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Few locations in the British Isles display the rich history of what life was like living or should I say existing on the frontline of the Norman invasion as it advanced westwards during the early part of the 12th century. But one such place is a stone's throw from Bridgend and only a 30 minute drive from either Swansea or from the centre of Wales' exciting capital - Cardiff. We are talking about Ogmore Castle with its nearby ancient stepping stones across the crystal clear River Ogmore and nearby Ewenny Priory and how they were linked at this momentous time in Welsh history. Not only are both of these ancient symbols of Norman rule there to be enjoyed but the nearby Pelican pub and the tearooms close by are there to tempt you should you need time to relax or maybe some pony trecking over the sandunes across the river.
Unsurprisingly the Welsh were unhappy about being conquered and gave the Normans much trouble. Earlier attempts by the Normans to defend their newly-acquired territory with the fortifications we know as Newcastle located in Bridgend centre, was a failure. Ogmore Castle positioned aside the river was a much better location defensively, leading William de Londres - one of the legendary Twelve Knights of Glamorgan - to commence construction circa 1106. Built on the banks of the beautiful River Ogmore, this stone built stronghold is an excellent example of what is referred to in the USA as being in "arrested decay". It is now in the custody of CADW.
But did this defence work? Not entirely, requiring William's son Maurice de Londres to be a little more imaginative. To engage the local Welsh through religion was seen as his answer. And so in 1115, began the construction of Ewenny Priory dedicated as the Church of St. Michael 5 years later. It was later that same century that twelve Benedictine monks from St. Peter's Abbey in Gloucester, took up residence in what is today referred to as the "monastic end" of the Priory with its dormitory, library and refectory etc. Public worship took place in the Nave and Chancel (often referred to as the "church end") as it does to this day. There have been few changes to the Priory in the 900 years since it was founded though there is very little left of the area where the monks lived. Public worship and Music Festivals still take place on a regular basis.
It has to be said that the planned religious influence masterminded by Maurice which brought the 12 monks to Ewenny initially had very little influence on the mood of the Welsh. Attacks on the Priory -a symbol of Norman rule, were frequent necessitating the Priory to eventually be fortified over the course of it's first 100 years. That is why today's visitor may be surprised to see a massive Curtain Wall on approaching the Priory and inside the Bell Tower, an area where soldiers were garrisoned. If you stand underneath the Bell Tower in the monastic end of the Priory and look upwards, you will see a wooden floor above your head where Norman soldiers were once garrisoned. You can even still see the tiny access steps that the soldiers rushed down when they were scrambled. These castle-like fortifications were not only built to provide protection for the monks but with Coity Castle and Newcastle, a ring of defence was created with Ewenny Priory being able to act as a look-out post. Ewenny Priory is now one of the best preserved fortified Norman monasteries in Wales.
The part played by Maurice de Londres in the history of this area is without parallel and his remains are to be found buried in the South Transept. Why is this when he carried out so many vile acts against the Welsh? Some would say that by giving the Priory to the Church of St. Peter at Gloucester, Maurice achieved some measure of atonement.
Visitors wanting to dig a little deeper into the technologies that were used at the time to manufacture the floor tiles and the stained glass windows are amply rewarded by a visit to the pottery and the stained glass window workshop in Ewenny Village.