It is May 1404. Pretty much the whole of Wales is now involved in the Owain Glyndwr revolt as he fights his war of independence. Cardiff is in flames, and just north of Bridgend in Glamorgan, Coity Castle, the home of Sir Lawrence Berkerolles is under siege. A siege which lasts for nearly 2 years – the longest of the entire conflict.
But what do we know of this battle? Why was Coity so important it warranted a two year siege? Who was fighting on behalf of the King of England at Coity and who was fighting for Glyndwr? What was the role of Ogmore Castle and Ewenny Priory and why were those places left in ruins? And the local families at the heart of the action; the Flemings, Berkerolles and Turbervilles, as well as Prince Hal (the future Henry V), Parliament and Owain Glyndwr himself.
In this video I discuss these events with Claire Miles (the history blogger – Hisdoryan). We talk about the origins and causes of Glyndwr’s revolt, his vision for Wales and England, the Triparteid Indenture with Mortimer and Percy, the role played by Henry IV and of course the sieges and battles of Glamorgan. We also look at the tell tale scars in the local landcsape and local buildings that show the evidence of the siege.
And we look at Glyndwr himself. Who he was, his modern legacy, how his revolt got off the ground, how it succeeded for so many years and then ultimately failed. And what was it about him that made him such a charismatic figure, a man William Shakespear described as extraordinary. In his play Henry IV (Part one) Shakespear’s characterisation of Glyndwr says this about himself:
“At my birth the front of heaven was full of fiery shapes…
I have quite a strong connection with the village of Laleston, near Bridgend. I grew up in the parish, went to the primary school and sang in the church choir. So speaking as someone with that background who is mad about legends and folklore and the origins of local place names, you can imagine my delight at stumbling across a legend about the origins of the name “Laleston” (or “Trelales” in Welsh). And my embarrassment at only now discovering it.
I am indebted to Bill Howells from the Llynfi Valley History Society for alerting me to it.
The story goes that the village is named after a man called Lales (pronounced “Lalless”) who was a very talented stone mason.
He was not indigenous Welsh but was captured in the holy land during the crusades. He was brought to Wales by his capturer and was put out to general duties on his master’s estate.
However the opportunity to demonstrate his true skills did not present itself quickly. After he had been in Wales for the best part of a year, it came when a stone wall enclosing a field of livestock collapsed during a storm. He was set to work to make good what he could before the animals escaped while a local stone mason was sent for.
When the local craftsman arrived at the scene the wall was not simply patched up as expected. The repairs had been completed and had been done so to a really high standard using techniques which the local man had never seen before.
The stonemason was amazed and asked Lalless how he had done the work and for him to teach the stonemason his unique abilities. Lalless unable to speak a word of Welsh and the stonemason unable to speak his language, the two men communicated solely through mime and gesture and through plans and sketches drawn in the mud with a stick.
They bonded over mutual respect and an appreciation of one another’s skills and through their love of stone.
In time they learned each other’s languages and became firm friends. Lalless converted to Christianity and became popular with local people. He and his friend the local stonemason worked on the construction of many cottages and farms in the area and most particularly the church that has ever since been the parish church of Laleston. But sadly, before the work could be completed he died.
Such was his popularity amongst the people of the village he had helped to build, that the village has ever since been known as Lalless’ town.
It is, I’m sure you would agree, a rather wonderful story. And it does go some way to explaining why the Lale part of “Laleston” is pronounced “Lall” like pal not lale like pale.
Beyond that, how likely is it to be true?
It is hard to say. Some folklore is dreamt up by bards to entertain their audience. But there is also a lot of folklore which has a truth somewhere at the heart of it. Even if evidence to back it up is thin on the ground.
We know that several local knights fought at various crusades. The 12th Century Archdeacon of Brecon and chronicler Gerald of Wales boasted in his writing at how effective he was at recruiting crusaders from amongst both Welsh and Anglo/Norman nobility in our area.
The De Chaworth brothers of Ogmore, Sir Richard Siward of Llanblethian, Sir Hugh Jonnys and Jasper Berkerolles of St Athan to name but a few. And they were lauded for their military prowess. In fact Henry II of England wrote to the Byzantine emperor to praise their military fervour, stating that “they do not hesitate to do battle”. So there is no shortage of candidates to have brought Lalless to our shores.
It wasn’t common place to capture ordinary people even skilled craftsmen and bring them back to put them to work. However kidnapping the heirs of wealthy families and holding them for ransom was very common place. So if this story is true it is more likely this was why we was brought here. And if the ransome was not paid and he was helpful to have around the place then why not keep him on.
Like so many of our fantastic legends, the mystery surrounding its origins is as tantalising as the story itself. And I love that.
We have just had a very significant anniversary in Bridgend which many local people may be forgiven for not having noticed. But it is a remarkable story that bears repeating until everyone is aware of it.
It was 10th March 1945, and the world was in the closing stages of its second World War. Earlier in the day, the people of Bridgend, much like those everywhere else in Britain, were glued to the evening news on their ‘wirelesses’. Reports were coming in that the last remaining German forces west of the Rhine had retreated. They must have been jubilant and gone to their beds with a spring in their step. The horrors of war would have seemed far away. Surely the war is now nearly over?
In the bigger scheme of things, these thoughts would have been quite justified. But events were to unfold that very night that would give the people of Bridgend one last fright.
The lead story on the midnight news must have had people shocked to their cores. 70 German prisoners of war had broken out of Island Farm Prisoner of War camp in Bridgend. The single biggest breakout of German POWs of the entire war in Britain. Soldiers and Police were being drafted in from surrounding areas to try and track them all down. People were warned to stay indoors and keep their windows and doors bolted shut.
Eventually all 70 had been rounded up. Most seemed to see the escape as just some high jinks as 23 of them only went as far as the dunes in Merthyr Mawr before stopping to set up a camp. A couple more were altogether more adventurous. They stole a doctor’s car in Bridgend but without the keys they had trouble starting it. Then some off duty soldiers came across them. The escaped German POWs convinced the soldiers that they were Scandinavian engineers working in Bridgend and persuaded the soldiers to give them a push. With a wave as they disappeared into the distance, they drove the stolen car until it ran out of fuel in Gloucestershire. They then boarded a train that took them to within a few miles of Birmingham where they got off and hid in a bush near an airfield to plan their next move. They potentially could have made a ‘home run’ if it were not for a curious herd of cows who surrounded the bush to investigate who their new neighbours were. The farmer raised the alarm, and the last remaining fugitives were captured.
There is a small group of volunteers who are determined to keep this story and all the other history wrapped up in the Island Farm camp alive. They call themselves the Hut 9 Island Farm Preservation Society and they are custodians of the last remaining hut on the camp. The one from which the Germans tunnelled out and that tunnel by the way, 78 years later, is still very much intact. German engineering you see – there’s nothing like it.
In most people’s minds, Island Fam Camp is synonymous only with just one event. But as momentous as it was, there is a lot more than that to discover.
Island Farm Camp was originally planned as a dormitory for the ladies working in the vast munitions factory in Bridgend during WWII. At its hight employing over 40,000 people (mostly women) from all over South Wales. This was the biggest factory in the UK at the time.
In the run up to D-Day it was commandeered by the US army to house American Infantrymen. And after D-Day, when German soldiers started to be captured in their thousands it was needed to hold prisoners of war.
In this video I talk to Brett Exton from the Hut 9 (Island Farm) Preservation Society. We look at the background and the fall out from the largest break out of German Prisoners of War ever on British soil when the eyes of the nation was on South Wales.
We look at how the camp came into being and its full life cycle in four very different phases. Including the period immediately after the war when it was used as a holding bay for top German brass awaiting trial at Nuremberg.
We also take a look at the work being done today to keep the history alive and to give members of the public the opportunity to visit the camp and see what life was like for those who lived there.
I hope you enjoy this video. And if you do, please subscribe to this channel and share on social media.
We have some truly wild stories from our history here in South Wales. And this one is right up there.
Arguably the most spectacular story from Welsh medieval history is that of William Cragh and Lady Mary de Brouize. It amazes me how few people seem to have heard of it. These people were superstars in their day and in 1320 they put places like Candleston, Merthyr Mawr, Ogmore, Ewenny and Bridgend on the map.
But who were they? what was their amazing story? Why were they so famous? Why did they visit some really out of the way places in our area on their pilgrimage to Hereford? And why is that pilgrimage known as both The Hanged Man Pilgrimage and St Thomas Way?
The story begins with the backdrop of war. A Welsh rebellion against the Norman land owners and a raid on a Castle which ends in the capture of an enigmatic figure. But when attempts to execute him go spectacularly wrong, stories of a miracle spread throughout the known world. Even the pope got involved. But how does any of that concern Ogmore Castle?
In this video from the ‘History from the Vale of Glamorgan’ series I piece the whole story together and based on my own research, share with you my theory on why they came here.
I also share with you a theory that Ogmore Castle might be on the site of a place which was sacred to our ancient pagan ancestors. A place dedicated to the goddess Bridget. Drawing on things like near by place names such as St Brides, the ever present symbol of the pelican which lent its name to the local pub, and of course legends of ‘a white lady’ in the area. Bridget was the original white lady. In fact that is why when ladies put on a white wedding dress, they are described as ‘brides’.
Strap your selves in folks because this one is a real roller coaster. Click below to watch the video in full. Subtitles are available. Just click the CC button at the top of your screen.
Glamorgan folklore is awash with countless stories about the Norman invasion of Morgannwg (which at that time was the south Wales kingdom spanning between the Severn and Neath estuaries). Many of these tales are no doubt based on some real history, but the narrative inevitably drifts off at some point to allow the bards who retold them to entertain their audience more fully. We are lucky that many were captured in the sixteenth century by Sir Edward Stradling in his book ‘the Winning of the Lordship of Glamorgan out of Welsh- mens’ Hands’.
One of my favourites concerns how Iestyn Ap Cwrgan, King of Morgannwg enlisted the help of the Normans to settle a dispute. But at what cost?
There was nothing the ancient kings and princes of Wales loved more than a good fight amongst themselves, and Iestyn ap Cwrgan and Rhys ap Tewdwr of Dehaubarth (west Wales) had been at it for years.
The legend has it that Iestyn was getting frustrated at how long the feud had been running. Both sides were equally matched on the battlefield, neither side willing to back down, and there had been much bloodshed for very little gain.
So, after consulting his closest and wisest councillors, he agreed to send one of them, Einon Ap Collwyn, to meet with Robert Fitzhamon, the Norman earl of Gloucester, to ask for his help in defeating his troublesome neighbour. Einon was a natural choice for the job, as he was not only a knight who had proven his loyalty to Iestyn many times on the battlefield, but he was also himself of royal descent. He was the brother of Cadifor, the former prince of Dyfed who had been deposed by Rhys. Their family were well known to the English nobility, and there are even suggestions that Einon served William II when he was in France. Iestyn promised Einon that, if his mission was successful, he would grant him his daughter’s hand in marriage, thus aligning their two royal households for eternity.
Einon met Fitzhamon and negotiated a deal whereby the earl would lend Iestyn the hired muscle of his twelve most trusted knights and their cohorts of soldiers in return for ‘a mile of gold’. The two men shook hands on the deal and Einon returned to Morgannwg with his mercenary force in tow.
Buoyed by this vast tactical advantage, Iestyn threw down the challenge to Rhys to meet him in battle at Brecon. With Iestyn’s own forces bolstered by the mighty armies of the twelve knights, he won easily, and Rhys’ army was decimated.
Rhys took flight, and Iestyn’s troops pursued him all the way to Hirwaun, where they finally caught, trapped, and killed him. It had been a great victory.
During the ensuing victory celebrations, the Norman troops marched to a mile-long section of the old Roman road (the Via Julia Maritima which was built in the Antonine period to link the forts between Gloucester and Neath – these days mostly followed by the A48). They lined up in one long rank and gold coins were placed side by side along the line of soldiers so that Fitzhamon would get his promised ‘mile of gold’. Each soldier would bend down, pick up the coins nearest them, then march back to Gloucester with their treasure. The stretch of road in question has ever since been known locally as ‘the Golden Mile’.
For Einon, the joy of victory in battle was short lived. He turned to Iestyn to remind him of his promise of his daughter’s hand, but Iestyn denied having ever made such a commitment and refused him.
Outraged that he had been duped, the broker of this victory, and the only one not to have profited from it, he returned to Gloucester and asked Fitzhamon if he would join forces with him and turn against their former ally.
Fitzhamon needed little persuasion. He saw a chance to gain wealth and land for himself. So Einon, Fitzhamon and the twelve knights returned to Wales and destroyed Iestyn’s army in a fierce and bloody battle. They sacked his castle and court and, in the legend, killed Iestyn in the battle, although other records suggest he lived until 1093.
Thus began the Norman occupation of South Wales.
There is some arguement about where the ‘Golden Mile’ actually is. According to local historian, Alun Morgan, the stretch of road in question is now part of the A48 between the top of Crack Hill and Pentre Myrig in the Vale of Glamorgan, not, as some believe, from the bottom of Crack Hill (by Brocastle) to roughly where ‘Bridgend Ford’ is. His arguement against the Brocastle stretch was that this was never part of the Roman road (which is true). But as we are discussing folklore here, rather than verifiable history, it’s probably not a detail worth getting too hung-up about. Each is as likely as the other in that regard.
Ewenny Priory is recognised by countless textbooks as the finest example of unmodernised, Norman ecclesiastical work in Britain. But despite its renown, it still holds many secrets. Not least of which, why a place supposedly built to house just 12 monks and a prior is quite so big? And given that the principal pursuit of those monks was study, scribing and worship, why was it built like a mighty fortress?
To get to the bottom of all that, we need to know something about its benefactor; Maurice De Londres and what he is likely to have had in mind when he commissioned it.
Even by the standards of other Norman, warrior knights, De Londres was a brute. He had a fearsome reputation which was dramatically encapsulated when he decapitated Princess Gwenllyan of Dehaubarth in Kidwelly. He was certainly not known to be a godly man.
He had always intended to build a mighty castle in Ewenny to provide the local Norman lordships with what scholars have ever since described as a “quadrilateral defence” of the main crossing points of the Ewenny and Ogmore rivers. With Coity and Newcastle to the North, and Ogmore and Ewenny to South. But if that was his plan, what persuaded him to instead build what we still describe today as “a priory”, a place fundamentally intended to be “a house of God”?
There is a commonly held belief that at some point, De Londres built the priory as a way of atoning for his former sins (just as Richard De Glanville did when he financed the Abbey in Neath). Call me cynical, but I am not altogether convinced by that theory. I believe that instead, his true motivation was a decree issued by Pope Honorius II himself, dated 12th April 1128 (six years after work had begun on the site). It threatened De Londres that if he did not “restore and make good whatever lands, tithes, obligations, or other valuables he had appropriated from his mother church…” – that he would be ex-communicated. In other words, De Londres had clearly plundered a pre-existing monastic building on the site and had already begun building a castle on it. But the Pope wanted it back.
There are records of this older site. The 12th Century “Book of Llandaff” lists a Celtic cell dedicated to the early Welsh saint, St Eguenni in the area. The fact that the pope had threatened De Londres with ex-communication, a fate of social disgrace from which a nobleman could not recover meant he had made De Londres an offer he could not refuse.
To say that De Londres was reluctant would be an understatement, so he built what was fundamentally the fortress he was going to build anyway but to appease the Vatican, annexed it to a priory cell and turned over its custody to the Benedictine order of St Peter at Gloucester Abbey. Hence its size. It needed to be big enough to house 13 monks to keep the pope happy, plus a detachment of men-at-arms to help De Londres subdue the troublesome Welsh.
It seems that beyond the Vatican, there was little pretence of what he had done. King Edward I stationed troops at the priory to assist with his invasion of West Wales, so he clearly knew of its intended purpose. And nearly 200 years later, when Owain Glyndwr laid siege to Coity Castle in 1405, King Henry IV stayed and launched his counterattack from Ewenny Priory. So even he knew that this priory was a castle really and only a priory in name. There is evidence to suggest that the King was also compliant in the deception as he went on to nominate Hugh Morton, the Prior at Ewenny at the time, to be appointed the next Abbot of St Peter’s Gloucester. A huge promotion for him and doubtless a reward for maintaining the pretence of what Ewenny Priory really was if the Pope ever asked.
Graham Loveluck-Edwards (published in the Glamorgan Star newspaper 18 November 2021)