The landscape of a castle begins with its inception, for. Many of these were constructed from wood. These were built quickly to enable effective control of new land and display the power of the incoming Normans. Wales was no exception, wooden castles frequently preceded stone castles, the Vale of Glamorgan is no different interesting. The story of the “castles in the landscape” in Glamorgan began with the death of Rhys ap Tewdwr in 1093, and the expansion into the Vale by Robert Fitz Hamo. He and his followers including the traditional 12 knights, settled in the Vale up to the river Ogmore (1). It is thought at this time our three castles Coity, Newcastle and Ogmore were established. All three were thought to be found before 1107, Hamo is thought to have founded Newcastle, Ogmore by William de Londres and Coity by Payn de Tuberville (1).
The three castles were established along the western edge of the newly acquired territories, the three castles share this border landscape, their role is revealed by the landscape around them. Through displays produced by Cadw, the link between the castles is established and communicated, preserving the connections which transcend this landscape.
These new displays put up by Cadw provide a context for the creation of this landscape, both on the local level but also a regional level, bringing together the shared history and landscape of historical sites in the eastern Vale of Glamorgan through the creation of similar displays which are tailored to each site. They portray a landscape of conflict and expansion phase in the history of the marches, resulting in the creation of the substantial Lordship of Glamorgan. One of the most powerful lordships of Wales. These three castles played a major role in the development of this lordship, controlling routes in and out of the western side. This landscape combined with historical accounts through the displays at the castles reveal a shared landscape divided amongst Hamo and his men; the spoils of war.
We have seen how these three castles share one landscape, they correspondingly each have their own unique setting; this is the backdrop to the castle’s history beginning with the decision to site the castle in this specific location in this contested border landscape. Over time these castles’ function changed, each had a unique history with different owners and storylines. The landscape contributed to this story as we will see.
The landscape around Coity reveals the development of a fully functioning settlement, within a short walk is a 14th century church, which can be viewed from across the northern and eastern side of the castle and is thought religious activity to be taking place well before this date (2). This is thought to go back to at least the original Norman settlement, although it may well have transcended the Norman settlement with the church and possibly the associated settlement originating first, with the castle located where it is as a result of the presence of a church and possibly a settlement. This practice of founding castles at established settlements was a well-tested practice by the Normans; they needed to exert power and through establishing power bases at population centres, effective power could be conveyed both through soft and hard power.
NB *some have identified Morgan Gam as being in control of Coity until Payn de Tuberville married Morgan’s daughter Sybil (3)
Newcastle sits on a high and steep sided river looking over the River Ogmore, this is a dominant position in the landscape, controlling access to the river Ogmore and the ford found here which made this point in the landscape important to anyone travelling across South Wales controlling access on the western edge of the lordship of Glamorgan.
The positioning of the castle itself suggests its role in the landscape, the castle was established likely as a ringwork, possibly with a second ward around a chapel which would later become the church of St Illtyd which has had recorded religious activity since the 1150’s (4). We witness here a clear relationship between the secular lord and ecclesiastical church, the two columns of power in this landscape. The positioning so close together provides both spiritual wellbeing to the lord (especially if patronage is given) and social status as a result of the ability to influence local church politics and assisting in the bridging the gap to his community (5). If the chapel/church was found in the outer bailey this allowed further power as the lord could control who accessed this area (5), which has been separated from the outer world by the creation of the outer bailey, creating a landscape of restricted access, and the display of power by the lord.
The side of the castle facing towards the church and the river is the most elaborated side of this small castle. The gateway retains to this day elaborate late Romanesque decoration which goes beyond the necessary structure needed; this is a display of this new power, that of the incoming Normans. These imposing and decorative defences are thought to have been built whilst the lordship was under royal control (1) and hence can be seen as a display of royal power over the area. The positioning of this frontage supported by the flanking square tower is portraying an air dominance on the surrounding landscape including over the church set beneath the castle and the medieval settlement which grew up beneath the castle, Bridgend. The town of Bridgend developed over the medieval era into a thriving market town which eventually witnessed the construction of a stone bridge at Bridgend over the river Ogmore, finally uniting both sides and ensuring the long term success of this river crossing. The castle of Newcastle sits in a dominant position on the river Ogmore, this location controls access to the river crossing as well as portraying the power of the lord over the church and burgeoning town. When you walk around Ogmore you can experience this dominant position over the surrounding landscape and the relationship between the lord and the church.
Ogmore like Newcastle sits next to a river, in this case a tributary of the Ogmore, the River Ewenny, again controlling a ford in the river, which is still in use today as you will no doubt see if you visit the castle, and end up watching people precariously try and cross the stepping stones that link the two river banks, to be only overtaken and then splashed by a wading horse. Today this is a tranquil location, with few houses nearby with only a horse riding centre and pub close by. When the castle was founded (likely before 1107 (1)) this was an important crossing point of the river Ewenny, with the adjacent ford being a navigable route across the river and into the lordship of Glamorgan, just as at Newcastle. The castle itself dominates this crossing and any route approaching from the west. The power identified with the landscape of the castle carried on throughout the middle ages and beyond into the post medieval era with the continued used of the courthouse established in the lower ward in the 15th century when the castle had fallen in decay in the 17th century (1).
It is interesting to note that although castles (as Ogmore did) retained their political draw that no substantial settlement developed alongside, perhaps highlighting that as time pacified the region, there was no space for multiple economic enterprises and as a result some castles were simply no longer needed and faded into history as we see here when comparing the success of the town of Bridgend and the lack of town to develop in front of Ogmore.
A Border Landscape
As we have seen, these three castles although sharing one border landscape have each a unique landscape which influenced their siting and subsequent development. Coity may well have been sited at a pre-existing settlement, Newcastle, likewise may also be sited at a pre-existing settlement but equally what determined this site was the controlling position on a high bluff above a ford across the river Ogmore. Finally we see Ogmore, controlling a crossing of the River Ewenny set in a lowland environment as opposed to the higher landscapes of the other two.
These landscapes however although unique were impacted by their wider landscape this as a result of the contested nature of this landscape, the reason these castles were established in the first place. The castles in the 12th and 13th centuries were border castles on the edge of the lordship of Glamorgan, initially to the west was Welsh lands as was to the North, over time Norman power expanded westward. Norman power however remained restricted to the lowlands, to the north in the highlands the Welsh remained largely independent on the lords of Glamorgan. Through this period we experience periodic uprising, with these three castles notable targets as a result of their position of political power in this landscape. Which perhaps culminated with the handing over of Newcastle to Morgan ap Caradog following his uprising in 1183 until 1214 by Henry II (1).
Coity, Newcastle and Ogmore sit in a shared landscape, a landscape that epitomises the Norman expansion into Wales, and the development of the Welsh marches. These castles were developed; to control existing populations, routes in Glamorgan and as a tool to display power through the imposition of Norman rule over both the ecclesiastical and the secular. The new displays contribute to both the understanding of a shared landscape and an a individual landscape around these small but fascinating castles.
1. Kenyon J and Spurgeon C, 2001, Coity Castle, Ogmore Caslte, Newcastle, Cadw, Cardiff
2. The Parish of Coity, Nolton and Bracka http://parish.churchinwales.org.uk/l031/churches/coity/
3. Lise Hull, 2009, Coity Castle, http://www.castlewales.com/coity.html
4. The Parish of Newcastle http://parish.churchinwales.org.uk/l095/
5. Creighton O, 2002, Power, Patronage and Parish: Castles and Ecclesiastical Landscapes in Castles and Landscapes: Power, Community and Fortification in Medieval England, Equinox Publishing Ltd, London