Rice, Rhys and Rebecca

A 1926 photograph showing a glimps of the portrait of George Rice hanging above the glass-fronted cabinet. ©National Trust

Toby Worthington commented on the previous post by asking why the portraits are hanging so high on the wall in the Drawing Room at Newton House. Curator Stephanie Evans has now supplied this 1926 photograph of that room. The portrait of George Rice as a boy can be seen above the glass-fronted cabinet.

Walter Rhys, seventh Baron Dynevor, by William Miller (op. 1873-1903). ©NTPL/John Hammond

As Stephanie said in her reply, the current display of the room is based on how it looked in the Edwardian era. This was the time of Walter Rhys, seventh Baron Dynevor (1873-1956), who was a soldier and was also active in national and local Welsh politics. In 1916 he changed the family name back from Rice to Rhys (still pronounced ‘Rice’, rather than the more usual pronunciation ‘Reese’), a sign of the increased popularity of Welsh heritage.

George Rice-Trevor, fourth Baron Dynevor, by John Lucas (1807-1874). ©NTPL/John Hammond

The man who gave Newton House its current appearance was George Rice-Trevor, fourth Baron Dynevor (1795-1869). He seemed destined to live the life of a country gentleman, like the Rices before and after him, but in 1842-3 he was forced to confront what became known as the Rebecca Riots.

A serious economic depression was causing considerable poverty in south-west Wales. The imposition of toll barriers on roads, which were run privately and often levvied excessive charges, caused frustration to boil over.

Bands of men with blackened faces and wearing women’s clothing began to attack and destroy turnpike barriers at night. Soon the attacks spread to the property of landlords, magistrates and others.

Newton House seen from the north-west, showing the Italianate arcade and conservatory on the west front. ©NTPL/Andrew Butler

The rioters named themselves after a quote from the Bible: ‘… and they blessed Rebecca and said unto her, Thou art our sister, be thou the mother of thousands, of millions, and let thy seed possess the gates of those who hate them’ (Genesis, ch. 24, v. 60). In a mixture of comedy and romanticism, the leader of each band was called ‘Rebecca’ and rode on a white horse to distinguish him from his ‘daughters’.

The Lord Lieutenant of Carmarthen, the third Baron Dynevor (shown as a boy in the previous post), was elderly and frail, but his son, George Rice-Trevor, played a prime role in suppressing these disturbances. He called in troops as well as contingents of Metropolitan Police from London, then the only professional police force in the country.

Feelings ran so high that the rioters dug a grave within sight of Newton House and announced that Rice-Trevor would occupy it within a month.

Detail of the 'Venetian Gothic' arcade and conservatory. ©NTPL/Andrew Butler

In the event that did not happen, and the reform of the turnpike system, together with as an upturn in the economy, soothed the discontent.

In the 1850s, after inheriting the title from his father, the fourth Baron refaced Newton House with stone, added the Italianate touches and enlarged the corner turrets. Could the slight over-confidence of these architectural additions have been a reaction to the uncertain times he had lived through?

13 Responses to “Rice, Rhys and Rebecca”

  1. columnist Says:

    This image of the house from the other side makes its chateau aspirations slightly more believable, (with the flatter landscape), but I still can’t see that it really improved the look of the house, and the more robust original would have looked better in that rugged Welsh countryside.

    It’s interesting to read the reasoning behind the height of the pictures. Whether adhering to the height of that shown in the Edwardian picture is necessarily the “right” height is indeed another question, but from an interior design point of view it is of course wrong, and I suspect there wasn’t really a great deal of thought that went into their original placement at that height, except it was above the glass cabinet. By contrast, the ones to the left (and to the right of the chimneypiece), seem to have been given due consideration.

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Columnist, from an objective, art-historical perspective you are probably quite right on all those counts.

    However, the National Trust’s approach to displaying houses like Newton House is often contingent on a number of extraneous factors, such as the availability of historical evidence, of original objects, and, last but not least, of finance.

    As Stephanie was saying, at the moment the most practical option is to recreate the Edwardian era at Newton House. If one then wants to be historically truthful, one has to replicate the taste and choices of that generation, even though one can see the limitations of those choices.

    It’s a conundrum that our curators grapple with again and again, even at more straightforwardly ‘beautiful’ historic houses.

    I will ask Stephanie if there is an image of what the house looked like pre-1850, as it would be interesting to see what the fourth Baron swept away.

  3. columnist Says:

    Emile yes I’m sure there are historical considerations that you have to take into account and one cannot right the wrongs of previous generation’s tastes, or in this case a picture hanging exercise that might have no significance.

  4. columnist Says:

    Funnily enough, if one visits say Buckingham Palace, (not in your portfolio, but I’m sure similar criteria applies), the electric fires in the C18th chimneypieces are an abomination, but does one adhere to what must be an Edwardian, (or George Vth or VIth) introduction, or does one revert to the beauty of C18th. Indeed when that palace becomes the home of the current Prince of Wales, who has a great deal of aesthetic understanding far greater than that of his parents, will he be allowed to change these things which I’ve described. I certainly hope so. Personally, I think these buildings should be updated, so that they are not museums, but homes. Slightly different criteria to those that apply to a lot of NT properties, which are museums only; I realise some of them are still lived in, but the museum bits are unlikely to be altered, otherwise they lose their attraction to visitors. In the case of Prince Charles you can understand why he likes to have his own house at Highgrove, where he can do anything he pleases decoratively, including adding C18th ballustrades and urns to the house where none existed previously, (and making it much more interesting visually, in my view).

  5. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Indeed, and I suppose we can look to Clarence House, which the Prince of Wales took over and had redecorated after the death of the Queen Mother, to see an example of the his taste ‘in town’.

    I have been told that Buckingham Palace gets a lot of wear and tear from the many public functions that take place there, and that would probably constrain the decorative possibilities somewhat.

    Most of the time the NT doesn’t need to worry about visiting heads of state and their entourage, but nevertheless we are now keener to maximise the ‘use’ of the historic houses, with an emphasis on ‘bringing them to life’, through events, fires in grates (where appropriate), pianos being played, etc.

  6. columnist Says:

    Anyway, he’ll probably decide he wont live at BP as it’s too institutional. But yes, the Clarence House refurbishment looks terrific, although the public roms have not deviated very much from the time of its previous occupant, but he identifies with her era much more closely than the one in which we live. But at least it has been beautifully and expensively restored, and I know there will be whingers about “at whose cost” etc.

  7. Barbara Says:

    My 6th great grandfather Thomas Rice (Rhys) of Welch descent came to Virginia in 1685, missing all the glory of the 18th century cousins Rice but escaping a little problem with the return of James to the throne. I did not use the word fled, but it may have been appropriate. Taste & politics are two things that one can rely upon to change.

  8. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    How fascinating to be able to trace your ancestors back that far. We recently had a Registrar here at the NT who is from Alabama and can similarly trace her forebears back to America’s earliest days. She once told me that when her father was asked to state his ethnicity on a form he put ‘English’!

    I like your phrase ‘a little problem’ – Stephen Fry recently characterised the Boston Tea Party as ‘a little misunderstanding’ between the British Government and the Colonists… :)

  9. Toby Worthington Says:

    Fascinating and instructive, seeing that 1926 photograph of the drawing room
    at Newton House. I got quite dizzy scrolling up and down in order to compare the
    details, but worth the effort, I assure you.
    Many thanks.

  10. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Sorry that the images are so far apart! One solution is to open one of the posts in a separate window, and to manoeuvre the windows so that you can see them side by side.

    Stephanie is going to try to send me a picture of the house before 1850, which I will post here so that we can all compare the late-eighteenth-century design against the fourth Baron’s ‘improvements’.

  11. Rosie West Says:

    Thank you for the historical notes. Those rioters must have been a ghastly and terrifying sight!

  12. The beauty of change « Treasure Hunt Says:

    [...] to the discussion inspired by a recent post, about the interesting problems around beauty, taste and historical accuracy, Stephanie Evans has [...]

  13. The beauty of change « Treasure Hunt Says:

    [...] to the discussion inspired by a recent post, about the interesting problems around beauty, taste and historical accuracy, Stephanie Evans has [...]

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