Caernarfon Ddoe/Caernarfon's Yesterdays header

RIOT IN 1752

On the south side of the altar at Llanbeblig Church is a tablet inscribed with the words "S.M. William Williams, late of Glanrafon, Esq., His Majesty's Attorney General of North Wales. He died the 26th of April, 1769, aged 65. This monument was erected by his widow Hephzibah Williams."

He lived at Plas Glanrafon, Castle Street, and in the book "Old Karnarvon" by W.H. Jones (published by H. Humphreys, 1882); the author refers to him as Councillor Williams and gives an account of a riot in the town in 1752. The authorities had heard a rumour that a large number of quarrymen from Mynydd y Cilgwyn and Rhostryfan intended raiding the Granary in Shirehall Street, the reason being that the price of corn was purposely being kept high through legislation and ordinary people could not afford it. One morning in April 1752, and being aware of the impending raid, Councillor Williams gathered together a number of men armed with guns, swords and bludgeons to defend the Granary. In the meantime the insurgents had also made an emergency plan, should the authorities become aware of their intention. In South Penrallt, there lived an old man who earned his livelihood as an itinerant gelder and it was his practice, when looking for business, to stop at a crossroad or village square and blow his horn. This would alert the neighbourhood of his presence and any farmer requiring his services would go to him and accompany him to his farm. The quarrymen had made arrangements with the gelder to blow his horn should he believe them to be in danger.

At 10 o'clock in the morning the quarrymen marched into town and, by then, the old man had heard that Councillor Williams and his men were waiting in the Sportsman Hotel in Castle Street, ready to pounce on the would be raiders. The gelder then blew short blasts on his horn from his doorstep, which was directly opposite where Moriah Chapel later stood. The insurgents ran in the direction of Ty'n y Cei and waded across the river, making for Coed Helen, closely followed by the Councillor and his men. One quarryman, not easily frightened, was half way across when he turned and said to his pursuers "You have no bullets, only powder in your guns." The Landlord of the Crown Inn replied by saying "I'll show you what I have in my gun," and without hesitation shot him through the heart, killing him instantly. The insurgents rushed to retrieve his body and made haste in the direction of the woods. The Councillor and his supporters went in search of the old gelder and held a drum head Court Martial, before hanging him near the Anglesey Arms. They then took him down, placed him in a coffin and carried it to Llanbeblig cemetery. It was later said that he was still kicking as earth was being thrown on the coffin.

In the meantime, the quarrymen had not been idle. They had made a coffin for their comrade and had painted it, half and half, in red and black. They then carried it through the streets of the town in a solemn procession and on to Llandwrog for burial.

There was, however, no end to the Councillor's vindictiveness. He arranged for some of the insurgents to be brought before the Magistrates Court and punished, and others were forced to flee the country. It was believed at the time that the ghost of the man in the red and black coffin haunted the Crown Inn for a century, right up to 1852 when the building was demolished to make way for the Railway.

W.H. Jones, in his book, further states that the Exchequer Rolls of 1752 records the official version of what happened as follows: that two men in Caernarfon were hung for Conspiracy - one of them being the old gelder and the other the quarrymen who was killed - and the Councillor, His Majesty's Attorney General for North Wales, without doubt, had presented the case in this way to the authorities at head quarters.

The author states, also, that he had purposely omitted quoting the names of those who died, as descendants of the old gelder - respectable families - still resided in the town.

© T. M. Hughes 2010