Although William I had briefly advanced into South Wales in the early 1080s, where he may have built Cardiff Castle, there was no centrally co-ordinated Norman campaign to conquer all or part of the Principality during the late eleventh century. Instead Norman Barons were encouraged to seize land and forge autonomous Lordships providing they took the responsibility for securing and suppressing the area. These so-called Marcher Lords were nominally subject to the King of England but were effectively defacto rulers in their conquered lands. One such Lord was Robert Fitzhamon, Baron of Gloucester who was encouraged by William II to attack the Welsh Kingdom of Morgannwg in South Wales. Supported by twelve Knights and their retinues, he advanced from Gloucester around 1089, built Newport Castle and then moved west into the Vale of Glamorgan where he established his administrative centre at Cardiff. However the flat land of the Vale suited Norman military operations and, sometime prior to 1106, he had advanced as far west as the River Ogmore. This natural barrier became a temporary frontier between the native Welsh and the Normans but, more importantly, it offered easy access. Accordingly the Normans built three major fortifications along its length - Coity (raised by Payn de Turberville), Ogmore (William de Londres) and the ‘new castle’ at Bridgend. The latter controlled a key crossing over the river.
Precisely who initially founded the Newcastle is unclear but it was probably Robert Fitzhamon himself rather than his retainers. Occupying a buff overlooking the river, it was initially raised as an earth-and-timber ringwork fortification. By the 1180s though the site was being rebuilt with the inner earthwork ring converted into a stone Keep perhaps by the then owner - William FitzRobert, Earl of Gloucester. The outer curtain wall, the polygonal shell seen today, was built soon after seemingly to a much higher standard. Constructed entirely from ashlar, the sheer expense of that building material suggests it was probably Henry II who funded this upgrade after having taken control of the castle following the Welsh rebellion of Morgan ap Caradog in 1183-4. This impressive courtyard fortification was further augmented with two mural towers.
Newcastle was retained in Royal ownership until the death of Henry II in 1189. Thereafter it was given to Prince John (later King John) who granted it to Morgan ap Caradog as he built support amongst the Welsh. By 1214 though it was back in Royal ownership but precisely what happened thereafter is unclear. It seems to have been granted to Gilbert Turbeville, Lord of Coity in the subsequent years as a record dated 1217 has the castle being returned to him by Henry III - perhaps indicating that Gilbert had been one of the magnates who had opposed King John during the First Barons' War. Gilbert, whose main seat was at nearby Coity Castle, had little interest in Newcastle and he neglected the structure. It later passed through the Berkerolle and Gamage families but no major work was undertaken on the structure until the sixteenth century when it was converted to meet the levels of comfort expected in a Tudor home. Despite the upgrades it ceased to be a residence in the late sixteenth century and in 1718 was purchased by Samuel Edwin of Llanmihangel Place. The site later became part of Dunraven estate.
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Newcastle Castle consists of a broadly circular courtyard castle protected by an expensive ashlar curtain wall that stands almost to its full height. Also of note is the late twelfth century carvings around the entrance which is one of the best surviving examples of Norman stonework in a secular building in South Wales.
Norman Penetrations Into Wales c1150. There was no centralised Norman advance into South Wales during the eleventh century. Instead Norman Barons were encouraged to seize land and so the conquest was a piecemeal affair characterised by periods of expansion (1067-1094 and 1100-1135) and contraction (1094-1100 and 1135-1154) as they vied for control with native Welsh. The Vale of Glamorgan was conquered by Robert Fitzhamon late in the eleventh century and by his death in 1107 he had extended his influence to the River Ogmore.
Keep. The curtain wall, including the elaborate entrance, was probably built by Henry II in the 1180s. Two square mural towers were added at this time reflecting the latest in castle design. However, on other fortifications, the concept proved vulnerable to assault from throwing machines/other artillery and was later superseded by round towers.
Mural Tower. Seen from inside the curtain wall.
NEWCASTLE CASTLE (BRIDGEND)
In the late eleventh century Robert Fitzhamon, Baron of Gloucester invaded the Vale of Glamorgan and by the early twelfth century had extended the land under his control as far west as the River Ogmore. Along this interim frontier, he built a number of fortifications including Newcastle at Bridgend.
Newcastle Castle (Bridgend Castle) is found off Newcastle Hill Road. The site is sign-posted and there is a small car park in the vicinity.
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River Ogmore. Robert Fitzhamon and/or his retainers built three castles along the River Ogmore which for a time served as a frontier between Norman expansion and the Welsh.