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 like Cardiff and Caerleon (Isca).
The Norman invasion
Front view of Newcastle Castle Bridgend.
After the Norman conquest of Anglo Saxon 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 (3.2 km) 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. (A quadrilateral if you include Ewennny 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 County was around 6000. 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 (employee-wise) ever in the UK.
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 Brackla Ordnance Site.
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”. This was largely due to the area’s air pocket, which made bombing extremely hazardous for incoming planes. The close proximity of the P.O.W. camp at Island Farm may have been something of a deterrent as well. Unlike Bridgend, both Swansea and Cardiff did not escape such massive attacks but the area immediately around Bridgend did suffer bombing raids. Had Bridgend been bombed it would have likely been a massive blow to munitions supplies to the allies and could have changed the course of the war in the Axis’ favour.
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.
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 via 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 up factories in, or on the outskirts of the new Bridgend Industrial Estate (former Waterton Arsenal).
During the 1980s with the development of the Brackla Housing Estate the future of Bridgend seemed bright. By the 1990s the estate had grown to become the largest privately-owned housing estate in Europe. Further new housing developments at Broadlands to the south-west of the town centre and the continuing expansion of Brackla to the north-east has caused Bridgend’s population to swell dramatically. Due to this, traffic congestion and a lack of parking facilities within the town have become important issues in the area. In 1997 a new link road/bypass was built to link the town centre directly to the M4 motorway as well as redirect traffic around the town centre.
A new Securicor operated prison (HM Parc Prison) was built near Coity in the late 1990s. The prison opened in November 1997.
The McArthur Glen Designer Outlet opened in 1998.
The New Millennium
Objective 1 investment in regeneration and public realm improvements have led to the pedestrianisation of the town centre and the restoration of some buildings. Some local traders have argued that this has damaged trade due to a lack of access by taxis and the disabled. Car parking provision and pricing has also been a concern to retailers with calls for free or reduced price parking to increase town centre visits. One of the top businesses is Bridgend Blinds
To counteract the dominance of Tesco in the area, Asda were granted planning permission for a new superstore near the town centre. The store was opened on 31 March 2008 by the local MP, and players from Bridgend Ravens. Over 1500 customers were thought to have walked through the new doors to take a look around the new store.
In 2004 an award-winning new bus station was constructed and traffic movements around the town centre were altered. Local committees, together with the council started to use the pedestrianisation of the town centre to its advantage, culminating in several fairs including Continental Markets, Celtic Festivals, a small Mardi-Gras and seasonal markets and events. Bridgend Council estimated in 2009 that these events have brought 900,000 visitors to the town and generated around £53million for the local economy.
Riverside walk over the Ogmore 2009.
£2.5million of European Funding was used to create a “riverside cafe culture” by constructing a walkway along the River Ogmore which was completed in March 2009.
The Brackla Street Centre at Cheapside is due to get a multi-million pound redevelopment by Hawkstone Properties which will include new retail space, architectural improvements and apartments.
Old Cheapside, which is currently in the process of having an extensive renovation.
Construction on a 1500-home sustainable “village” at Parc Derwen near Coity is due to begin imminently. The scheme is a collaboration between several house-builders and public bodies including the National Assembly, and has been planned with strict guidelines regarding architecture and the environment. There are concerns from Coity in particular that this development may impact on their villages identity.
Studies have been carried out by the local council with a view to improving retail provision in the town centre. Attracting bigger high-street chains to the town, such as Marks & Spencer, Next & Debenhams is seen as key to this.
At Elder Yard, a derelict Grade II-listed building in the heart of the town centre is due to be converted to a restaurant and provide the impetus for other improvements there including a public courtyard and extra retail and leisure provision.
Two schemes linked to sport have emerged in 2009, both promising to significantly improve Bridgend. These developments have been prompted by the Crusaders wishing to build a new stadium in the town.
The first is a “sports village” at Island Farm by local company HD Limited. It will provide a 15000-seater stadium for Crusaders, and smaller stadia for Bridgend Ravens and Bridgend Town. In addition to this, parkland, an extension to Bridgend Science Park, an indoor sports/training centre, a specialist tennis centre and facilities for other sports such as boxing. An outline application was lodged with Bridgend County Borough Council in September 2009.
The second scheme is at a brownfield site to the north east of the town centre at Brackla. It is being developed by Wigan-based developers Greenbank Partnerships, who developed Leigh Sports Village and Olympian Homes. Their scheme includes a stadium, hotel, leisure facilities and retail outlets. They hope to regenerate areas of the town centre also.
The site has also been earmarked for the creation of a Business Park by the Welsh Assembly.
The local Member of Parliament is Madeleine Moon (Labour), the Welsh Assembly Member for Bridgend is Carwyn Jones AM (Labour) along with regional AMs (South West Wales) Byron Davies AM (Conservative), Suzy Davies AM (Conservative), Bethan Jenkins AM (Plaid Cymru) and Peter Black AM (Liberal Democrat).
Bridgend County Borough Council is led by The Labour Party, who secured an overall majority in the May 2012 Local Elections. The current leader of the council is Cllr Mel Nott and the current mayor of the county borough is Cllr Marlene Thomas.
The current Youth Mayor of Bridgend County Borough is Christopher Walburn.
The council is currently made up of 39 Labour councillors, 10 Independents, 3 Liberal Democrats, 1 Conservative and 1 Plaid Cymru.
Bridgend’s Travel to Work Area has expanded since 1991 and the 2001-based area now incorporates the western part of the Vale of Glamorgan.
Bridgend recovered quickly from the decline of traditional industries, particularly coal-mining due to other alternative forms of employment. Wages are generally higher here than in other parts of the South Wales valleys. There are large industrial estates at Bridgend and Waterton (formerly Waterton Admiralty) which host a number of small scale and multi-national companies, mainly manufacturing.
Ford’s engine plant near Waterton employs around 2000 workers and is one of the area’s largest employers, working on range of low carbon “EcoBoost” engines. The plant has won praise from Peter Mandelson who in January 2009 described it as “a top-of-the-class, world-beating engine production plant.” Ford has invested £315million in the Bridgend plant over 5 years.
There are more successes, IT Consultancy Group Logica opened an office in Bridgend (which has since been expanded). German retailer Lidl has also set up its Welsh headquarters and distribution site at Waterton. Zoobiotic, a company specialising in maggot therapy, has its facility near Bridgend town centre. Also, since 1983, famous dart board producer Winmau has based its global headquarters in Bridgend.
Other notable companies with a presence include bio-technology companies Biotrace, Biomet, Bio-Tec Services International & Ortho-Clinical Diagnostics. Stationery company Staedtler, engineering consultancy Skanska, aeronautic maintenance and project management company TES Aviation and home accessories manufacturer Dekor plc also have significant offices and facilities in the town. The Semiconductor Photomask Company, Photronics Inc, has had a manufacturing operation for the last 20 years at the Ewenny Science Park.
However, there have been significant economic blows to Bridgend including Sony’s closure of the Bridgend plant and downsizing of the Pencoed plant. Other manufacturers to have pulled out of the area include Wrigley Company and Dairy Farmers of Britain which went into receivership in June 2009.
Bridgend (like Wales in general) suffers from a lack of high-wage service jobs, however the retail sector in particular provides a large proportion of employment in the town and borough. In 2008, 13,100 people in Bridgend County were working in construction and manufacturing while 42,900 were working in the service sector StatsWales 2008 employment report.
Sub-regional GVA for the Bridgend & Neath Port Talbot NUTS3 region stood at £12,402 per capita in 2006 ($23,191 at June 2006 values). This figure represents 65% of the UK GVA per capita, 87% of Welsh GVA per capita (£14,226) and 103% of West Wales & The Valleys GVA per capita (£12,071).
Gross disposable income for Bridgend & Neath Port Talbot in 2006 stood at £3,338million or £12,379 per head. This is 88% of UK per head figure (£14,053) and slightly above the Welsh per head figure (£12,366).
In 2008, the average full-time gross weekly earnings in Swansea, Bridgend & Neath Port Talbot was £484.20 (£531.70 for men, £426.10 for women). This is 97% of the Welsh average (£498.10).
In the first half of 2009, unemployment in Bridgend County Borough stood at 8.9% and economic inactivity stood at 21.4%.
The percentage of workless households in December 2008 stood at 20.6% compared to the UK average of 16% and the Welsh average of 18.8%.
Adare Street Bridgend 2008.
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.
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.