From its origins to the Norman conquest from about 1093, when southern Glamorgan was occupied as far as their first ‘frontier’ on the line of the River Ogmore, the district was ruled by the Welsh Princes of Morgannwg under tribal laws.
The Normans introduced their own rules under Robert Fitzhamon, who established himself in Cardiff as Lord of Glamorgan. He divided the occupied area into Lordships, each governed and administered by one of his senior knights.
From this division came the tradition of the ‘Twelve Knights’ among whom William de Londres held the great Lordship of Ogmore and Payn D’Urberville (later Turbervill) gained the upland Welsh Lordship of Coity. Newcastle was held at first by Fitzhamon but later became a Turbervill manor.
The Welsh to the north and west of the ‘frontier’ continued to raid and pillage the Norman occupied lands. That led to chains of boroughs being established throughout Norman held Glamorgan in order to protect the trade of the district and the merchants who came to the marts. Castles built in our area include Coity; Ogmore; Newcastle; Candleston; Brocastle and Old-Castle-Upon-Alun. The Normans also brought to the area their art of building in stone; churches, priories, abbeys as well as castles. As devout acts, they set about linking traditional Celtic churches with monastic foundations already flourishing in the Norman occupied English territories.
By gift of Maurice de Londres (Lord of Ogmore) in 1141, the church of St. Michael of Ogmore became the beginning of the Benedictine Priory of Ewenny, granted to the Abbey of St. Peter of Gloucester, together with the churches of St. Brides Major, St. Michael of Colwinston and the manor of Lampha.
In medieval times a significant event in the religious life of the South Wales community was a pilgrimage to the shrine of St. David (Pembrokeshire), an event which took a long time to complete over a very long distance covered mostly on foot, in changing weather conditions. At various points en route were certain churches and religious houses where the pilgrims could pause for shelter, rest and refreshment. One such point was St. Leonard’s Newcastle (now St. Illtyds).
The pilgrims came along the old route of Ewenny to Laleston via the New Inn Bridge (Dipping Bridge) through Newbridge Fields and Sunnyside making for Newcastle Hill. Approaching the foot of the hill were three Inns, where the more affluent pilgrims could stay – the Cross Keys (Keys of St. Peter and emblem of the Vatican); the Angel (the guardian angel watching over the Pilgrims on their journey) and the Lamb and Flag (named from the Crusader emblem of the Lamb with the Crusader’s Cross flag over his shoulder).
Nowadays, the Cross Keys has been demolished, the Angel only remains on the site (a much later building) and the Lamb and Flag is now a pair of private houses. The poorer pilgrims who could not afford to stay at an Inn went to the Church House (later known as the “Hospice of St. John”) for rest and refreshment. Monks from Margam Abbey would have been there on “pilgrimage duty” to tend to the travellers before they continued on their way to St. David’s.
Traditionally, the “double-level” stone benches in the porch were for the pilgrims – sitting on the upper stones with their feet on the lower ones and the monks washed and bathed their weary and dirty feet ritually – as Christ washed the feet of his disciples.
The rebellion by Owen Glendower (Owain Glyndwr – the self-proclaimed Prince of Wales) against Henry IV, started in 1401, causing great damage to many Norman strongholds, churches and farms in the area, including the destruction of the manorial mill at Ogmore (later the ‘Watermill’); Blackhall at St. Brides Major and the Church of St. Leonard, Newcastle (later St. Illtyd).
The excellent ford below the rock of Newcastle, with its firm ground approaches, provided the essential link between ‘Old Town’ (Hendre) – later corrupted to Nolton – and Newcastle whose steep hill provided the route of further travel west and north.
C. 1425 a stone bridge was built alongside the ford. It was the first substantial bridge over the River Ogmore and the bridge from which the town’s name is derived. Its narrow and humped outline is as it is today, was partially demolished by a great flood in 1775, when the two arches nearest the west bank were washed away. They were replaced by a large single span. The Old Bridge underwent substantial refurbishment during 2005.
The ancient road which led from ‘Old Town’ to the ‘Bryggen Eynde’ and across the river, passed through Elder Street which is Bridgend’s oldest street and still in use today.
Lying in two parishes – Newcastle and Coity and divided by the River Ogmore, the future town also lay in portions of two district’s manors, so in its development years it never possessed town records.
In 1500 the town was noted as having a market of repute, for it was the natural focal point of the fertile area to the south east and the south west; the valleys and hill farms converging from the north.
The Bridgend Market Charter was granted by King Henry VIII in 1516. This gave the legal permission from the crown for a market to be held in the town.
In the 17th century the provisions market was held under the arches and on the steps of the first Town Hall in High Street (later Dunraven Place). The livestock market was also unhygienically held there in the surrounding streets and even worse the slaughtering often took place there on the spot! All at the same time!
The Jolly Brewer (now the Riverside Tavern) in Brewery Lane was first built in the mid-1790’s as the residence of the manager of the new and up-to-date woollen mill and was named as “Cae-Felin” (Millfield). After, the mill became the Brewer’s family residence and re-named the ‘Brewery House”. This name was retained when it became a public house in the 1920’s. When its owners, Courage (Western), were seeking to renovate the building and re-name it in the late 1970’s, they requested information on its history – which was supplied to them. They professed great interest in its history and the suggestion that it should be re-named “The Millfield” public house – then promptly renamed it “The Jolly Brewer”.
During the latter part of the 18th century the area saw the growth of the tanneries and the short-lived but ambitious woollen factory as well as the potteries on the clay beds of Ewenny and Heronstone. The town itself also saw the growth of support services for agriculture, with an iron foundry making implements and farm machinery.
Iron founding and coal mining developed in earnest at the beginning of the 19th century, but Bridgend stood outside the southern limit of the coalfield and retained its essential agricultural market character, as well as being the shopping and business centre for the coal mining valleys.
In 1830 the Bridgend Railway was opened: a horse-drawn tramway which branched from the Dyffryn Llynfi and Porthcawl Railway of 1828 and survived for 30 years bringing coal from the upper end of the Llynfi Valley.
Brunel’s South Wales Railway opened its Bridgend station in 1850. The Vale of Glamorgan line of the Barry Railway was built in 1897.
New roads to Cowbridge and Aberkenfig together with a new traffic bridge in the 1820’s and 1830’s opened the town to more through traffic and much more trade ensued.
The area has also been an important centre of limestone quarrying and in particular for a famous building stone in a part of Bridgend known as Quarella. The last large building to be mainly constructed of this particular stone was St. Mary’s Church, Nolton, completed in 1887, with its tall spire added in 1898.
Bridgend entered this century developing as a market town and residential area depending on surrounding agriculture and the business brought by coal mining in the northern valleys.
The first bus station in South Wales was opened here in 1923 and in the same year the local railways became part of the Great Western Railway Company.
The town’s change of character dates from the building of the vast Royal Ordnance Factory at Waterton immediately before the outbreak of World War II.
World War II Prisoner of War Camp No. 198, Island Farm, Bridgend was situated on the A48 By-pass to the south of the town. Prior to its use as a PoW camp in November 1944, it in turn housed Ordnance factory workers and American soldiers. During its four year term, it in total detained almost 2,000 German officers, the most famous of whom was Field Marshall Larl von Rundstedt.
On 10th March 1945, 67 prisoners tunnelled their way out of the camp – within eight days they were all recaptured! The escape hut, number nine, is retained under a Preservation Order; the rest of the camp has been demolished to make way for the expansion of the Bridgend Science Park.
Post-war development included the conversion of this huge munitions factory into an impressive industrial estate including the European manufacturing base of the Sony Company, now closed, together with the nearby industrial developments such as the Ford Motor Company’s Engine Plant and the Science Park.
The completion of the M4 Motorway from London to Pont Abraham (West Wales) and the dual carriageways to Junctions 35, 36 and 37; the town’s railway Intercity link and the facility of Cardiff International Airport (just 12 miles away) has made the town and the surrounding area very accessible.
Take a stroll through the Rhiw Shopping Centre and as you approach the intersection of the L-shaped arcade, look up and see the old Bridgend Market bell, suspended from the roof above. The bell had lain in store and deteriorating in the County Borough Council’s yard, Maesteg, since 1970 when the old market was demolished to make way for the Rhiw Development. The alertness of the Bridgend Civic Trust and the involvement of the Centre’s owners resulted in the bell being sited in its present position. The unveiling ceremony took place on St. David’s Day, 1996.
Visitors returning to Bridgend will find a new look to the town for the 21st Century. The market town of old has gradually disappeared over the past 20 years and Bridgend County Borough Council decided that the Town was badly in need of a facelift to meet the challenges of the new Millennium.
Parts of the town centre have been designated as conservation areas and Town Improvement Grants are being offered to assist businesses who wish to renovate buildings within the town. The aim is to conserve that which is of interest and encourage businesses to design their shop frontages to an agreed standard for the town.
A new traffic flow system is now in operation and several streets have been pedestrianised and paved in Portland stone.