Coity Castle



To those who feel an interest in the history of the district in which they live, the village of Coity, two miles from the centre of Bridgend, affords an excellent opportunity for study, for here there are to be seen relics of many stages in our history. Here can be found pre-historic burial mounds, including one of the long-barrow type at Coed Parc Garw, and a most impressive church built in the early fourteenth century, containing many a memorial of the past, especially one ancient oak chest, and, above all, the Castle.

The Norman Lordship of Coity was in two parts, Coity Anglia, or English Coity, and Coity Wallia, Welsh Coity. The dividing line between the two areas is not easy to trace, but it seems that the Welsh portion was on the higher ground, while the Normans occupied the lower, more fertile corn-growing land. Norman manners and customs prevailed in the Englishry as it is called, but in nthe Welshry, the Welsh kept up their old tribal customs and laws. The Castle, of course, was built in the Norman half of the lordship.

The Norman lordship of Coity differed from other lordships of the time, because it had, and still has, the largest common woodland, that is, a wood from which the inhabitants had freedom to take what wood they needed, for fuel, for building and for repairs to their houses. This wood, of oak trees, is known as Allt-y-rhiw, and is to be seen still on the side of the Ogmore Valley.
Coity Castle is but one of that long chain of fortresses which the Normans built along the South Coast of Wales as they conquered the land, district by district. Roughly, it may be described as consisting of two parts, an Inner Ward, almost circular in shape on the east side, and an Outer Ward, almost oblong in shape, to the west. The castle is now in ruins, but enough remains to enable us to picture to ourselves its original appearance. The Inner Ward seems to have been built in the twelfth century on a mound of earth. The high wall forming the circle is of stone, and outside it was dug a deep ditch, called a moat, which formed another defence against attack. The entrance or gateway was on the north-east, and it was defended by a drawbridge and port-cullis, the slots for which may be still seen. To the south-east, a circular tower projects out into the moat, while on the west side, the Keep, almost square in shape, still stands. The outer walls of this Keep are as they were first built, but the interior is of later date. In the sixteenth century, additions were made the Keep, so that it reached to the height of four storeys. This was the innermost defence of the castle and by far the most important part, and it was here that the lord of the castle and his family lived. Opposite the Keep, on the other side of the circular Inner Ward was built a chapel, of which little remains, while between the chapel and the Keep a number of domestic buildings seem to have been built at a later date, possibly in the fourteenth century.
The Outer Ward, a rough rectangle in shape, was constructed in the fourteenth century, and consists of a curtain wall, or defensive wall, pierced on the western side by a gateway, which probably formed the main-entrance.

The ownership of the castle has passed through the hands of many families. It is said that Morgan, one of the sons of Iestyn ap Gwrgan, the last Welsh ruler of Glamorgan, was the lord of Coity, when the Normans first invaded South Wales. The first Norman tenant of the Castle was Payn de Turberville, a follower of Robert Fitzhamon who seems to have led the Norman conquerors into Glamorgan. Coity Castle remained in Turberville hands until the fourteenth century, when it came into the possession of Sir Roger Berkerollles. About this time the castle underwent a long siege by the followers of the Welsh patriot, Owain Glyndwr, and was only freed when the King, Henry IV, led his army into Glamorgan.
Later, through a marriage, the lordship passed to Sir William Gamage, whose family retained possession until the reign of Queen Elizabeth, when the only surviving member of the family was an unmarried daughter, Barbara Gamage. She married Robert Sydney, a brother of the Sir Philip Sydney who so gallantly lost his life in Holland, while fighting to help the Dutch in their fight for freedom against Spain. Later, her husband became M.P for Glamorgan and was created a Knight of the Garter and Earl of Leicester. The castle remained in the possession of the family of the Earls of Leicester for many generations, but it has not been used as a dwelling place for many years, and through neglect has fallen into almost complete ruin. Claimants to the estate went to law about its ownership, and it was divided and sold to various people, but the Castle itself is now in the hands of a Government department, the Office of Works, because it is regarded as a relic of great historical interest.

W.B. Bucquect - Writing for The Festival of Britain Guide of Bridgend, 1951

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