St. Illtyd's Church, Newcastle Hill.

A view of St. Illtyd's Church, c.1910.

St Illtyd's Church is a  Grade II* listed building situated below Newcastle. It sits on the western bank of the river Ogmore and overlooks the town of Bridgend. The church was originally dedicated to St. Leonard, the patron saint of prisoners, which is why throughout this post the church is referred to as both St. Illtyd's and St. Leonard's. 

It is thought that the church of St. Leonard was built around the time of the (stone) erection of Newcastle. One of the first recorded references to Newcastle can be found in a Confirmation by Henry I of grants by Rober FitzHamon to the Abbey of Tewkesbury.  This includes a reference to

During 1154, the church of Newcastle claimed tithes from the lands of Geoffrey Sturmi, after a dispute with the Lordship of Kenfig and arbitration by Archbishop Theobald.

In 1226, both the church and castle of Newcastle were attacked and almost destroyed by the Welsh from Afan. This attack was one of many such attacks on the area of Newcastle. It was considered the most vulnerable of castles in the Norman-occupied area.

St. Leonard's Church saw many disputes during the 1200s. An example of such disputes is one that took place during 1267. It was between Margam and Tewkesbury and regarded the tithes of St. Leonard's Church. The dispute was settled by a Papal Bull of Pope Clement IV, dated 22nd January 1268. As a result of this, Margam was given the rights to the tithes of St. Leonard's Church but Tewkesbury was given the patronage of the vicarage with a fixed yearly rent.

(This lasted until 1486 when Margam took over the tithes of Newcastle in toto.)

Newcastle Castle

1404 sees that besiegement of Coity Castle by Owain Glyndwr and his forces. Newcastle and St. Leonard's Church were heavily damaged by the attacks that followed. It is recorded that the manorial mill of Ogmore Castle was completely destroyed as a result of Glyndwr's attacks.

It is thought that sometime during the 1550s, St. Leonard's Church was rededicated to St. Illtyd the Knight. After the dissolution of the monasteries, the tithes of Newcastle were sold to Sir Rice Mansel of Margam hence becoming part of the Margam Estate until the redemption of the tithes.
Vicars of Newcastle

After the sixteenth-century up until the nineteenth-century, there doesn't seem to be many records available regarding St. Illtyd's Church. An article published in The Cambrian Journal of 1860 tells us that there were deaths recorded in the area as early as 1654 and 1675. The earliest death recorded in the churchyard is that of Ann Williams who died in 1636. The memorial tablet of Ann Willaims was one fixed to the exterior wall of the tower but now seems to be lost.

A collection of memorials in the Vestry also give us an interesting insight into the period.

It is reported in The Cambrian that the tower of St. Illtyd's Church was struck by lightning. The event took place on the Friday before the 30th of November 1822.

"On Friday se'nnight, the south-west corner of the steeple of Newcastle church, Bridgend, in this county, was struck by lightning, and a large stone carried several yards distance. The electric fluid descended through the tower without in the least degree affecting the bells or the clock; but in the belfry a large stone was forced from the wall, and thrown to the opposite side of the steeple. It is then supposed to have entered the ground in one of the pews, as the walls in that part of the church were covered with earth."

By 1849, there seemed to be growing concern that the church was not big enough to house the growing congregation. At that time, the church was able to hold a congregation of 106 and 80 children.  A meeting was held to discuss the possibility of enlarging the church. The estimated cost of doing so was £1,000 – they proceeded with the enlargement of the church which was an addition of the North Aisle. The church was re-opened on the 23rd December 1850 by the Bishop of Llandaff.

The church was again enlarged in 1893. The chancel was reconstructed and a vestry was added.  The works were executed by William Clark of Llandaff.

As a consequence of the nineteenth-century renovations, the tower of the church is now the only 'ancient' portion of the building remaining.

The Altar

The Lynch Gate of St. Illtyd's Church.

(Sources: Dr. Randall - Bridgend 900 - The Cambrian Journal - LLGC)

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