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Newcastle Castle

Town of Bridgend, Bridgend, Wales
Map link for New Castle Castle

Elisabeth Whittle 1992

he castles of Newcastle, Ogmore, and Coity were established at the western limit of the early Norman penetration into south Wales, and were built to consolidate the Norman's hold on the area. Newcastle is strategically placed on a high bluff above the Ogmore valley to guard the river crossing below. The original castle, first mentioned in 1106, marked the western limit of Robert Fitzhamon's conquests. It is thought to have been an earthwork castle of ringwork type, and its location is unknown. It could have been on the site of the present castle, in which case its palisade may have underlain the later stone curtain wall. The round corner stone building, the foundations of which are visible in the south-east corner of the interior, could date from this initial phase, and might have been a keep. Rebuilding in stone probably took place during an unsettled phase in the 1180s, when the king himself, Henry II, held the castle. The layout and style of stonework are of this period, and the fact that it was in royal hands would explain its superior quality.

The castle's most outstanding feature is its complete Norman doorway (shown at left), which greets the visitor approaching the castle from the south. It is late 12th-century, contemporary with the curtain wall. On the inside it is quite plain, but the outside is given fine decorative treatment. Once inside the curtain wall, the circuit of which is complete, the nature of the castle becomes apparent. It is a courtyard castle, roughly circular in plan, with two mural towers built into the curtain wall on the south and west sides. The curtain wall, which was built in straight sections, is impressive and stands to its full height on the west side.

The square mural towers were a new development in military planning when built, but were soon to be superseded by round towers. The south tower is the better preserved, standing in parts to three storeys high. It was much altered for domestic use in the 16th century, when Tudor windows and fireplaces were inserted. Only the ground floor of the west tower survives. Very fragmentary foundations of a detached building at the north end, and the more complete foundations of two buildings against the east curtain wall are visible.

 

Apart from refurbishments in the south tower in the late 16th century, the castle is virtually untouched since the late 12th century. In 1217 it was given to the Turbevilles, lords of Coity, who had little use for it as their main seat was nearby Coity Castle.

 

Castles and the Norman Conquest of Lowland Glamorgan

From the Cadw guidebook for Coity, Ogmore & Newcastle castles

King William I (1066-87) himself may have established the motte-and-bailey castle at Cardiff, at the time of his expedition to St Davids in 1081, and it was from here that what became the lordship of Glamorgan was administered. But Cardiff was not alone; immediately to the north and west of the castle there are a number of fortresses, which although undated, may have been established at about the same time. For how long these earth and timber castles remained in use is not known, but it seems likely that some of them were abandoned as the Normans moved further west into Glamorgan.

In the early stages of colonization the castles were first and foremost fortresses, secure bases from which the chief and lesser lords could defend, exploit and administer their newly acquired territories. Many were built along or close to existing lines of communication, including rivers, coastal routes, and former Roman roads, ensuring easy access and safe supply routes. Some, such as at Kenfig, later developed boroughs. Coity, Ogmore and Newcastle, however, never became large centres of settlement, remaining instead as manors and centres of administration once their role as frontier posts had diminished following the westwards expansion of Norman conquest and settlement.

Many of the first castles were mottes or mounds, and there are large numbers of this type of castle in south Wales. But the majority of Norman castles in lowland Glamorgan were ringworks - simple earth-and-timber embanked enclosures without the large mound or motte. The reason for this appears to be the geology of the region. Glaciation, with its deep drift deposits, stopped short of the southernmost areas of Glamorgan, especially in the Vale. The terrain here consists of a thin covering of soil over limestone, which was not sufficient to erect a large earthen motte. To the north, however, where glacial deposits are abundant, mottes outnumber ringworks.

 


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Copyright 2009 by Jeffrey L. Thomas