Over two hundred years ago the village was known as ‘Llandathan’ (the ‘holy place’ of Tathan). Legend has it that Tathan was a son of an Irish King who landed in Portskewett Gwent and envangelised the area. However it also said that he was the son of Amwn Ddu and Anna, daughter of Meurig King of Glamorgan. It was believed that he trained in Llanilltud and founded a church in Llandathan (Sain Tathan) in the 6th Century.
In later years St Tathan contained two castles quite close together at West Orchard and East Orchard, West Orchard was first destroyed in around 1158 and finally in 1648. It is believed these were built to protect the royal Orchards in the area, hence the names. East Orchard which overlooked the River Thaw is believed to have been built much later in the early 14th century, by Sir William Berkerolles, for whom there is a tomb in the south chapel of the church.
The present church of Sain Tathan dates back to the 12th century, but mostly 14-15th in structure.
In more modern times the most significant change to the area was in 1936 when the Air Ministry purchased 1000 acres of land from over 6 farms, including the whole of Eglwys Brewis Manor Farm which at that time was the largest farm in the Vale. The old farm house can still be seen ‘behind the wire’ by the North gate at Eglwys Brewis. 36 hangers were built and the first airmen arrived in 1938. During the war years because of the high casualty rate on Bomber Command operations St Athan was training approx. 5000 men at any one time, with around 500 ‘passed out’ each week.
In 1966 the coastal skyline was changed forever when the Aberthaw Power Station opened, built on what was previously a golf course. At the time of its opening Aberthaw ‘A’ was the most advanced power station in the world. Aberthaw B was added in the 1970’s.
Aber is Welsh for estuary or mouth of the river, and although difficult to imagine today East and West Aberthaw made up a major sea port.
Between the years of 1483 and 1798 there were many great storms and even tidal waves that badly damaged many of the neighbouring harbours including the one at Llantwit. Aberthaw became an important alternative to the great ports of Swansea and Cardiff.
In fact during the 17th century local people could have travelled daily by boat to places like Bristol, Bridgewater, Watchet, Minehead as well as Ilfracombe and Barnstable. During this period much of the trade was agricultural based with ships logs showing such items as wool, butter and cheese, but interestingly quite a few ‘stockings’ that were knitted by families to bring in extra income.
During these years there was also a busy ship building industry with such vessels as ‘Fanny’ in 1753, ‘Blessing’ and ‘Bristol Packet’
Aberthaw was well known during these years for its piracy and smuggling, with the ships from Bristol passing quite close to the coastline.
By the 1840’s the role as a port was in decline with the main cargo now local lime.
A new railway started to serve the area by 1897 and on the East site of the Estuary Aberthaw Cement works started production in 1916.
The major change to the costal skyline was in 1966 when Aberthaw Power Station was built on what was at the time the site of Barry Golf Club.
Originally known as ‘Llanmihangel y Twyn’ some believe the ‘modern’ name was derived when Flemish refugees who were believed to settle in Llantwit founded the hamlet during the reign of Elizabeth I. However, it is thought more likely to have come from Sir John le Fleming who was bestowed the local manors of Wenvoe, St George, Llanmaes and Flemingston, by Robert Fitzhamon who had conquered Glamorgan in 1091.
The Flemings settled in Wenvoe where they built a Castle, a brother or son of this first lord known as ‘Fleming Melyn’ is understood to have married a heiress of ‘Llanmihangel y Twyn’, and it was at this time that the family built St Michael’s Castle at Flemingston. Unfortunately, this was one of the many castles and great houses destroyed by Owen Glyndwr in 1400.
The original ‘Flemingston Court’ was built by the Flemings in 1430.
The church at Flemingston ‘St Michael the Archangel’ is built on 11th century foundations.
The original pre-Norman name of Gileston is attributed to ta 6th century Welsh Saint Mabon, to whom the church at Gileston ‘St Giles’ is dedicated.
The manor at Gileston was held in the 14th Century by the ‘Giles’ family, although parts date back to medieval times. The ‘Giles’ family continued to occupy the manor until later in the 18th century when it was occupied by a succession of clerics until modern times.
Gileston can be found just north of Limpert Bay, where the pebble/sand beach also houses a number of pill boxes remaining from World War II. Just to the edge of Limpert Bay is Break sea Point the most southerly point of Wales.
Many people today only know and think of Eglwys Brewis as originally the dormitory village of RAF St Athan.
However the little church of St Brice dates back to the 13th century. Unfortunately, this little gem is in need of restoration and kept ‘behind the wire’ of MOD St Athan.
There was once an Eglwys Brewis Manor which is recorded in 1522 as being owned by a William ap John.
It was also the home of what at the time was one of the largest farms in the Vale, but the whole farm was taken as part of the site of RAF St Athan, the old farm house can still just be seen again ‘behind the wire’ by the North gate.
This is just a little snippet of a rich local history if you would like to find out more why not visit our local library.
Interested in more history why not visit the St Athan Local History Group – site for an excellent collection of past and present picture record of the village and its community.
Recommended read: ‘The Secret Vale of Glamorgan—by Terry Breverton.
Information sourced from ‘The Secret Vale of Glamorgan’ and Wikipedia