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Cowbridge, Glamorgan, called Pont Faen in Welsh, is a little town 12 miles along the main road westwards from Cardiff. It has been christened the Capital of the Vale, and even the Cranford of Glamorgan. Times have changed, and no county town near a big city is safe from traffic. But Cowbridge has now been by-passed to the North and there are signs that its former peace is returning. In essence the town is one long street running East to West, with a cross road leading down to the church. Cowbridge is lucky to have escaped “development” so far.

The town has a long history. It is possibly the Roman Bovium, on the main Roman road to the West, and the town plan is certainly as rectangular as a Roman camp. In Norman times, it developed as the market for the lordship of Llanblethian. It was a borough by the end of the 13th century, and has remained the smallest and one of the most ancient boroughs in the country. The civic arms show a cow on a bridge, commemorating the old and unauthenticated story that the place got its name from the cunning of a local farmer, who hid his cow under the Pont Faen (Stone Bridge), when the first Norman lax-gatherer arrived. Until the Industrial Revolution, the place rivalled Cardiff in importance.

Cowbridge was also a walled town, and the remains of the town wall can be seen on the South side. There is a charming group of ancient buildings around the South gate, which still survives. Turn down from the main street at the Bear Inn, noting the tall chimneys that sprout from the huddle of roofs at the back of the Bear. The South gate stands before you, with the grammar school immediately to the left. The present buildings of the school date from 1847. Cowbridge Grammar School was founded in the 16th century, probably by Sir Edward Stradling, of the powerful St Donat's family. It was moved to its present position by his nephew, Sir John Stradling, who is usually regarded as the founder. The school also owed a great deal to Sir Leoline Jenkins (1623 85) who left it in his will to the Fellows of Jesus College, Oxford. Sir Leoline was a great man in his day. Born in Llantrisant, he became Principal of Jesus, fought in the Royalist army in the Civil War, was appointed Judge, Privy Councillor, and in 1680 Secretary of State. Even Pepys, in his secret diary, declared, “I am mightily pleased with the Judge, who seems a very rational, learned and uncorrupt man” a man, in fact, whom any school would be proud to honour as a benefactor. The church is alongside the school, with the entrance to the small churchyard tucked away against the school buildings. The Church of the Holy Rood is mainly Early English and Perpendicular, and rather odd in construction, both within and without. The 13th century embattled tower is a complicated structure of buttresses and stairways: inside, the aisle of the chancel is on the opposite side of the aisle of the Perpendicular nave. The church contains memorials to distinguished local men, among them Dr Benjamin Heath Malkin (1769-l842). the historian and traveller whose descriptions of South Wales in the early 19th century are constantly quoted with appreciation by later guide-book writers. The original sanctus bell was re-hung in 1939, after being used as a fire-bell. The combined Town Hall and Market House, standing in the main street, is a pleasant little building that once served as the house of correction for most of the county, and still contains the cells. The stocks are now in the National Museum of Wales at Cardiff. Cowbridge was once a lively publishing centre, and the first printing-press used in Glamorgan was established here by Rhys Thomas in 1770. The press also has gone for safe keeping to the National Museum.

On the East of the borough, at the point where the by-pass begins, Stalling Down gives a fine view over the country to the North. Tradition makes the Down the scene of a victory of Owain Glyndwr over the troops of Henry IV in 1405. The monument on the Down, however, commemorates the men of the Glamorgan Yeomanry.

About 1 mile to the South of Cowbridge is the village of Llanblethian. Llanblethian still feels itself a separate place from the borough down the road, although the castle at Llanblethian was the cause of Cowbridge's existence. The remains of the tine 14th century gatehouse are still visible. The popular title of the ruin is St Quintin's Castle, but the St Quintin family did not get possession of the estate until much later. Llanblethian church stands apart from the village, looking proud of its isolation: a fine building, with a tower reminiscent of the Jasper Tower of Llandaff Cathedral, containing some medieval effigies and unusual arches in the South porch. To the West the hill is crowned by a large Iron Age fort, which has recently been excavated. It has the unusual local name of the Devil's Foot and Knee.

Thomas Carlyle was a frequent visitor here to his friend John Sterling (1806-44), who is regarded as one of the first of the “military experts” in the world of journalism. His articles in The Times were eagerly followed, and Carlyle relates that Sterling would be anxiously standing on Llanbiethian hill to see the coach, with the latest dispatches, rumbling over Stalling Down into Cowbridge. Sterling's house is the villa with the veranda on the hill leading to the church. Carlyle had an affection for Llanblethian, and described it as a “cheerful group of human homes” and a “little sleeping cataract of white houses with trees overshadowing it and fringing it”. His description is not so far wrong for Llanblethian today.

Nearby cities: Cardiff

Nearby towns: Barry, Bridgend, Ely, Llandaff, Llantrisant, Llantwit Major

Nearby villages: Aberkenfig, Aberthaw, Bettws, Bonvilston, Boverton, Brynmenyn, Coed Ely, Coity, Coychurch, East Aberthaw, Ewenny, Flemingston, Gileston, Llancarfan, Llandow, Llangan, Llanharan, Llanharry, Llantwit Fardre, Llysworney, Marcross, Monknash, Moulton, Pancross, Pencoed, Penllyn, Penmark, Pentyrch, Peterston-super-Ely, Porthkerry, Rhoose, Saint Athan, St Brides Major, Saint Donats, Saint Lythans, Saint Nicholas, Southerndown, Tondu, West Aberthaw, Wick, Ystradowen

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