Follow Cowbridge's Blue Plaque Trail

By Ellyn Wright

15th Apr 2021 | Local News

Map via the Vale of Glamorgan Council
Map via the Vale of Glamorgan Council

For this week's newsletter-only story, we've compiled Cowbridge's Blue Plaque Trail. As restrictions ease and the weather improves, why not explore the historical secrets and quirks of our town by following the route through our town?

The Ancient Druid, 44 Eastgate

Now a private residence, this is perhaps the oldest house still in use in Cowbridge. The 18th century two-storey house was built on a half-burgage plot but it hides a much older earlier 14th century house, built outside the walls that was most likely used as a hostel for pilgrims on their way to St David's. In the 19th century it became a pub. Note the plaques with griffins.

Pavilion Cinema, 60 Eastgate

The original building was developed on two burgage plots. It was divided in half in the 18th century to include the town ball court (a Welsh version of fives) where the former cinema now stands and a public house to the west including the Wheelwrights' Arms once run by the eccentric Richard Aubrey who invented a flying bicycle.

The 250-seat cinema opened in 1925 was Cowbridge's first and only. Above was a maple-floored ballroom also used for civic events including the conferment of the freedom of the borough on David Lloyd George in 1933, Britain's only Welsh Prime Minister.

Largely destroyed by fire in 1942 it was after used as a depot by the council who wanted to demolish it. After being restored in the Art Deco style it has been used as offices since 1996.

Ty Mawr, 32-34 High Street

Now Sylvia Williams chemist with apartments above, this Grade II* listed building dates from the 16th century. Originally it was owned by the Carne family of Nash Manor. In 1763 it was sold to Daniel Durel, headmaster of the Grammar School; it acted as a town house for entertaining during the season.

There were orchards, gardens and a coach house to the back. It was divided in two in the 1840s and thirty years later the left half housed a small boarding school for girls. At about the same date the other half became a chemist and the present frontage was added. In 1922 no.32 was leased to the Grammar School as a boarding house.

Duke of Wellington, 48 High Street

This is a complex set of buildings from the late medieval period. The interior houses many medieval features and a barrel-roofed ballroom. It has been an inn since the 17th century. Originally known as the Half Moon Inn it became the Black Horse from about the 1820s and the Coach and Horse from the 1840s. The present name dates from the 1860s following the death of the Duke in 1852; he often stayed here on his way to see General Picton in Ferryside. It was acquired by Brains in 1919.

Caercady House, 58 High Street

This handsome three-storey house dates back to the Georgian era. It was the town house of the Thomas family of Caercady near Welsh St Donats. In 1879 it was leased to Edward Ord a local solicitor but it was long associated with doctors including a Dr Swann, who was captured by Algerian pirates in the 1840s.

Its most famous resident was Dr Charles Booth Mellor who moved to Cowbridge from Yorkshire. He was said to have the largest practice in rural Wales. He was noted for his treatment of all patients regardless of their social status. He travelled by gig and stallion until he purchased a car in the 1920s. After he died in 1936 his wife and daughter took over the practice. The house continues to remain in the Mellor family over 100 years later.

Old Hall, High Street

Best known as the town house of the Edmondes family who developed this site in the 1740s on a series of seven burgage plots including one that belonged to a well-known conninger- a rabbit breeder, a staple food of the period. In 1778, a part was leased to William Brown, a judge from Massachusetts who, following the loss of the American colonies, later became Governor of Bermuda. By the 1840s the Edmondes had become a wealthy family owning land in Cowbridge, the Vale and coal-bearing land in upland Wales.

After the death of Rev. Thomas Edmondes in 1892 the two parts of the property were combined and the present-day Tudor style front was added. In 1932 the house was leased to the Grammar School, with science labs, classrooms and a staff room. The building deteriorated and left in 1964. After 10 years of neglect the South Glamorgan Council tried to sell the hall and only local opposition prevented its demolition.

The Mason's Arms

A rare example of a two-unit hall town house built into the town walls in about 1400, next to the West Gate. The latter was demolished in 1754 after which it became a public house. An upper storey was added in the 18th century. Sold to the Ely Brewery Company in 1919 it was later bought by Hancocks.

Costa Coffee, 14 High Street

This plaque - erected long before the blue plaque scheme - commemorates Edward Williams (1747-1826), better known as 'Iolo Morganwg' who kept a shop here in the 1790s. The Welsh inscription refers to him as 'stonemason, bard of freedom, antiquarian and one of the greatest benefactors of the literature and history of Wales'. He was all of these things and beyond: a forger of historical documents and ancient poetry and an inventor of traditions such as the Gorsedd of Bards which was a precursor to the National Eisteddfod. He was an 18th century radical who refused to sell West Indian sugar in his shop because of its production by slavery.

Christmas Cottages, 6-7 Church Street

Now private residences, at first a single house, these cottages were most likely built in the 15th century as a residence for the chaplain who served in Holy Cross Church opposite. Although much has changed the cottages still boast high-quality fixtures and fittings such a stone fireplaces and archways which date from the Middle Ages.

The Old Grammar School, Church Street

The Grammar school was founded about 1608 by the Stradling family and was later owned by Jesus College, Oxford from 1685 to 1919. The present building was built in 1849-52 in the Tudor Gothic style designed by architect John Prichard, who also restored Llandaff Cathedral.

It became part of the Cowbridge Comprehensive School in 1974 but in the early 1990s, it stopped being used. Abandoned for some years, it has been carefully restored and converted to apartments.

The Grammar School educated many in its long history - the best-known pupil in recent times being the actor Sir Anthony Hopkins who was here in the 1950s. There is also a plaque for Alun Lewis, the poet killed in the Second World War, a pupil 1926-32.

The Town Walls

The Cowbridge town Walls were built in the 13th century, probably soon after the first borough charter was granted in 1254 by Richard de Clare, Lord of Glamorgan. Much of the wall standing was rebuilt in 18th and 19th centuries but the South Gate - the only one surviving of the four original gates - and the south-west bastion remain from more than 700 years ago. Cowbridge, as one of the ancient boroughs of Glamorgan, retains a portion of its medieval fortifications. The length of wall on the south side of Old Hall gardens and the Physic Garden has been restored in recent years.

The Spread Eagle Inn and Spread Eagle Academy, I Westgate

This was a public house with its own brewhouse to the rear. It had a grand assembly room on the first floor which has been well restored and named the 'Minstrel Room' in homage to the balconies where musicians once played to Cowbridge's elite. A private school known as the Eagle Academy took the building over in the 1790s and became the most reputable of many such schools in the town in the 19th century. After 1880 and through most of the 20th century it was a corn and agricultural supplies stores.

Woodstock House, 83 High Street

Now private residences, the facade is from the 18th century but it probably fronts a much older building adjoining the West Gate of Cowbridge. John Wyndham of Dunraven was living here in 1640, paying tax on ten hearths, before he inherited his father's castle and estate. Its present-day name supposedly commemorates the Stockwood family of lawyers who lived here in the latter part of the 19th century. Woodstock House was government offices during and after the Second World War and is now divided into apartments.

The Bear Hotel, 63 High Street

The Bear was Cowbridge's principal inn in the 18th century, having a grand assembly room for important meetings. It was where the mail coaches going between Cowbridge and London stopped to change horses. Previously it had been a private house from the medieval period belonging to the squires of Llanmihangel Place. Medieval features are still visible (especially the stone-vaulted undercroft) but the present street facade dates from the 18th century.

The Town Hall

The Town Hall was adapted and enlarged in 1830 from the House of Correction or Bridewell built in 1806. The original town hall stood in the roadway near the Duke of Wellington Inn and had been demolished to accommodate traffic along the main street.

The Town Hall housed the chamber of the ancient town council until it was abolished in 1974 and replaced by the present council. For many years the building housed the police and fire stations. The clock was presented to the town by the Bishop of Llandaff in 1836. The Cowbridge Museum makes use of the former cells.


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