HISTORY - Back in time 2
Keith Reed with his work can conjure up a picture of Neath in the past, for you, the reader.
So we have a Royal Village, but did you know that we also had a Castle at the Cimla?
Read on and enjoy Keith Reed's picture of Neath, as it builds :-
On the 1812 plan of the Gnoll Estate there is a field marked Cae Maes Castle, which given the English translation means ‘Castle Field’. This field is situated near the present day Farm called Cefn Saeson Fawr. Also the recent housing development has encroached to within a short distance of the castle field and Cefn Saeson Comprehensive School is within walking distance.
Therefore the intriguing question to ask is,”was there really a Norman Castle at Cimla?” To find the answer we have to search back into the early history of Neath. It was not until Rhys ap Tewdwr the prince of Deheubarth (a kingdom of south west Wales) and at the time the most powerful man in South Wales was killed in battle somewhere between Hirwaun and Brecon in 1093, that the Normans under Robert Fitzhammon, Lord of Cruelly in Normandy and Earl of Gloucester, advanced into Morgannwg (Glamorgan) from their base oin the River Severn to conquer the local King Iestyn ap Gwrgant and his people.
(There are however, four different versions of how the Normans came into South Wales and all four may have an element of truth in them).
Robert Fitzhammon as the Lord of Glamorgan rewarded one of his knights, Richard de Granville, whom some say was his brother, with the Lordship of Neath, which was regarded as one of the seven dangerous places in Glamorgan in Norman times. The Lordship extended from the Neath/Afan watershed to the river Tawe, and from the head of the Vale of Neath to the Crymlyn Brook. All the uplands between the Neath and Afan rivers were too difficult for the Normans to hold, and the Welsh under their lord Caradog at Iestyn (eldest son of Iestyn ap Gwrgant) were allowed to remain in possession of the territory. In fact, Caradog had overlordship of all the Blaenau (uplands) to the river Taff.
To hold on to what they had conquered the Normans developed a defence system second to none, and therefore the castle became the key to the Norman success in maintaining a military presence in an invaded territory. Many of these wooden and earthwork fortresses sprang up in Wales during this time. Rivers and ridges became very important to protect, particularly if a pass or track had to be guarded.
One such place was the border between the Normans and Welsh at Cefn Saeson which literally translates into ‘Englishman’s Ridge’. Therefore, Cefn Saeson was a very important place during Norman times as it was the extreme eastern flank of the Lordship of Neath and was directly opposite the Welsh lordship of Afan.
The castle at Cimla was situated in a very good defensive position and may well have been a ringwork castle which was built on a raised area wholly surrounded by a strong bank or ditch. There was usually an adjoining fortified courtyard, or bailey, containing additional domestic and ancillary buildings. Ringwork castles generally lack a single strong point, the emphasis being on a larger area enclosed by a defensive perimeter.
During the 12th and 13th centuries the Welsh attacked many of the castles and abbeys of Glamorgan. Neath, therefore, was no exception and was attacked many times during this period. In the revolt of 1185 which was led by Morgan ap Caradog the Welsh Lord of Afan, and one of the leaders in the fight to expel the Norman invaders from Wales, attacked Neath Castle which saw the town vanish in flames. The castle held out and for days William de Cogan and his garrison of one hundred men beat off attack after attack until it was rescued by a relief force coming up the river from Cardiff. The rebellion cost the King £174.1.8 ½ d of which £1 went on timber to build a gallows for hanging the Welsh rebels and £2 on chains for the prisoners and doing justice on them.
We may, therefore, assume that each time the Welsh, under the Lords of Afan, attacked Neath Castle they probably came over the ridge at Cefn Saeson and the first line of defence of the Lordship was, undoubtedly, Cimla Castle. I would not expect that the castle was held as a major defence line but merely act as an outpost of any imminent Welsh attack.
Neath Castle was attacked for the last time in 1322 when it was destroyed by the Earl of Hereford, enemies of the Despenser family who were the Lords of Glamorgan. It is possible that Cimla Castle may well have been in existence as a defence line up to this date. It ois extremely unlikely that there was an occupation of the castle site after 1349, the year of the Black Death, or as it was known at the time, the Great Pestilence. However, Neath Castle was till tenable up to 1404 and some sort of lordship defence may have been plausible up to this time.
There is further evidence regarding the existence of a Cimla Castle, in the engraving by Morris dated 1791, where it shows the Gnoll House and in the distance a large stone castle on the horizon. In an earlier issue of Neath Antiquarian Society’s transactions Harry Green using the Morris engraving and using aerial photographs from an archaeological survey, made a site visit and found evidence of some sort of structure but the evidence may suggest the site was a sheepcot.
Today the site is occupied by a farmer’s large green field and there is no physical or structural evidence that can be seen. However, one day an archaeological department or trust may make a site investigation and establish once and for all the evidence of a Castle at Cimla.
Paul R. Davies, Castles of Glamorgan
Paul R. Davies, Castles of the Welsh Princes
George Eaton, Life in Medieval Neath
Leslie Evans, The Lords of Afan
Eileen Kennedy, ‘The Gnoll Follies’ – Neath Antiquarian Transactions
Ordinance Survey, ‘Britain before the Norman Conquest’
Derek Renn, Norman Castles in Britain
Trevor Rowley, Norman Britain
Mile Salter, The Castles of Gwent, Glamorgan and Gower
Clive Trott(Editor) – Festival of Britain Commemoration Magazine 1951