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“Glascoed Riots”

Enclosing common land was a controversial subject.

“In 1860 a riot took place which highlighted a dispute between those with grazing rights on common land and the land hungry farmers. Glascoed Common land was originally an area of 100 acres. Many acres, which were held to have been improperly enclosed, were thrown open to the horses and asses, sheep, swine and cattle of the poor parishioners by a large band of men and women, old and young, who met in the grey light of early morning who marched across the moor from the surrounding countryside to the strains of martial music from fifes and drums, armed with spades, mattocks and billhooks. Hedge after hedge were uprooted, gate after gate overthrown and the destruction did not cease until many acres had been thrown open. Foremost among the aggressors was Mr Daniel Roberts of Hendre Farm (Henrhiw) who owned a farm in the adjoining parish of Llanbadock part of which abutted the Common, (Greenmeadow). He sought to extend his property by fencing in and appropriating to his own purposes 15 or 16 acres of waste land. Two other persons had followed his example, and shared with Mr Roberts the vengeance of the enraged Glascoedians, the chief encroacher not being an inhabitant or proprietor of the hamlet. Two policemen were throughout the day passive spectators of the proceedings. There occurred nothing less harmful than a little dog fighting by way of relaxation for the men, and hair pulling for the women for their mutual delectation.” (Free Press – Bygone days). Mr Roberts was said to be contemplating legal proceedings.

Twenty eight Glascoedians, including some of the most respectable inhabitants of the hamlet appeared before the Usk Bench of Magistrates as a sequel to the throwing down by them of fences alleged to have been illegally set up enclosing Common land in that parish. They were charged with ‘Riotously assembling to the terror of Her Majesty’s liege people and the peace of our Lady the Queen, her crown and dignity.’

A labourer on Glascoed Common giving evidence for the Prosecution, described the breaking down of fences, the pulling up of apple trees and gooseberry trees and the lighting of bonfires. He said he heard the cry “Hurrah for Rebecca.” A cry associated with the people of the Rebecca Riots. Cross-examined, the witness said he had enclosed a piece of waste land, but not part of the Common. Everyone in the parish had enclosed land. For the defence it was urged that the fences which had been destroyed constituted ‘encroachment’ on the Common land which the law regarded as a nuisance and for the abatement of which the defendants proceeded in the legitimate way by the law. The cases against four of the defendants were dismissed, and the other twenty four were committed to the Monmouthshire Assizes. The four and twenty Glascoedians returned to their homes as conquering heroes on the Saturday.

The Grand Jury at the Assizes ignored the Bill alleging riot on the occasion of the recent anti-annexation demonstration on Glascoed Common. On their way home from Monmouth they engaged the services of a band of music at Usk and, decorated with ribbons, marched homewards, the band striking up with renewed vigour as the procession passed the Hendre farm, and the cheering of the ‘rioters’ being there at its loudest.

On Monday the victory of the popular cause was further celebrated by the ringing of church bells at Usk and the firing of guns at Glascoed. (Press comment) “Glascoed Common ought to be taken in by the Commissioners who are charged with the duty of allotting such waste lands so that by a legal and fair division of the Common among the Freeholders of the hamlet all illicit encroachments may be terminated.” (Free Press).

I wonder how many church members were caught up in this? Rebecca Rioters were a militant group in Wales dedicated to the preservation of common land and the abolition of enclosures and tolls.

This fascinating story is one of many in the most interesting book I have read on the village to date: “The History of Glascoed Chapel from its origins to 1970” by A. Glyndwr Williams.

Newspaper articles add further flesh to the bones of this story . . . both from the Free Press and Usk Observer:-

Trouble Brewing: Free Press articles from 1860

Uncommon doings on Glascoed Common

Doggerel: A libellous “poem” penned by Francis Morgan, the self-anointed bard of Prescoed.

Committal: The Rioters are sent to the Quarter Sessions from the Petty Sessions:

Glascoed Triumphant: The Rioters are acquitted and march triumphantly back to Glascoed!