Oldcastle and Newcastle

"The Old Stone Bridge" - 1937!


As suggested by its name, the town Bridgend owes its existence to the erection, about the year 1435*, of the “Old Stone Bridge” across the river Ogmore. The growth of the town then linked together the village of Newcastle on the west bank and the ancient hamlet of Nolton, or Oldcastle, on the east bank.
In the sixteenth century Leland in his “Itinerary” writes: “At Penybont about two miles upper there is a village whereof that part standeth on the west side of the bridge is called Castelle Newith (Newcastle) and is in West Thawan, and that part of it that is on the east side of the Bridge is called Henecastelle (Oldcastle) and it is in Terbrennine.”

The use of the name Oldcastle led to the belief that there must have been a castle, older than that of Newcastle, in the ancient hamlet on the east bank of the river. Mariane Spencer in her Annals of South Glamorgan has suggested that such a castle probably stood near the site on which the Church of St. Mary, Nolton, was built. However, no evidence to support this belief has been found.  Yet, as the name of Newcastle implies that there must have been some building still older with which to compare it as “new”. In his history of Newcastle, Mr. H. J. Randall points out that the name Newcastle is recorded as early as 1106, in connection with the gift of the Church to Tewkesbury Abbey, and that therefore the “old” site must have been an earthwork, because the Welsh did not build in stone before the Norman Conquest. Evidence also of the use of the name Nolton, meaning the old village, for the hamlet on the east side of the river, goes back to 1199, but there is no evidence that this hamlet was fortified or possessed a castle. The other name, Oldcastle, appears to have come into common usage later, as an easy means of differentiating between the two sides of the river.

A possible explanation therefore, Mr. Randall suggests, is that the distinction was rather between Newcastle and the castle established by Payn de Turberville at Coity, which was probably built on the site of an old Welsh fortress, and which could be clearly seen from the height of Newcastle.
To reach the Church and the Castle from the “Old Stone Bridge”, we pass through Angel St. and climb the steep incline of Newcastle Hill. This is one of the most interesting of the town, containing as it does most of the buildings of historical interest of which the town can boast. The names of the old inn here are worth noting – The Cross Keys, The Angel and The Lamb and Flag, all reminiscent of the Hostelries of mediaeval days.

At the foot of the Hill is the Old Unitarian Chapel, bearing the date 1795, though the original chapel on this site was founded as early as 1702 as a “Meeting place for dissenting Protestants”. Its most famous minister was Rhys Price of Tynton, father of the celebrated Dr. Richard Price, the champion of the rights of the American colonists. Other famous names connected with this chapel are those of the local industrial pioneers the Coffins, and the family of Miss Caroline Williams, the noted Welsh educationist.

Almost half-way up the hill on the right hand side is the medieval house known as The Old Hospice. This was once believed to have been a Hospice of the Knights Hospitallers of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, and two tablets set in the front wall bore the sacred Monogram I.H.C*, and the heraldic device of the Order – the Greek Cross and Eagle. These tablets have been removed for safe keeping . The house is now the property of the Priory for Wales of the Order of St. John.

"The Old Hospice"
Almost on the crest of the hill, below the Castle, stands Newcastle Church. It is probable that a Church stood on this site long before the Norman Conquest. The early church was dedicated to St. Illtyd, the founder of Llantwit Major. The dedication of the Norman Church was to St. Leonard, a French Patron Saint of prisoners, and for centuries one of Bridgend’s Fairs has been held on St. Leonard’s Day. At the time of the Reformation the dedication was restored St. Illtyd.

The Church came under the jurisdiction of the Abbots of Margam Abbey, and it is interesting to read the Norman names of early vicars in the list of incumbents since 1153, which is to be seen in the Church. An unusual entry that is for 1560. “Thomas ap Jenkin Philip, Vicar of Newcastle was resident, and he was keeping hospitalie.” This would seem to link the Vicar with the nearby Hospice of St. John, also known as Church House.

About 1850 work of restoration and reconstruction of the Church was begun, so that now the tower is all that remains of the Norman Church. During this work a very interesting sculptured tombstone was discovered, the inscription on which was not deciphered until Professor Macalister of Dublin visited the Church in 1925. Translated the inscription reads: “Here lies Richard with his true sheep”  and it would seem that the tombstone was that of Vicar Richard, who was incumbent of the parish from 1263-1305. This and other interesting stones are now preserved in the tower.

The present chancel was built in 1891. The pulpit, choir stalls and lectern, all gifts to the Church from grateful parishioners, are magnificent examples of the skill in wood carving of the late Mr. William Clark of Llandaff.

The tower contains a peal of eight bells, the early ones, dated 1720, bearing some interesting inscriptions, such as “When you me ring, I G.E sweetly sing,” and “Peace and good neighbourhood.”
The register of baptisms fates form 1745, that of marriages from 1755 and that of burials from 1764.

The vicarage is the oldest in the diocese. The walls are very thick and the outer doorway dates back to the thirteenth century. The mullioned window facing the church is early sixteenth century. Another attractive house in the vicinity is Newcastle House, which is of the Georgian period, and possesses Adam mantelpieces.

In the walls of the ruined castle is a magnificent Norman Gateway, elaborately decorated in the manner of the twelfth century. This and two rectangular towers are the main features of interest, but the castle is well worth a visit.

Newcastle - The Castle!

The present church of St. Mary, Nolton, in Oldcastle is the third church to be built upon the site. Of the first church, believed to have been a fifteenth century foundation, little is known.  The second church, erected in 1832 or 1834 was a plain cruciform building, which stood near the small arched gateway in the present churchyard. It must have be remembered by many parishioners, for it was not destroyed until some years after the present fine church was completed in 1887. The font is dated 1632. The churchyard contains the grave of the famous Welsh Methodist preacher, the Rev. Edward Mathews of Ewenny.

Opposite the entrance to the Church is the ancient tithe barn, which, according to Malkin writing in 1815, was built on the ruins of the old castle. Also near are two attractive Georgian houses, Nolton Court and Riversdale.

An interesting feature in Oldcastle is the old cobbled throughfare, known as The Rhiew, flanked on the one side by the high retaining wall of old Nolton House, now Board’s Garage. When the old house was pulled down many years ago some interesting old relics were found, and vaulting of the medieval period discovered in the cellars.

Free School Court, off Nolton Street, recalls how in the year 1824, school rooms were built here by voluntary contributions from the townspeople and a grant from the National Society, the school to be called “The Free School”.

G. Lewis - Writing for The Festival of Britain Guide of Bridgend, 1951

* The Old Stone Bridge is now thought to have been build in c.1425!

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