Cefn is situated about four miles north of Porthcawl and is today a long, sprawling village running along the top of a spur or ridge whose height and shape give it a commanding position in the area. From almost anywhere in Cefn (Welsh for back or ridge) the surrounding countryside can be clearly seen; and its potentialities for defence were spotted by the earliest peoples. The Ancient Britons built a camp or fort there and it became known as Castell Kribor. Later defence works were built on the approach routes such as at Pyle (in Welsh Pil, meaning a stronghold).
From their fastness on the ridge the people of Cefn were therefore able to look down upon the world round about them and feel immensely secure. By the nineteenth century they had almost become a people apart and any stranger visiting the area was at best eyed with silent hostility and suspicion and at worst attacked so fiercely that he would think twice before venturing there again.
But the soil on the ridges was so poor that it was impossible for any large community to remain there in comfort and so bands of the tougher men took to descending upon the lowlands and taking what they required. No farm or building was safe from them: sheep and cattle began to disappear in large quantities. From that it was but a small step to plain thuggery and the Cefn Riders as they came to be called, roamed far and wide, attacking strangers and packmen with impunity. Sometimes they went on horse-back but more often on foot and they came to be greatly feared as far afield as Merthyr and the Vale of Glamorgan. They showed little mercy to their victims and there is a very good description of one of their attacks in Alexander Cordell’s The Fire People in which the Riders indulge in their favourite pastime of leaping on a traveller’s back and forcing him to carry them some way along their journey.
The Red Goblins lived lived a little further afield, in the mountainous area between the Garw and Maesteg. It is not known how they got their name – perhaps they wore read caps – but they, too were a band of ruffians living on what they stole from people living in the lowlands beneath them. From there caves on the mountain side they sallied forth in wide sweeping raids. Their favourite hunting ground was the area extending from the Vale of Glamorgan to the coast. Once they caught the Carmenthenshire drovers on their way to the meat markets of London and relieved them of their entire herd.
Unlike the Cefn Riders the Red Goblin seem to have been capable of gallant acts and they always treated women honorably Perhaps this was because their ranks contained men of good breeding who had joined the gang merely for adventure. In spite of this, however, mothers were able to make their children behave with the phrase, ‘Hush! or the Red Goblins will get you’.
By Alun Morgan
Illustration by Margaret Wooding