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.
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.
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.
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.
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?