A Changing Bridgend: 1851 - 1951

Caroline Street, 1901!



Bridgend, otherwise Penybont ar Owgr, consisted in 1851 of one irregular street, containing a few shops with several handsome dwelling houses in the environs. It was neither paved nor lighted, but was well supplied with water. There were no fixed amusements, but concerts and dramatic performances occasionally took place at the Town Hall. An Act of Parliament had recently been obtained for constructing a new line of road from the town to a place called Pant-y-Brocastle, by which the distance from Cowbridge was shortened by one mile, and the nearest and least hilly road from Cardiff to Swansea brought through the town. The large woollen manufactory established about the beginning of the century by several Gentlemen of the community, both to encourage industry among inhabitants and to provide a home market for wool produced in the vicinity, had failed to realise the expectations of its promoters. Contiguous with the town were several quarries of excellent freestone. A railroad form the iron works at Maesteg to the harbour of Porthcawl, a distance of 16 miles was recently completed, and with the improvement of the harbour itself was said to have cost about £100,000. In connection with this was a branch railway commencing near the village of Cefn Cribbwr, in the parish of Laleston, on the line of the former, and extending 4 ½ miles, in an eastern direction, to the vicinity, and to open a communication between the latter and the harbour of Porthcawl.

The market held on Saturday was noted for the sale of corn. The fairs were held on Holy Thursday or Ascension Day, and November 17th chiefly for the sale of cattle and cheese. The Petty Sessions for the Hundred were held every Saturday and it was here that the election of the Parliamentary Representative for the County took place. The Town Hall was a neat structure, standing in the middle of the town, where the elections were held, and other local business transacted. There were numerous places of worship, the chapel of Nolton,  a chapel of ease to Coity and the parish church of Newcastle, as well as places for Baptists, Independents, Calvinistic and Wesleyan Methodists, and Unitarians. A National School, in which one hundred children of both sexes were instructed, was supported principally by the liberality of the Rt. Hon. Sir John Nicholl, and his family, aided by a charity sermon and some private subscriptions. A savings bank and dispensary had been erected with a part of a sum arising from the unappropriated fractional parts of dividends, which amounted to £800: the dispensary, for the distribution of medicines a d advice gratis among the poor of the adjoining parishes, not receiving parochial relief was supported by subscriptions, usually amounting to about £100 per annum! The Poor Law Union of Bridgend and Cowbridge was formed October 10th, 1836 and included 52 parishes and townships.

But “Change” ever at work has altered the face, though not the fundamental nature of the town during the past 100 years. Bridgend is now more than ever the “Hub of Glamorgan”. As a business and banking centre, it serves the surrounding Valleys and the Vale. The Cattle Mart is now recognised as the most important held in Glamorgan. In 1851 trade was conducted by numerous small traders. To-day, we find a great change has taken place. Business premises have been modernised and expanded, and shoppers are attracted to the town from a wide area. The advent of the Multiple Shops, coupled with advance of the Co-operative Societies have gradually changed the whole atmosphere of the trading activities of the town.

Caroline Street, 1910!


As far as thoroughfares are concerned, there has been little alteration save for several small widening schemes which have been carried on from time to time. The problem of further schemes of this kind is always under consideration and intensive development in this direction is anticipated.
Railway Services have been greatly augmented, but little change in the genera lay out of the railway buildings has taken place. A new transport development, however, has been the ’bus services. The town has become one of the busiest and most important centres in the County for  ‘bus travel, and what once the site of the Cattle Market is now a large modern commodious ‘Bus Station, and Terminus.

The factory position in Bridgend itself has changed but little. Two old works have made considerable improvements and greatly increased their efficiency. Just outside the town’s boundaries, however, on the site of what was the Royal Ordnance Factory, there have been considerable developments of new industries.

Bridgend’s Hospital Services have been improved by the addition of a new Cottage Hospital, the old building having been converted into a T.B. Clinic. The Public Association Institution has been converted to the County Hospital and a new block built including Clinics and Nurses’ Hostel. These additions have given West-Mid-Glamorgan a first-class medical service for the community.

When we turn to Education we find the changes have been most marked, both in Staffing and Buildings. Noticeable changes also are conveyance of children to school by ‘bus, the provision of meals, coupled with a comprehensive medical service. The changes in buildings consisted if the provision of Grammar Schools, a Secondary School, a Technical College and a School for the Blind.
The town is now administered by the Urban District Council, the composition of which has been increased from 9 members to 15, and its one-time quarters, a cramped room over a shop, has been replaced by the purchase of a accommodation building in Glanogwr.

In spite of the change brought about by the hand of man, one may say still of Bridgend that this is a pleasant town standing in a beautiful and fertile district and possessing charm and character of its own. It has an interesting past which is a great inspiration to its citizens; stamping its populace with something distinctive, which not even the changes wrought by modern times can change.


G. I. Thomas, Writing for The Festival of Britain Guide of Bridgend, 1951!

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