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Angry Men In Dresses | The Rebecca Riots

Updated on August 25, 2009

Here's a little bit of charming cross dressing history for those interested. Nowadays we mostly think of men wearing dresses as peaceable folk just trying to stay out of trouble long enough to see the sunshine in their feminine finery. For 17th century Welsh men, however, dresses were not simply pieces of clothing, they were the garments of class war.

The Rebecca Riots were riots in which men wore dresses and attacked toll gates which had been erected in South and Mid Wales. Though the toll gates were ostensibly there to extract money for the upkeep of the roads, crooked toll gate keepers were well known for defrauding the toll gate trusts and the poor farmers and laborers of Wales weren't overly keen on paying money just to get from one place to another, so what did they do? They formed gangs to attack and destroy those toll gates, and they did it in style.

The gangs were known as the 'Rebeccas', a name they took from Genesis 24:60: 'And they blessed Rebekah and said unto her, Thou art our sister, be thou the mother of thousands of millions, and let thy seed possess the gate of those which hate them'.

Clearly, to the Welsh, this was essentially an instruction from god to put on dresses and start tearing those toll gates down. The Bible is a wonderfully versatile book in that respect, offering so much guidance and justification for almost any act that it quite puts The Hitchikers Guide To The Galaxy to shame.

So, dressed in their wives and female neighbors clothing, the Rebeccas would gather near toll gates and enact a little play with their leader, Thomas Rees, (Twm Carnabwth), a tall man who would dress in the clothing of an elderly spinster who was also called Rebecca, before they got to the violence.

How To Attack And Destroy A Toll Booth | A Play In One Act

Rebecca: "What is this my children? There is something in my way. I cannot go on."

Rebecca's Rioters: "What is it, mother Rebecca? Nothing should stand in your way,"

Rebecca: "I do not know my children. I am old and cannot see well."

Rebecca's Rioters: "Shall we come and move it out of your way mother Rebecca?"

Rebecca: "Wait!" replied 'Rebecca', "It feels like a big gate put across the road to stop your old mother."

Rebecca's Rioters: "We will break it down, mother. Nothing stands in your way."

Rebecca: "Perhaps it will open...Oh my dear children, it is locked and bolted. What can be done?"

Rebecca's Rioters: "It must be taken down, mother. You and your children must be able to pass."

Rebecca: "Off with it then, my children."

The rioters would then rage about , destroy the toll gates, and occasionally kill the odd toll booth keeper who refused to leave and could possibly identify them.

Evidently the womens clothing was partially intended as some form of disguise for some of the rioters, however history is quite clear on the names and identities of many of the rioters, including their leader, so it seems obvious that the mere putting on of a dress and bonnet was not enough to disguise the men, although Thomas Rees was never convicted of leading the attacks due to the fact that no-one was able (or perhaps more likely, willing) to identify him. If only they'd followed Clark Kent's example and thought to put on a pair of glasses.


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    • profile image

      phil aka phyliss 

      8 years ago

      i was told that during wwI and maybe even II, the germans called the blackwatch the ladies from hell. As part of the blackwatch uniform is a kilt. very similar to a pleated skirt.

    • knell63 profile image


      9 years ago from Umbria, Italy

      I love the Becca's its such a British protest, but as a Welshman you'd expect me to say that. So funny on Rugby international days in Cardiff to see these drunken grown men dressed as women in bonnets singing Bread of Heaven. If you have never seen the film Rebecca's Daughters its a hilarious take off on it. Well worth watching for Peter O'Tooles charater alone. Great hub Hope

    • Philipo profile image


      9 years ago from Nigeria

      Well researched. Thanks.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Great hub in all respects except one.

      The Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy can be used to justify a good number of things if one tries hard enough. I have never heard the bible support atheism (although if it does I would love to hear about it).

    • Hope Alexander profile imageAUTHOR

      Hope Alexander 

      9 years ago

      Great link Tom, thanks!

    • Tomgeekery profile image


      9 years ago

      It took me a little while to find it... But go to for another story of men wearing dresses in protest.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Funny and insightful, just how I like it^^

      The Clark Kent one works everytime lol, because it makes people so confused that they can't even notice a familiar voice...


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