Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Attack on the Police Station at Llanbadarn Fynydd

Although Victorian Radnorshire had a deserved reputation for being a district where common criminality was rare, at the same time the activities of the Rebeccaites saw the county being compared to the most rebellious parts of Ireland. Rebecca deliberately challenged the authority of the state with her open displays of law-breaking, her public ridicule of an impotent police force and her disdain for a court system that rarely brought any of her unruly children to book.

The month of November 1880 had seen large numbers of Rebeccaites openly taking salmon on the Wye, the Ithon and their tributaries. This activity culminated on the evening of December 6th 1880, when a blackened faced party of one hundred armed men took salmon from the Ithon in the North Radnorshire village of Llanbadarn Fynydd. The local police officer Frederick Cairns, a man with a reputation for brutality, was observing the activity from a distance when he heard a noise beside him. Swinging his torch he claimed to identify a local farmer William Davies, before being struck down with a spear that burst the policeman's nose and left him with a broken arm. Later in the evening, having left the river, the Rebeccaites launched a volley of stones and gunshots at the door and windows of Cairns' police station before disappearing into the night.

William Davies and another local man. John Williams, a farm servant at Llinwent, were brought to court in Penybont, but, as was so often the case in a county where sympathy for Rebecca and her daughters was so strong, both men were discharged.


Unknown said...


I realise that this was posted some time ago, however through family history research I have only just stumbled upon it.

I'm a descendent of Frederick Cairns and was wondering if you had any further information on this incident or on him?

Hope you can help, best wishes

Lotty Cairns

radnorian said...


I've got an old book called the History of the Radnorshire Constabulary which says that Frederick Cairns served between 1-7-1875 and 28-2-1881. He also served with the Herefordshire and Rochdale forces.

Here is how the book reports the incident:

"On the night of 5th Dec 1881, a police officer was badly injured by salmon poachers. This officer, who was stationed at Llanbadarn Fynydd, was patrolling the road between Llanbister and Llanbadarn Fynydd. Lights could be seen on the river and the noise of gun-fire heard. When near a house called Brook Cottage the officer's attention was drawn by a noise in the hedge close to him. Turning his bullseye in the direction from which the sound came he saw three men about to climb over the hedge. Two of the men carried shotguns and the third a salmon spear. The latter at once struck at the officer with the spear. The policeman attempted to ward off the blow with his left arm but the spear pierced his helmet and cut his nose. The force of the blow fractured his arm. After a shot had been fired at the policeman, which fortunately missed him, the men ran away. The policeman then made his way home as best he could but his ordeal was not over, for shortly afterwards a gang of armed men appeared outside his house. Shots were fired at the window of the constable's house, smashing panes. A stone struck a clock in the living room and a shot passed over the crib in which the officer's baby was lying. Twenty seven slugs were later found in the front door. Fortunately no injury was sustained by the occupants, but this was undoubtedly a night of terror for the police officer and his family."

Two men were arrested and appeared before the magistrates at Penybont. A crowded and noisy courtroom was obviously on the side of the defendants who were acquitted and left the court to "a tumultuous reception form the crowd."

To rub salt into the wounds Constable Cairns was dismissed from the force a few days later for "failing to reveal to the magistrates under cross examination that he had previously served in another force."

The case was quite widely reported at the time, if you have access to any of the on-line newspaper archives eg Times or 19C newspapers online. "Welsh newspapers online" is a free site but the more detailed reports of the case were in Welsh language newspapers with only brief mentions in local papers in the English language.

There's a good deal of background to the anti-fishery law distubances (Rebecca Riots)in Radnorshire on my blog.