Notes for Thomas Stradling: From the book, St Donats Castle by Group Captain A.H.Stradling Wales is a country rich in ancient castles, a reminder of the warlike and troublesome times of the past, of feudal affrays between princelings and barons, and of settlement of disputes by force of arms.
Along the coastal road from Llantwit to Bridgend, St Donat's castle comes into view on the left; on reaching it one sees the massive towers and walls which stand on the rocky east bank of a deep wooded glen. On the south, pleasant gardens descend in wide terraces from the castle walls to the sea 150 feet below at Nash Point. Southwards across the sea, the coast of Somerset can be seen and behind the castle and the vale of Glamorgan to the north rise the welsh hills.
Approaching the entrance across the stone bridge which has replaced the old drawbridge, one is immediately confronted with the outer gatehouse of c.1300, high on its stonework the Stradling arms, surmounted by their ancient crest, a falcon raising itself upon the wing.
Passing under the ancient portcullis, across a small courtyard, the inner gatehouse of equal antiquity comes into view and through this an inner quadrangle is seen, similar to many of the grass quadrangles in colleges at Oxford.
Standing in the centre of this it is possible, for the first time, to get some idea of the rugged beauty of this centuries old family seat, which has altered little since the reign of Elizabeth I. Every tower, hall and room is in a perfect state of preservation, fine examples of the Edwardian and Tudor periods of the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries.
The Parish Church, containing the manorial chapel, lies snugly against the outer castle wall in the glen below and is early norman in its foundations.
Tradition has it that there were at least two churches on the same site before it, the earliest dating back to the Roman occupation. One of the few mediaeval Calvary' still intact stands in the courtyard. The present church mainly dates from the beginning of the fourteenth century, except for the Lady Chapel which was added in the 16th century. In this addition are many tombs of the Stradlings, the last of that line having been buried there in 1739, and from there memorials much of the family history can be learned.
The glen, in which the church now stands, runs down to the sea; it is now silted up but in earlier times (this inlet from the sea) undoubtedly was used as a harbour for the sailing ships of the earliest occupants of the castle.
Details of the early history of this ancient fortress, which hitherto have not been described either on television or in the press, should be of particular interest to the parents and also the students who are to spend two years at this castle.
The site on which St.Donat's stands was used as a defensive position more than 2,000 years ago. St.Donat's, in welsh 'Sain Dunwyd', in medieval Latin 'Sanctus Donatus', a Roman name which occurs in the pedigree of the kings of North Wales as Dunawd, has a long history. It was here, according to tradition, that Caractacus built a fort to defend himself and his followers against the Romans. It was inhabited under Roman rule as is shown by the discovery of coins of the 3rd century A.D., who later strengthened this position with military earthworks (as noted in the engraving by Nathaniel and Samuel Buck, 1750).
The name St.Donat's, which is taken from the dedication of the earlier church, must go back to the early Welsh. Among the coins found here have been those of the Marius period and the thirty tyrants (3rd century A.D., immediately after the end of the Roman rule).
No doubt the welsh princes held it against the first Norman invaders, but no records are available concerning the last wooden fortress which stood on the site of the present castle or of those who occupied it.
Undoubtedly from the 13th century to the beginning of the 14th century it was in the possession successively of the Hawey, Penbrigg and Stradling families.
The actual date of the first occupation of St Donat's castle by the Stradlings is in some doubt. The current legend that it first came into their possession in 1090 cannot be supported by any existing records. Authorities are inclined to agree that the earliest parts of the castle were possibly begun by Sir Peter Stradling about 1292 (Recent architectural analysis suggests parts of the inner gatehouse date from 1150 - editor) and completed by his immediate successors early in the 14th century. The Stradlings remained in continuous occupation for nearly 500 years, until 1738 when the last of the line was killed in a duel in the South of France, leaving no issue.
To turn to the history of the castle still standing, there are two distinct periods, separated by a gap of about two centuries. The earlier is the concentric castle with its gatehouses (both inner and outer) and some small towers begun late in the 13th century or early in the 14th century. The later period begins probably with the addition of the so-called gibbet tower, which from its style could be the middle of the 15th century and may be Sir Harry Stradling's as it resembles the isolated watch-tower to the north, usually regarded as his because of his adventures with pirates in the channel.
The hall on the south and its porch onto the inner quadrangle with the Lady Stradling's quarters to the south east, follow late in the 15th century, the west range soon afterwards.
The chimney pieces are of particular interest in dating those parts of the castle. The oldest, the hooded fireplace in the outer gatehouse, was possibly installed by Sir Peter Stradling at the end of the 13th century or more probably by Sir Edward at the beginning of the 14th century. Those in the old dining room and old drawing room of the west range, and that in the Stradling hall are nearly contemporary with one another before and a little after 1500.
The addition of the north range, the long gallery and Lady Anne's tower on the south west and other buildings against or between the rings walls completed the domestic quarters by the time of Elizabeth I. The fifth Sir Edward Stradling then improved the western rooms with enlarged mullion windows and decorated them with typical Elizabethan ceilings of encrusted plaster work it seems, but all of his work has been altered. His too would have been the room with the painted frieze embodying the arms of all the twelve families thought to have descended from the Norman knights of Fitz-Hamon, actual or legendary; his also the buildings used as cavalry barracks in the civil war, adjacent to the modern swimming pool.
Among the Stradlings' last additions to the castle is probably the late 17th century panelling in the Red room, a bedroom in the north range, taken from a parlour next to the old dining room in the west range. It is very like the panelling of the two senior common rooms at Jesus college, the specially welsh college at Oxford of which the 17th century Stradlings were members, several of them having presented silver plate which is in use today. Both the 6th and 7th Sir Edward were buried there during the civil war.
Children of Thomas Stradling and Janet Mathew are:
+Edward Stradling, b. 1472, St. Donats Castle, Glamorgan, Wales, d. 08 May 1535, St Donats, Glamorgan, Wales1065.