 1868
[e] South Wales Press 13 July 1882
[f] LC6752 Llanelly Local Board of Health. Letter books February 1880 to September 1889 Item 41 and 42
[g] South Wales Press 21 March 1889
[h] Llanelly Mercury 11 March 1915.
[I] ibid. John Innes p53
[j] Coal Mining in Llanelli Area Vol I p81. Halfway, Capel and Pemberton toll gates. Llanelly Star 25 July 1956. Did You Know That... Halfway. OS Plan 1880 Llygadyrych
[k] Llanelly Mercury 5 August 1926
[l] Llanelly Guardian 20 July 1911 and Llanelli Library collection LC588
[m] Llanelly Mercury 15 June 1911
[n] Census Returns and 1939 List
Photos of the Toll House at St. Fagans by Phil Marker