Welcome back again!
Thank you kindly for returning back so soon! We are thrilled that so many people have read the first part of our review from the trip to Ogmore-by-Sea! It seems that our column, One Castle a day, generates a lot of traffic for our little blog. It is a cheering thought that we are not the only ones who love history, local legends and visiting all the strange places! If you have missed the previous entry, here’s the link to the article:
Today, we will try to interest our readers in Ogmore Castle, a tiny ruined Norman fortress that is sadly overlooked by tourists. It is a truly romantic place and we cannot think of a reason why, it doesn’t get much coverage. When we started researching the topic in preparation for this entry, we couldn’t find many historical facts and a trip to local library was necessary to be able to learn more. Yet, our efforts were rewarded and we will be happy to share the knowledge we have gained!
Compared to the castles we have seen in the past, Ogmore Castle may not look as impressive or grand. Indeed, it has been constructed not as a seat for the king or a local lord, but simply as a protective fortress overlooking the newly conquered lands. We don’t know when exactly the castle has been built, but the chronicles mention that “Ogor Castelle” was being completed sometime around 1106. An earlier fort or fortified manor might have existed before the castle, as the crossing between River Ogmore and River Ewenny was an important strategic point and a trade route for the Welsh tribes since at least the 10th century.
Known to the Welsh as Castell Ogwr, Ogmore Castle played an important part in a defensive line against the Welsh attack on barely established Norman domain in Glamorgan Vale. Along with two other fortresses, Coity Castle and Newcastle Castle in Bridgend, Ogmore served as a fortified border separating the Welsh from Norman invaders. Creation of such barrier was essential – the political situation of the region was complicated after the major Norman victory and successful campaign of Robert Fitzhamon in 1075.
To understand why Ogmore Castle was so vital to Normans, we need to tell you more about Robert Fitzhamon himself and his connections at the royal court in London. Robert was a proud grandchild of Hamon Dentatus, a powerful noble man, holder of many titles and lands in Normandy. He didn’t fight at the battle of Hastings and is not mentioned in Doomsday book, but several of his close relatives are. Robert probably arrived to England after 1066, after being called by the new king – William the Conqueror. The reason for his arrival is not certain, but Robert quickly has been dispatched deep into Wales, continuing William’s policy of conquest and unification of the British Isles. His skills and bravery quickly won him the respect of other knights and by 1075 Robert won several battles in Glamorgan area, successfully driving the Welsh army away. In recognition for his service, Fitzhamon was named the first Lord of Glamorgan. By 1088, Robert’s position was so strong that he has been chosen as an adviser of William Rufus (Wiliam the Red), William the Conqueror’s son in his struggles against his older brother Robert Curthose. The events known now as Rebellion of 1088 had serious consequences: Robert Curthose has not been successful in claiming the English throne and Wiliam Rufus became the most powerful ruler in Europe, not only being crowned the King of England but also taking much power away from Robert in Normandy. Fitzhamon found himself working for the richest ruler in the world and his faithful service has been rewarded greatly – he received the feudal barony of Gloucester with over 200 fortified manors. As baron, Robert Fitzhamon became the most powerful of the Marcher Lords and continued his conquest of Southern Wales until his death in 1107. A popular legend mentions Robert and his Twelve Knights of Glamorgan winning numerous battles against the Welsh royalty and cunningly gaining the Cardiff Castle for themselves. You can learn more about their heroic deeds here:
According to the legend, one of the Glamorgan Knights was named Sir William de Londres (also known as William of London) and he was given the Ogmore province to govern. At first Williams was pleased with Fitzhamon decision as he found Ogmore to be very beautiful and fertile land. However, he soon realized the whole area was under constant attack from the Welsh and was considered the most dangerous to rule. To keep his borders intact, William constructed “Ogmore triangle” – three castles and Ewanny Priory in the middle. All buildings have been given thick stone walls and natural protection provided by hills and rivers.
Ogmore Castle has been captured only once during the Welsh attack in 1116. William de Londres had to abandon it for a short period of time, but his butler, Arnold led the defense and managed to get the castle back with minimal loss of life. He was later knighted and received the castle and manor of Dunraven as reward.
Ogmore Castle has been rebuild several times. The first person to change the original structure of the building was Maurice de Londres, William’s eldest son, who created an oblong keep, now the highest surviving building and the oldest keep in Glamorgan. A wooden palisade was replaced by a new stone wall in 1200 and a new bailey has been added later. By the 14th century, the castle enclosed an area of 164 feet (50 m) in length by 115 feet (35 m) in width with well designed courtyard, additional private buildings, administrative center, a court house and elaborate two story high gateway. Lise Hull writes in her book “Britain’s Medieval Castles” that despite rather basic exterior (consisting of “irregularly shaped field stones, glacial pebbles, Lias limestone slabs held with brown mortar), the interior of the castle was modern and quite luxurious. The castle had round-headed windows decorated with Sutton stone ashlar that was considered uncommon in the 12th century, a great hall with kitchen and an ornate fire place on the first floor, a latrine tower and private chambers on second floor equipped with large garderobes (added roughly 100 years later). Castle rooms were decorated by paintings and tapestries. Sadly, the ruins we can see today are showing only a fragment of the original castle – three walls, the keep and some external buildings have survived.
Two local legends are connected with Ogmore Castle. We have mentioned the first one in previous entry, but by mistake we called the haunted spirit a Gray Lady. Her true name is Y Ladi Wen (“the White Lady”) and she can be seen around the stepping stones looking for her lost treasures. The other legend is quite interesting and it is worth writing about.
After losing the Ogmore Castle to the Welsh (and then getting it back thanks to the actions of Arnold Butler), Maurice de Londres swore revenge. Each Welshmen captured in the woods belonging to the Norman nobles was to be tortured and then sentenced to death. One day, during a hunting party, Maurice’s knights found a Welsh poacher aiming at a stag with his arrow. Caught in the act, the proud Welshman was brought to the court at Ogmore to meet his destiny. Entire castle came to the yard to witness the torture and the execution of a mysterious stranger, but despite pain, the young man would not scream or beg for mercy. He introduce himself as a Welsh prince and admitted that hunger suffered by his people forced him to hunt in the forest. The prince refused to apologize, blaming the Norman invaders for the fate of his people. His proud speech and bravery impressed Maurice’s daughter so much that she pleaded with her father for the life of the Welshman to be saved. It was her birthday as well and she wanted no gifts or jewellery, only the prince to be spared. Her father agreed, the Welsh prince would live yet the girl pressed for more. She begged her father to give the Welsh people a land where they could hunt freely. De Longres wasn’t pleased with such request but yet again he complied, but under one condition. The land given to the Welsh was to be as big as the distance his daughter would walk barefoot from the moment until the sundown. The girl was offered no shoes and she was to set on her journey at once. The girl didn’t think twice – she left the castle and traveled for miles and miles, over hills and valleys. She stepped on a rock injuring herself but she would not stop, she kept on going until she reached the sea. Two soldiers followed her and reported to her father how far she went. On the next morning, the Welsh prince has been set free and was told about the girl’s sacrifice. The distance she covered was given to Welsh as promised and the prince could return home. The girl and the prince have never met again, but her kind deed was known among the Welsh tribes. The beach the girl arrived at is now called Southerndown and the land is known as the Southerndown Common. It has belonged to the public ever since.
Southerndown is a popular beach near Ogmore-by-Sea and we plan to visit it next time we go there. Doctor Who fans will recognize it as Bad Wold Bay from “Doomsday”, the place where the 10th Doctor and Rose Tyler said their final goodbye’s.
Additional information about the castle can be found here:
And we are done! We are leaving the beautiful Ogmore behind us and we are moving on to Saundersfoot! Come back in a few days time, our next entry is going to be amazing!
Have a great evening,
lots of xxxx
Rita and Mal D.