The historical context of tithe maps is extremely interesting, as we can see in the area of Cilmaenllwyd in Carmarthenshire which includes the village of Efailwen, the location of the first Rebecca rebellion.
The tithe map of Cilmaenllwyd was made in early 1838, a year before the infamous tollgate was built. The tollgate is not shown as it was built in May 1839 and only lasted for a few days before it was destroyed.
It was a period when the majority of the people who lived in rural areas faced difficult living conditions with an increase in poverty partly due to the population growth.
The tithe payments were controversial enough as so much of the money went to the church while a good proportion of the Welsh attended chapels. However, the main objects of fear and hate for the public were the new workhouses which were prisons for the poor, and tollgates which undermined farmers’ ability to trade.
There was a particularly large number of tollgates set up by turnpike trusts in Camarthenshire and Pembrokeshire, but they did not keep to government guidelines and the roads they were meant to fund were of poor quality. When the Whitland Trust built an additional tollgate in the village of Efailwen the local community was infuriated and they decided to take action in a particular style when hundreds of them dressed as women and noisily attacked the tollgate during the night. This was the first dramatic appearance of the women’s leader – “Rebecca”.
The date of this attack was the 13th of May 1839 – almost exactly 175 years ago. It was very significant as it set the pattern for a far bigger rebellion when Rebecca reappeared in 1842-43. On that occasion she ruled over all of south west Wales destroying dozens of tollgates while resisting the efforts of over a thousand soldiers.
For the whole map in lower resolution see the Map of the Month for May.