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Joan Leach was a local historian, a volunteer at the Heritage Centre, a founder of The Gaskell Society, and much more besides.


The White Bear

Joan Leach

I have paused several times this week to watch the thatchers at work on The White Bear for such opportunities to see such an ancient craft are rare now. The inn was last given a new hat in 1986 though no-one can say when it first had one it would have been in the seventeenth century, when it was a simpler job for local thatchers because the inn had no gables. The photo below shows the old, unadorned front with a sign for Groves and Whitnall ales; I would hazard a guess at 1890's but would be pleased to have any information.

The White Bear Knutsford

Before the King Edward Road was opened in 1937 the inn was in a good position to catch trade and was one of the town's coaching inns. You could mount the Aurora coach there in the 1820's to travel north to Liverpool or south to London via Newcastle , Stafford, Walsall and Birmingham. The inn adapted to change as railways developed by providing horse-drawn omnibuses to Bowdon station (Altrincham was then less important) at 8.15am and returning at 3.45pm, for business travellers to Manchester. By 1860 there were four daily coaches or omnibuses to Manchester (two on Sundays) and to Macclesfield on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The Bowling Green Inn (Green Street) ran omnibuses to Northwich and The White Lion to Chelford; most of this trade ceased when the railway came to Knutsford in 1862.

There was a sad occasion at The White Bear in November 1879 when an inquest was held on the death of Trumpet Major William Smith whose portrait hangs in the library. Witnesses told of his farewell messages as he deliberately took an overdose of laudanum, in a state of depression.

The White Bear Knutsford

London had several famous White Bear Inns, perhaps after it became a popular inn sign following Sir Francis Drake's daring raid on Cadiz harbour in his ship The White Bear, 'singeing the King of Spain's beard '(burning the fleet at anchor). As an inn sign it may go back even further to Richard 111's Queen, Anne, who had it as her crest. Bear baiting was a popular sport but not with 'white' bears. You may remember an attractive inn sign for this pub showing a bear led on a chain into a pulpit; this echoed a notorious event in local history when 'a rude fellow brought a beare into the chappell (on King Street) and led him into the pulpit . . whereupon the Bishop did suspend all preaching and praying for a twelvemonth'. And the town had to pay a large sum to re-dedicate the chapel of ease.

Congleton's love of bear baiting was long parodied in the rhyme: 'Congleton rare, Congleton rare, Sold the church bible To buy a new bear'. This was not strictly true but they used money allocated for a new bible to buy a bear for the wakes. The town accounts show many occasions when the bearward was paid and items such as :'Bestowed at the Great Bearbate in wine, sack, spice, figs.almonds and beer - 11 shillings and ten pence'.1602. Well before the days of T.V and football leagues.!! The Black Bear at Sandbach is a fine, timber -frame, thatched building in the market place; strange that all the performing bears would have been brown.