"The Welsh name for Cowbridge is Bont Faen. It is steeped in history and possesses much old world charm with stretches of its medieval town walls, and its south gate. It lies some twelve miles west of Cardiff. There are many traditions associated with the name Cowbridge, one of which is related to a bridge and a cow. The cow, being driven by dogs, took shelter under one of the arches. Her horns became so much entangled that she could not be taken out alive. The arms of the town still show the figure of a cow on a bridge.
Evidence has been found that there was a settlement at Cowbridge during Roman times. It received its first town charter in 1254 from Richard de Clare, Earl of Gloucester and Lord of Glamorgan. By 1307 there were 276 dwellings but by 1349 the Black Death had almost halved them.
The House of Correction once stood in the centre of the main street but when the county jail was moved to Swansea in 1829, it became the new Town Hall. The cells still remain and now house the local museum.
At the west end of the town is Gibbetts Hill where felons were hanged and the old tree could still be seen in the 1920s. The old Toll Houses were near this hill, but they were demolished after the Second World War.
The first printing press in Glamorgan was established in Cowbridge in 1770 by Rhys Thomas.
Farmers used to bring their wool to the Old Wool Barn for it to be picked up and graded and then bought by the dealers. This building now houses some very interesting crafts. Cowbridge played an important part in the economy of South Wales in the 19th century. In 1835 there were six maltsters, three stonemasons, four tailors, nine schools, mills of varying types and possibly a tallow factory. We could also boast about having two or three saddlers who would make harness, also a cooper who made such things as cheese vats. He was a most interesting old man to watch at work.
Flourishing agricultural markets are still held every Tuesday. They were held on a Monday until recent times. In the 1920s one market was held in the old station yard. Stock could be bought in Hereford and Gloucester and delivered by train to the goods station, usually in the early hours of the morning, and then walked to their destination. Hence probably the reason for so many inns. Once the business side was concluded, all would retire to them for liquid refreshment and merrymaking.
There are some 70 or more buildings listed as of special historic and architectural interest.
The church, the Holy Cross, is near the centre of the town just behind the Duke of Wellington public house. It is a large building in Early English and Perpendicular styles. The 13th century central tower has a defensive look about it and is crownedby an eight-sided parapet. Both the nave and chancel have single aisles but the aisles are curiously arranged on opposite sides to each other, giving the interior an unbalanced appearance. The church was restored in 1848.
The Duke of Wellington was a coaching inn and dates from the 17th century. Originally it was called the Black Horse, but when the Iron Duke stayed overnight in the building on a journey to visit General Picton in Carmarthen, the name was changed. Inits lounge is a well which is said to have been used in Roman times. It is reputed that there is a ghost called the 'Grey Lady' who used to walk along the narrow passage way on the ground floor of the pub, from the front to the back of the building.
In the early 1920s a cinema was built and above it was a ballroom, reputed to be the finest in South Wales. Many important functions were held there, but unfortunately it was burnt down and now little more than the outer walls remain.
We had many characters in Cowbridge, one of whom was a doctor who, it was said, did not send bills to his poorer patients. He could be seen driving his pony and trap wearing his top hat and tail coat. Johnny John was a well known follower of the hounds. With his terrier and cloth leggings he was known as 'Johnny Grassy'.
To the east of Cowbridge was fought one of the bloodiest battles of Glamorgan in 1405 between the English and the Welsh of the Vale and Owen Glyndwr and his army. Following many hours of fierce fighting Owen drove his enemies away.
The site of the battle is now called Stalling Down, also known for many years as 'Bryn Owen' (Owens Hill).
Edward Williams (1747-1826) kept a bookshop at 14 High street, Cowbridge. He was better known by his bardic name of Iolo Morgannwg. He was born at Llancarfan in the Vale of Glamorgan, and worked as a stone mason for most of his life but is remembered as a poet, writing in Welsh and English, and as a controversial antiquary. He was responsible for introducing the Gorsedd ceremony into the form of the eisteddfod. He died at Flemingston a few miles from Cowbridge.
The Glamorgan Agricultural Society was formed by a number of prominent gentlemen meeting at the Bear Inn in August 1772. This was the beginning of the Cowbridge Show, which has become The Vale of Glamorgan Show and held at Penllyn, near Cowbridge since 1953.
Much housing development has taken place since the Second World War but such growth has not altered the old charm of Cowbridge."
Extract taken from 'The Glamorgan Village Book', compiled by the Glamorgan Federation of Women's Institutes, and published jointly by Countryside Books, Newbury and the GFWI, Port Talbot.
[Last Updated : 19 Sept 2002 Gareth Hicks]