Newcastle in Bridgend was built about 1106, according to tradition by William de Londres, one of the semi-legendary Twelve Knights of Glamorgan, as part of the Norman invasion of Wales. William de Londres was a knight loyal to the Norman baron Robert Fitzhamon, and Newcastle was the westernmost part of the area subordinated to Fitzhamon. Along with the Bridgend Castle, the strongholds at Coity and Ogmore were erected at that time.
The fortifications were reinforced by William Fitz Robert, the second Earl of Gloucester, shortly before his death in 1183 or by king Henry II, who took power over Glamorgan after William’s death. The main reason for this work was the uprising in Glamorgan under the leadership of the Welsh Lord of Afan, Morgan ap Caradog.
Henryk died in 1189, and the ownership of Newcastle went to prince John, who in the same year handed over the castle to Morgan ap Caradog. When Morgan died around 1208, his son Lleison became his successor. After the death of Lleison, which took place around 1214, the castle became the property of Isabel, Countess of Gloucester, the first wife of king John. In 1217, the belonging of the castle changed again, staying briefly at Anglo-Norman baron Gilbert Fitz Richard, who in the same year donated the castle to Gilbert de Turberville. However, he preferred to live in Coity castle.
At the end of the Middle Ages the stronghold fell to the Berkerolle and Gamage families, but no major work was undertaken until the 16th century, when the castle was slightly rebuilt in order to improve the comfort of residents. Despite the modernization, the building ceased to be a residence at the end of the sixteenth century and gradually began to fall into ruin.
The original defensive site consisted only of a ring of wood and earth fortifications surrounding the courtyard about 40 meters in diameter. Perhaps a keep was built in the middle of them, which relics were supposedly discovered in the 19th century. In the second half of the twelfth century, a perimeter of wall (about 2 meters in the thickest places) and two four-sided towers were built, which were new thing then in those areas. One of them, southern one, flanked the entrance gate to the castle. The whole was protected by a natural slope in the east, descending towards the bend of the Ogmore River, and a ditch from other sides.
The entrance led through a Romanesque portal, distinguished by high quality stonework. It was entirely made of ashlar with a semi-circular crown, with a roller falling on the sides on the carved capitals. The internal jambs are decorated with a rare form of four-sided, moulded holes separated by patterns of pellets. The gate was initially closed with a two-leaf door, locked from the inside with a bar bolted in the openings in the wall.
The southern tower had at its base an extension similar in form to a massive spur. The entrance to it led from the courtyard at the ground floor level and from the crown of the perimeter wall to the first floor. It was rebuilt for residential purposes in the 16th century, when new windows and fireplaces in the Tudor style were made (although at least two fireplaces on the eastern wall were from the Middle Ages). There was probably a kitchen in the lower floor at the time, serving the upper chambers.
The west tower was slightly larger, and protruded beyond the perimeter to a greater extent. Its base, like the southern tower, was reinforced with an expanded pedestal, which was also located here from the courtyard side. The room in the ground floor of the tower did not have a fireplace, so it probably had a storage function. It was available through the portal straight from the courtyard.
To the east of the entrance gate, the main residential and economic buildings of the castle were erected, and further to the north an undated building. The oldest structure was the south-eastern building, probably associated with earlier timber and earth fortifications, which is why during the erection of the stone perimeter its southern and eastern walls were removed. Its large width indicates that it could be divided by partition walls into smaller rooms. Probably in the 13th century another rectangular building with an entrance from the west was added to it from the north.
The castle has been preserved in the form of a low ruin, however, most of the monument that has survived to this day comes from the early, Norman period of the castle’s history. There is a portal of the entrance gate, one of the most beautiful monuments of secular Norman architecture in Wales (the steps leading to it are modern). The south tower has survived to the height of the first floor, although the windows and the fireplace in the ground floor date back to the 16th century, but the first floor has a fireplace from the Middle Ages. The western tower has been preserved only in the part of the ground, while the perimeter walls in the highest places reach 6.3 meters in height. Newcastle is under the care of the Cadw government agency and is open to tourists, free of charge throughout the year.
Kenyon J., The medieval castles of Wales, Cardiff 2010.
Kenyon J., Spurgeon C.J., Coity Castle, Ogmore Castle, Newcastle (Bridgend), Cardiff 2001.
Lindsay E., The castles of Wales, London 1998.
Salter M., The castles of Gwent, Glamorgan & Gower, Malvern 2002.