Our hotels are steeped in history and each one has its own story to tell.
The Bear Hotel, like so many in the Vale, did not start life as an inn but instead as the town house of Llanmihangel Place. Many of these town houses were owned by local gentry and when the roads were very bad and lighting non-existent, many travellers stayed in Cowbridge, which allowed them to attend Balls, the Races, Fairs and the local Markets.
As you walk past The Bear you see an 18th century coaching inn with its sash windows and a gateway for the coach and horses. However, enter the cross passage and all the rooms on the front were built in medieval times when it was probably a one storey building and only later was the upstairs added. Next time you are in the lounge, look at the remains of the medieval fireplace behind the bar, where the hindquarters of a leopard are above a shield bearing a cross.
Standing at the bar you are in the Hall, the main living quarters of a medieval house. Walk through to the room beyond and you will find a late 16th century fireplace backing onto the hall and a door of the same date in the north wall. The plaster ceiling is probably early 18th century and reported to have been completed by the apprentices of Robert Adams when they were visiting the area.
Enter the front of the “Grill Bar” and you are in what was a Parlour, which in medieval times would have contained beds. Adjacent to the grill bar in reception there is a re-sited fireplace of the same period. Beyond this, there was a separate building, which was reached through the long-barrelled vault that is now Cellars restaurant, whose origins date back to 12th century.
The first floor ballroom was originally an Assembly room, which was opened when the bowed end wall was added in the 18th Century. At this time, the Edwin family of Llanmihangel, forebears of the Earls of Dunraven, had their possessions mapped and the Bear is shown amongst them in Cowbridge.
The memoirs of Christopher Bradley tell us that he took over as landlord of The Bear around 1786 and remained so for about eighteen years, during which time it became a well-known coaching inn, with the Royal Mail stopping here to change horses. In 1804, Michael Glover succeeded him, and a furious quarrel broke out when Bradley placed an advert in the Cambrian, headed “Posting, at one shilling per mile”, which assured readers that he would be continuing the postal business from his own house in Cowbridge. Whilst he thanked “his friends and the public” for their support during his time at The Bear, he was not always remembered fondly, one customer saying of him “If signs are emblems of what landlords are, how like Bradley must be unto his bear”, something the present landlord refutes!
A number of people have reported seeing ghosts in various parts of the hotel. Most significantly, our Durel suite occupies what was our honeymoon suite, but the vast number of guests complaining of being disturbed – always around 1am – by various phenomena, led the present owner to think it was more practical to change it’s function. Most often, female guests reported being woken by a small girl child reaching out to them for comfort.
Finally, although named the Bear, there is no record of the hotel being a venue for bear baiting. It did however, play host to a number of Napoleonic troops who were held prisoner in our Bear Pit on their way to London, after a failed French landing at Fishguard.