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Histories of Wales: Rhodri Morgan on making Rebecca and the radical tradition

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BBC Wales History BBC Wales History | 12:31 UK time, Friday, 16 March 2012

Rhodri Morgan spoke to BBC Wales History about researching the next episode of Histories of Wales, Rebecca and the Radical Tradition. Rhodri's family were connected to the Rebecca Riots. Sunday 18th March, 1.30pm, Radio Wales.

If ever there was an example of 'living history', making my half hour slot on the radio series on Welsh history was it. I don't just mean that it was alive for me, or even for me and my brother Prys combined (and after all, he is a retired history professor).

What I mean is that when the two of us met Dinah Jones, the producer, for lunch at the Mason's Arms Rhydypandy, an elderly gentleman, a local, left his seat and approached us.

He knew who I was from my time as First Minister but he guessed correctly that we were in that pub because of our interest in the smashing of the nearby Rhydypandy tollgate back in 1843, at time of the Rebecca Riots.

He was a bit of an expert and was able to direct us to the exact spot where the tollgate had stood. As a result of his guidance, when lunch was finished, there were two men over the age of seventy ducking under low branches followed by an intrepid producer with microphone, scrambling over rough ground to reach the actual place where this particular bit of Welsh history had happened.

Fair enough - there's no blue plaque there. But it has got an aura alright. Neither my brother nor I had ever actually stood there before and without the man in the pub's local knowledge and interest, we would never have found it.

In a way it's not a key place for telling the story of Welsh history - it's also a key part of the telling of the story of transport history in Britain. Perhaps after all, being just a stone's throw from the M4 and the headquarters offices of the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Centre is pretty appropriate!

The hardest thing in making the programme is trying to get inside the heads of my ancestors in 1843. The Chief Constable of Glamorgan comes to your house to arrest two or three of you on a Sunday morning. He's armed. He has reinforcements with him, also armed. What do you do? Well you put your hands up and go quietly, don't you?

Well, no! Instead, young and old, male and female throw everything they've got at the posse! What were they thinking of? What was going on inside their heads? Being scandalised by the breaking of the Sabbath is indeed the likeliest explanation. But what if they had no idea what a Chief Constable or a policeman was? The Peelers were a new concept. If the family had lived ten miles further west in Carmarthenshire, there would have been no police force there to arrest them. Did the Welsh language prove an insuperable barrier between Captain Napier and the Morgans? Who really knows.

You can listen to Rebecca and the Radical Tradition, Sunday 18th March, 1.30pm, Radio Wales.


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