Rees Barrett was the County Surveyor of Roads and Bridges for Carmarthen, -then called “Turnpike Roads” on account of the gates that were placed across them. These highly controversial roads were the cause of much social unrest in the County, indeed the whole Country for many years, and were eventually abolished by act of Parliament.

A turnpike gate was a large gate which revolved on a spike and after the individual had paid his penny to use the turnpike the gate would revolve allowing access to the newly created turnpike road. Typical charges in the 17th Century were one penny for a horse and sixpence for a coach. Exempt from the charges were mail coaches, foot passengers and people in a funeral cortege. Because it was possible for brave horsemen to leap over the gates without paying, the gate was sometimes replaced by what soon became known as a ‘turnpike’: a wooden bar with spikes on top.

Water Street Toll Gate Carmarthen circa 1860. Note the large sign on the left. This was to show the cost of “passage” through the gate.
The Toll Board with prices marked up on the right hand side, similar to  Water Street.
















Rees Barrett married Mary Parry, who was the daughter of a well known wine merchant from Haverfordwest. She died in April 1869 aged 67 and Rees himself passed away in September 1878 aged 66. As County Surveyor, Rees Barrett courted much controversy and was not afraid to answer his critics through the local press and did so on many occasions when letters appeared to be critical of his efforts. This short story uses extracts from three sources – one of which is a personal letter written to him by a Carmarthen family (sadly we don’t know their names) who emigrated to the plains of  North America giving a vivid account of the atrocities and dangers they faced, and which Rees himself evidently felt would be of interest to the local population, and the second is a letter printed in 1861 where Rees vents his feelings on an unsuspecting contributor to the newspaper, and thirdly his appearance at an inquest where he was required to give evidence. All of which shows that Rees Barratt was a man who took his job seriously. Also of interest is the following advertisement appeared in the “Welshman” a few days after Rees died, which must have been rather sudden for he is recorded as having attended meetings only a few weeks before.



Notice is hereby given, that the County Roads Board will. at their meeting, to be held in the Grand Jury Room at the Shire Hall, in Carmarthen, on Wednesday, the 16th day of October next, at half past Twelve o’clock p.m., appoint a Surveyor of Turnpike Roads for the County of Carmarthen, in the room of the late Mr Rees Barrett, deceased. The salary of such Surveyor will not exceed £ 220 per annum he will be required to give his whole time to the roads and live at Carmarthen, and he will also be bound to give three months notice before resigning his surveyorship. The appointment will take place from the 1st day of November next, but the Surveyor will be required to be in attendance a fortnight previous to obtain the necessary local information from Mr W. Bowen Davies, the other surveyor. Candidates for the vacant Surveyorship are requested to forward their applications and testimonials (post paid) to me, on or before the 6th day of October next, such testimonials to specify the general character of the candidate as to diligence, intelligence, and trustworthiness, and also as to his specific qualifications for the duties of a road surveyor, to give which testimonials weight it will be necessary that the individuals furnishing the same should be shown to be in a position to be competent judges of the qualifications testified to. Such candidates as may furnish satisfactory testimonials will be required to attend at their own expense at the Shire Hall, in Carmarthen, to be examined as to their qualifications, on the 14th day of October next, at Twelve o’clock at noon, and it is desirable they should bring with them any specimen they may possess of their surveying or plan drawing.

By order of the County Roads Board.

GEO. SPURRELL. Clerk to the said Board.

Carmarthen September 20th 1878.




Union-street, Carmarthen, Jan. 20, 1863.

SIR,—I have just received a letter from a friend of mine, a native of this county, and now residing at Minnesota, U.S., with a short account of the recent massacre of the settlers by the Indians; and if you think the following extract likely to interest your readers, it is at your service for insertion. Yours, &c., REES BARRETT.

“I am sorry to tell you of our recent sufferings on account of the rising of the Indians against the settlers in this State. About the 8th of August we were startled by the news that those surrounding us were being murdered by the Indians, and that at New Elms, a town about eight miles from here, the inhabitants were fighting for their lives in self defence, and that Port Ridgely was in great distress, and the settlers all put to death. On hearing this, and being well aware that the limited number of them settling in this neighbourhood could offer but a feeble resistance to such an enemy, we had no alternative but to decamp, making the beat of our way to the most populous part for safety (a distance of about twenty miles) leaving our stock and crop to take care of themselves, and at the mercy of the enemy. On the 31st of August, hoping that all our troubles were over, we returned to our former homes, and repossessed ourselves of what was left of our property, but alas! our delusions were soon dissipated, for as one of our neighbours was taking his horses to the field, he was wounded in the arm by a shot from an Indian, who, with some others, had been seen prowling about the neighbourhood a few days before. Doubtless their intention was to possess themselves of the horses the unfortunate man had under his care; but irrespective of this incident we continued our labour until we got our corn safe, returning at night after the fatigue of the day to the middle of the settlement for safety, and arming ourselves with pitchforks and other rude weapons at hand for protection. The Indians mostly hide themselves in the woods, and among the grass on the prairies, and shoot us before we can discover their hiding places. In a short time, however, Government sent troops to our aid, and one Company, under the command of Captain Dane, fixed their head- quarters about seven miles from here. After the arrival of the troops we did not retire at night to our usual place of safety, thinking we would be safe, but we were again disappointed, for as one of our men was going to look after the cattle, he discovered one of our neighbours shot dead. We immediately started off to a neighbours house for refuge, and on opening the door found the house deserted, and the body of the murdered man the sole occupant. Six of our neighbours were murdered and two wounded on this occasion, and the remainder of us made the best of our way to the soldiers’ camp, and were again compelled to abandon our homes for another period of ten weeks. We are now again in our homes. We found our cattle all safe on our return, and in good condition, having eaten all the corn. The Indians had stolen all the horses belonging to our neighbours, but in this respect luck favoured us, for the good reason that they could not catch ours. We found them all safe. In consequence of the disturbance many of the settlers have left this State, and such as have remained have suffered very much from losses occasioned thereby, and it is estimated that about 800 have been murdered, and several of the inhabitants, who were taken prisoners by the Indians, have been recovered by the soldiers. General Selby has just passed this way with 370 Indian prisoners, and it is reported that they have confessed being instigated by the Confederates to murder us for a consideration of five dollars a head. We trust that all will be quiet now, and that we shall be allowed to pursue our lawful calling in peace again. Yours &c. “Butternut Valley, Minnesota, Dec. 22, 1862.”

General Joseph Orville Shelby
























SIR, –  When the intention is to vilify, misrepresent, and make false statements, it is generally convenient  to appear in the columns of your paper under a fictitious name, and this is the mode adopted by your correspondent “Ratepayer” in your last. He says, that he is surprised, being a road surveyor myself that I should cast such sarcastic insinuations and ridicule upon my brother surveyors, and accuses me of seeing the mote in my brother’s eye. I deny this, and how any one can put such a construction upon my letter is to me surprising. I proved satisfactorily to myself and to the mind of every impartial reader, in figures, that no improvement can possibly take place with such a limited expenditure. Having had ten years’ experience as road surveyor under one of the Royal Engineers, to whom I am much indebted for much of the knowledge I may possess, is the very reason why I took upon myself to communicate a few remarks, and point out what I considered improper treatment of the Highways in Carmarthenshire, so that my brother surveyors who may not have had the experience, nor the advantage of professional instructions, may benefit thereby if they think fit; and if your correspondent and the surveyor in his district may disapprove of what I may say, and adopt a different system, it matters not to me. Road repairing requires practice, instruction, and experience, like everything else, and has not been considered beneath the notice of scientific men although Ratepayer,” like many others, may think that nothing but bluster is required. He says that he has lately travelled much of the parish roads and has found them very much to his satisfaction. I am sorry to tell him that many of his fellow-ratepayers differ from him in opinion; but if his perambulation, led him to the Llangyndeyrn district, he would find that the Highway Hoard has not disregarded the remarks in my report, and that labour is now employed to form the roads, and that sufficient material is got out of many of them to last for the next ten years, where materials were carried at great expense before; and if the system is persevered in, very great improvements will soon be the result. I complained that the official expenses were too much, being 16 per cent., whilst those of the County Roads only amount to 8 per cent., and I ventured to suggest an amalgamation of the districts, with a view to lessen those expenses, but by this I have unfortunately given offence, and “Ratepayer” begins by saying, Let us examine what good effects dividing one of the three districts of the County Roads Board between two of their surveyors had, &c., &c. but after all this he forgets to enter into just particulars, because he knows it will not suit his object, but as he has omitted doing so I will take the trouble of doing it for him. The South Wales Railway was opened to Carmarthen from Swansea in 1852 and from Carmarthen to Pembrokeshire about 1854, and the dividing of the turnpike roads into two districts did not take place until 1856, consequently no decrease of traffic from the opening of railways has taken place upon the roads under my care since that date…

Rees Barrett


REES BARRETT – TURNPIKE ROAD SURVEYOR and his evidence in a fatal accident enquiry


On Friday afternoon, about half-past three o’clock, a lamentable accident occurred on the works of this railway by which one man lost his life, and three or four others were more or less seriously injured. Close to the Bishop of St. David’s Palace, at Abergwili, the line of railway will pass under the turnpike road leading from Carmarthen to Llandeilo, and whilst the cutting at that place is being proceeded with a temporary wooden bridge has been thrown across the road. This bridge is constructed by laying three balks of timber, 14 inches square and 43 feet long, across a span of 27 feet. Across these balks were placed two rows of sleepers, which met in the centre, the end of each sleeper being nailed to the middle balk. Over the sleepers was placed about six inches of ballast, composed of small stones. As the beams were 43 feet long, eight feet on each end rested on the rock, or shale, which formed the abutments on either side. From some cause hitherto not explained, the centre beam was heard to crack” twice, the second crack” following closely upon the first, and almost immediately, before the men engaged in removing the earth from under the bridge had time to escape, the beam divided in the centre and fell, the whole of the ballast falling down in a heap into the centre of the outting, completely burying John Jones, a labourer, and a resident in this town, who was unfortunately at work immediately beneath. Three other men were injured by the falling ballast, but are now in a fair way of recovery. Poor Jones remained completely buried for three-quarters of an hour, and when rescued he had of course ceased to exist for some time. There were no bruises or cuts sufficient to cause death, which ensued from suffocation. The body of Jones was taken to the Infirmary, and although the accident occurred without the limits of the borough, Mr. Hughes, the borough coroner, was obliged to hold an inquest, having discovered the body within the limits of his jurisdiction.

Mr. Rees Barrett examined: I am a road surveyor, and reside at Union Street, in this town. I have charge of the turnpike roads in the parish of Abergwili. I have known the temporary bridge over the Llandeilo Road, near Abergwili, since it was first made, about eight or ten weeks ago. It was a timber bridge. I have seen it repeatedly since. I was over it twice yesterday morning- that was back and fore. After I heard of the accident I went there between five and six yesterday evening. The middle balk and all the bridge had fallen down. The two outside balks were standing. All the bridge had fallen into the cutting. I examined the bridge. The bridge was made by laying three balks longitudinally. It was a secure bridge. There was a railing on the two outside balks, as a fence. The flooring of the bridge was composed of sleepers, about five or six inches thick, placed in such a manner that they joined on the centre balk. Each sleeper extended from the outside balk to the centre bilk only. The sleepers were nailed to the outside and centre balks. There was about six inches of ballast over the floor. The balks were forty- three feet long, laid over a span of 27 feet, having 8 feet resting on each end, which was composed of rock or shale. The balks were fourteen inches square. I inspected the bridge with Mr. Harries, the engineer, and he told me it was capable of holding twenty tons. As we had nothing heavier than about eight tons passing over that road, and as the pressure of each wheel of a wagon would not be more than two tons. I considered the bridge sufficiently strong. I calculated, for the thickness of the balks, that it would take sixteen tons to break them. The balks are of red pine. The centre balk is broken near the middle. There seems to be no defect in the timber. I did not know whether the sleepers extended the length of the bridge, or that they met in the centre, until I saw them yesterday evening. I consider the bridge to have been well constructed and sufficiently strong for the traffic on that road. My opinion is that the bridge was damaged by the blasting of powder underneath it, or it was damaged from some cause which I can not explain. By the Jury: I don’t know that it was formerly supported by anything that bad or which had been removed or dislodged. Examination continued. The fibres of the timber had first separated from above. The fracture is deep on the upper side, leading me to suppose the pressure was from below. The lower side was broken off in splinters. By the Jury: I was called upon to examine the bridge and reported it safe. I can’t say how the accident occurred. Examination continued. Each balk ought to bear sixteen tons, according to the span. I have never complained of the bridge being unsafe. Complaints have been made of the railing, of the approaches to the bridge, and of the narrowness of the bridge, but its safety was not questioned. It was considered sufficiently strong for that place.



The last resting place of Rees Barrett and his wife Mary.
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