The full history of the building, the owners and occupiers, and the uses has not been researched. Some details of owners and occupiers from the late 18th Century onwards are known from leases.
The building has been known as ‘Church House’, ‘Monckley House’, and as the ‘Hospice’. There is a local tradition that the building was connected with the Knight’s Hospitallers, but there is no evidence for the Medieval Order of St John of Jerusalem owning property in the parish of Newcastle.
It is possible that the hearth passage house as described and recorded by Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales was adapted from an earlier smaller building, and the core of that building is represented by the thicker walls which each have an inter-mural stair with small cut-through stone lights. These surround the smaller of the service rooms, which with its apsidal end hints at an ecclesiastical use. If so, then it is possible that building was originally a small wayside chapel caring for the spiritual and temporal needs of pilgrims on their way to St David’s. There are strong traditions for Bridgend having a number of stopping places for pilgrims, in part reflected by the names of several public houses (eg The Angel, the Lamb and Flag both now gone) in the vicinity of Newcastle Hill.
If correct, then the re-building of the structure into the hearth passage house would represent a change of use and possibly owner. A locus for this might be the acquisition of the Parish of Newcastle by the Cistercian monks at Margam Abbey, who acquired the rights to the parish from Tewkesbury but were required to provide a suitable dwelling for the priest. Alternatively, the building may have been used as a small hospital, or more likely was taken over by a secular agency, perhaps a local merchant. What can be reasonably certain is that whoever built the core of the structure that we see today had both status and means.
The enlargement of the hearth-passage house (widening of the porch and room above together with a possible cellar below) in the late sixteenth/early seventeenth century may reflect a further change of ownership.
We know (from transcriptions on a later lease) that by the end of the eighteenth century that the building was owned by Walter Coffin. The Coffins were a major landowner in Bridgend, their wealth derived from a productive tannery. They were also connected by marriage to the Price family of Llangeinnor, who included the famous humanist Richard Price and his nephew William Morgan one of the founding fathers of actuarial practice.
In the nineteenth century, the house was leased to various parties and the property was subdivided with two extended families living in either half each with an extension built to the rear of which only the northernmost now survives.
In 1919, the then owner Abraham Lewis sold the building to the Order of St John of Jerusalem. Owen Phillips, Baron Kylsant, a colourful character, claimed to have purchased the freehold for the Priory. He had connections with Slebech, Pembrokeshire, a former Commandery of the Knight’s Hospitaller. In the late twentieth century, the building was acquired by the present owners.
Sample of wood from beams have been identified, by dendrology, as having been felled in 1511/12. The green oak would have been used to build the house soon after felling. ’Earliest date to be associated to the building described by the Royal Commission as a ‘Town House of unusual quality of its type’.
A hearth-passage house in style & plan with a storeyed porch (later enlarged) Hall, with single room open to the roof above, central passage separates the hall from twin service rooms with carved Sutton Stone doorways quarried from Ogmore.
Main Chamber (service end) has a loft above, carpenter marks in beams.
Three mural stairways with carved stone window stair lights.
No: 20 and 22 Newcastle Hill
Lease & release of these dates respectively the release made between Walter Coffin & Thomas Williams of the first part, Rees Roberts of the second part and Charles Llewellyn of the third part.
Owen Philipps b.1863 d.1937.
(Family connected to Slebech & Picton Castle).
He was invested as a Knight of Grace of the order in 1912. The first meeting of the Welsh Chapter in Clerkenwell. Recorded as acting Sub Prior he gave the Hospice of St John at Bridgend to the Order.
St John’s House, Newcastle Hill, Bridgend, CF31 4EY
St John’s House Trust (Bridgend) Charity Reg. No. 1147340
St. John’s House Trust - 2023