Welsh: Pen-y-bont ar Ogwr
The Ogmore flows under the Old Bridge
Bridgend is a town in Glamorgan, 22 miles west of the county town, Cardiff. The river crossed by the original bridge, which gave the town its name, is the River Ogmore but the River Ewenny also passes to the south of the town.
Bridgend has greatly expanded in size since the early 1980s and had a population of 39,429 in 2001.
Prehistoric and Roman
Several prehistoric burial mounds have been found in the vicinity of Bridgend suggesting that the area was settled before Roman times. The A48 between Bridgend and Cowbridge has a portion, known locally as "Crack Hill", a Roman road. The Vale of Glamorgan would have been a natural low-level route west to the Roman fort and harbour at Neath (Nidum) from settlements in the east such as Cardiff and Caerleon (Isca Silurum).
The Norman invasion
After the Norman conquest of England in 1066, the new establishment looked westwards in the following decades to create new seats for lords loyal to William the Conqueror. Groups of Norman barons arrived in Wales and in the south and east created what would later become the Welsh Marches, while the north and west remained largely unconquered due to the harsh terrain.
At Coity, the local Welsh chieftain Morgan Gam already had a stronghold. Sometime in the 11th century Norman Lord Payn de Turberville approached Morgan to turn over control of Coity Castle to de Turberville. Morgan Gam agreed, but only if de Turberville either fought Morgan for the land, or took Gam's daughter Sybil's hand in marriage. Turberville married Sybil and became Lord of Coity, rebuilding the castle.
In 1106, Newcastle Castle (on Newcastle Hill, overlooking the town centre) and Ogmore Castle (1116) were built by Robert Fitzhamon and William de Londres respectively. About 2 miles north-east of Ogmore Castle, Maurice de Londres founded the fortified Benedictine Ewenny Priory in 1141.
These three castles provided a "defensive triangle" for the area (or a quadrilateral, if one includes Ewenny Priory.)
Bridgend itself developed at a ford on the River Ogmore, which was on the main route between east and west Wales. Just north of the town, there is the confluence of three rivers, the River Ogmore, the Llynfi River and the Garw River. South of Bridgend the River Ewenny merges with the River Ogmore and flows into the Bristol Channel. In the 15th century, a stone bridge was built to connect permanently each side of the River Ogmore (later rebuilt). Originally this bridge had four arches but in the 18th century a massive flood washed two of them away. The rest of the bridge still stands and still remains a focal point of the town, with aesthetic restoration taking place in 2006.
Bridgend grew rapidly into an agricultural town important to many of the local farmers. Although still small by today's standards it became an important market town, a tag that remained with it well into the late 20th century.
The industrial era
The discovery of coal in the South Wales valleys north of Bridgend would have a massive impact on the town. The first coal mining operations opened north of Bridgend in the 17th century, with the Llynfi Valley being the first to be industrialised. Bridgend itself never had coal deposits and remained a market town for some time, but the valleys of the three rivers grew into an important part of the South Wales coalfields. Ironworks and brickworks (notably at Tondu) were also established in the same period, by John Bedford, although the ironworks faltered after his death and ceased operating entirely in 1836.
The Great Western Railway arrived and Bridgend was at the junction between the main London to Fishguard line and the branch to the three valleys. Coal trains regularly sent coal down the valleys and with the opening of the Vale of Glamorgan railway, coal could be sent directly to port at Barry or through other branch lines to Porthcawl.
Bridgend itself saw several quarries open in and around the town centre, the remnants of which, (near Brackla) can still be seen today. An engine works was opened in the town and a larger farmers' market also opened in the town centre, where it remained until the 1970s.
In 1801, the population of Bridgend was around 6,000. By the beginning of the 20th century this had risen to 61,000. By this time Bridgend was a bustling market town with prosperous valleys to the north, a thriving community and good links to other towns and cities.
The Second World War
Bridgend played an important part during the Second World War. It was home to a prisoner of war camp at Island Farm and a large munitions factory (ROF Bridgend — known as the "Admiralty") at Waterton, as well as a large underground munitions storage base at Brackla (known as the 8 xs). This was an overspill of the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich.
At its peak the Arsenal had 40,000 workers, many of them women. Large numbers of them were transported by bus from the Rhondda and the valleys. At the time the Arsenal was the largest factory in terms of the number of employees ever in the United Kingdom. The factory complex had three sites in Bridgend, all linked together by a huge network of railways. There are many reminders of the factory sites left to this day.
In 1945, 67 prisoners of war from Island Farm managed to escape through a tunnel although all were recaptured. While Bridgend was as important during the war as any other part of Wales, and although it was photographed by the Luftwaffe, it was never blitzed which has been attributed to hazardous local climactic conditions, though the close proximity of the POW camp at Island Farm may have been something of a deterrent as well. Both Swansea and Cardiff were heavily bombed: had Bridgend been struck as heavily, it would have likely been a fearsome blow to munitions supplies to the allies.
The Admiralty ceased full-scale production in December 1945 after 5 years. Two of the munitions storage magazines in the Brackla ROF site were converted to a RGHQ (Regional Government Headquarters) during the Cold War as part of the UK continuity of government plans. It is now in the hands of a private company.
Later twentieth century
Bridgend remained a solid market town after the war. In 1948, Newbridge Fields (a short distance from the town centre) hosted the 1948 National Eisteddfod.
In 1960, the River Ogmore burst its banks and flooded the town centre. Subsequent floods and extreme weather led the Welsh Water Authority to develop concrete flood defence walls along the banks of the River Ogmore in the town centre. The town centre has not been flooded since. During this time Bridgend was chosen to become the headquarters for South Wales Police. This action was ideal as geographically, Bridgend stands equidistantly between both Swansea to the west and Cardiff to the east.
The Beeching cuts of the 1960s saw the loss of passenger rail links in the Vale of Glamorgan and to the northern valleys. The Vale of Glamorgan link to Barry by way of Rhoose was re-instated in June 2005.
In the 1970s, Bridgend would begin to see the catalyst of arguably its biggest growth period. The "missing section" of the M4 motorway was constructed around the town, plans were afoot to change the Waterton Admiralty into an industrial estate, and the water supply was improved including new sewage treatment works near Ogmore. Two major multinational corporations, the Ford Motor Company and Sony set factories up in, or on the outskirts of the new Bridgend Industrial Estate (former Waterton Arsenal).
The closure of the Welsh coal industry brought mass-unemployment and social problems to the valleys to the north. However, this led to a greater general standard of living for many in the areas previously dominated by coal mining but many of the problems stemming from unemployment, including drug-use and economic inactivity still remain today. By the late 1980s all coal mines in the area had ceased operations and the former mine workers either commuted or moved to central Bridgend to work at the newly developed industrial estates.
A new Securicor operated prison (HM Parc Prison) was built near Coity in the late 1990s and opened in November 1997.
Shopping and visits
In the town centre the main retail shopping areas are the Rhiw Shopping Centre (containing Bridgend Market), Adare Street, Caroline Street, Derwen Road, Nolton Street, Queen Street, Dunraven Place, Market Street and Cheapside (home of the Brackla Street Centre and ASDA store). These areas are within close proximity to the bus and railway stations as are pay and display car parks.
Most high street chain store names can be found in and around the town centre, which has suffered during 2009 due to the economic climate. Large gaps have been left in the town centre shopping area, as have many other British towns. During the first two months of 2009, seven high street shops have closed their doors.
There are out-of-town shopping areas at Waterton, near the A473, on Cowbridge Road and at The Derwen, Junction 36 of the M4, home to the Bridgend Designer Outlet.
Bridgend hosted the National Eisteddfod in 1948. The 1998 Eisteddfod was hosted in the nearby town of Pencoed, effectivel a suburb of Bridgend.
- Brackla Ordnance Site
- South Wales Police Museum - Island Farm Prisoner of War Camp, Bridgend
- Brackla RGHQ