Bridgend (Pen-y-bont ar Ogwr)
Bridgend by Rob Ibjema
Bridgend - home of my father-in-law and his father - the only Dearmans in this direct line to have a connection - is not having a good time of it at the moment, according to the popular press anyway. Like many Welsh towns which depended to a larger or lesser degree on the collieries of the Welsh valleys, it has suffered a considerable decline after their closure. It has been in the news for all the wrong reasons - unemployment, drug addiction, suicides - this is what a Google search on Bridgend brings up. But then if you read the local community website’s brief history of the place, you could believe the place was flourishing. (Much of what follows is based on their account). So where does the truth lie (probably, as always, somewhere in the middle) and was it ever thus?
It seems that Bridgend was probably occupied well before the Romans as there have been several prehistoric remains found in the area. The Romans settled there - it is a natural stopping point on their route to the port of Neath. Then came the Normans who built three castles (Newcastle, Coity and Ogmore) to protect themselves from the local tribes.
Over time the town developed on the ford over the River Ogmore - thus do many towns have their beginnings. In the fifteenth century a bridge was built and it still stands today, albeit in a diminished form. It developed initially as an agricultural centre being more or less in the centre of the south coast area and it remained so until the discovery of coal in the nineteenth century in the valleys to the north. Bridgend itself did not have coal but it was a vital link in the transport of that coal to London. The twentieth century saw further growth with the building of a huge munitions factory in WW2. Yet greater growth occurred in the 70s with the construction of the M4 and the building of factories by Sony and Ford. There would appear to be much development - housing estates, pedestrianisation of the centre, new civic buildings, etc. - but then there are all those stories of suicides and drugs.
Stepping back in time - Genuki has a link to the obituary of one Thomas Stockwood who died in 1895. Born in 1814 he was witness to a period of huge change, and the obituary vividly describes this:
What changes - aye what revolutions - industrially, socially, politically, - have passed over Bridgend and the county since the distant day when first Mr. Stockwood "stepped into the arena". He has seen practically the whole of Bridgend built; he has seen the railway constructed; he remembered the first steamship sailing from Newport; he remembered the discussion that took place as to the possibility of crossing the wide Atlantic by steam. He had ridden professionally to Quarter Sessions from Usk to Carmarthen; he rode up the Rhondda Valley - now a teeming industrial hive - when there were only two farm houses to be seen, and the whole district was one expanse of forest trees, and desolation reigned supreme; and he remembered the time when Mr. Coffin opened his first coal works in that valley, and heralded the dawn of a great new era, that has brought settled order out of weltering chaos. He was old enough to remember the time when the Parliamentary Elections for the county took place at Bridgend. The electors in those days came from the farther parts of the county to record their votes. The ballot was then the dream of political visionaries, and the voting occupied 10 or 14 days. What exciting scenes were enacted in those days of insurgent political feeling outside the "Bear Inn", and what sensation was created in the town when the supporters of the late Mr. Talbot marched in from Margam to record their votes for their favourite. The Margam Statesman has now passed over to the majority and Mr. Stockwood has now followed him. Mr. Stockwood can also recall when Bridgend folk had to send to Ewenny for their letters. The Royal Mail passed through Ewenny, on the main road through the county for London. Bridgend was off the course, and the postman who carried letters to meet the mail at Ewenny charged each correspondent a penny for carriage”
Old bridge Bridgend
Ruins of Coity Castle - a digital painting by Dennis Melling
Coity Castle by Tannis
An antique print of Bridgend
Old bridge, Bridgend by Graham Bell