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Over the river and into her arms went the bold lover of Ogmore


DURING THE conquest of the South Wales coast, the Normans halted for a brief period on the banks of the Ogmore, where they built three castles at Ogmore, Newcastle and Coity. William de Londres built Ogmore Castle as early as 1116 on the south bank of the Ewenny, a short distance above the confluence of this river and the Ogmore.

He selected the site because the slower moving tidal river could easily be diverted to form a natural moat for his stronghold. It also served as the best lookout for guarding the fords across the two rivers. Even today through the hole in the solid masonry, the river can be seen.

Ten years later, his son, Maurice de Londres, built the keep, the walls of which are six feet wide. It is built of large irregular borders set in brown mortar. The keep was necessary to guard the confluence of the Ogmore and the Ewenny Rivers. The castle was not complete in one period. One building was added in Tudor times, and kept in repair until the 19th Century as a court of justice, a prison and also to receive court fees, rents and other dues.

Though additions were made, the original defences were not entirely swept away and the ditch protecting the south and west side of the ward retains its depth to eight feet. Thus we can trace the growth of this rare “Ring Motte” castle, a living copy of many such little forts portrayed in the Bayeaux Tapestry.

Ogmore Castle formed an important link in the defensive system of the Ogmore estuary. When attacks were threatened, a signal could be flashed to Newcastle and Coity Castles and the assistance could be sent because of the three forts were within supporting distance. This plan was known as the ‘Ogmore Triangle’.

An inscribed pillar establishes the gift of the land to an unknown Celtic Saint before the coming of the Normans. It was found by the de Londres family. This can now be seen in the National Museum for Wales, Cardiff. It reads: “Be it known to all that the Arthmail has given this field to God and to Fili, the Bishop”.

The Welshman in the Vale lived fairly peaceably under the Norman rulers, and this rendered many castles unnecessary, so the importance of Ogmore declined. The ambitious William de Londres did not relish being a tenant under the Lord of Glamorgan, so he pressed westward and conquered the Lordship of Kidwell where he built one of the best castles in Wales; he also conquered Ostermouth in Gower.

William’s son, Maurice, also spent much time in Kidwelly, where he added to his evil reputation. When Gruffydd ap Rhys received important information that the Normans were preparing to launch attacks on his home in Cardigan, the Welsh Chieftan hurried to North Wales to recruit reinforcements, leaving wife Gwenllian, to face the enemy.

The attack was made earlier than expected and Gwenllian bravely led her army, was defeated and captured. Maurice showed no mercy and had her executed on the battlefield at the foot of a mountain called Mynydd-y-Garreg. This field is still known to this day as Maes Gwenllian or Gwenllian’s field.

Today Ogmore Castle commands 52 stepping-stones across the ford of Ewenny and Ogmore rivers. These stones were built for the convenience of a love-stricken girl who lived in the castle. Her lover lived across the river at Merthyr Mawr, and their tryst was impeded by tides and floods. The stepping-stones accomplished their purpose. The lovers married in July 1233. the bridegroom was William de Breose.