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Bear Street

Including the Bear Tower and Bear Gate

Page updated 2nd February 2016

Streets List

Linking Cathedral Close and South Street, this narrow street (56m long) gave its name to the Bear Inn which was the town house of the Abbots of Tavistock. In 1286, the town house of the Abbots was named Bere after the small peninsular of land formed by the Tamar and the Tavy rivers in west Devon. The Abbot of Tavistock was charged by Edward I to administer the silver mines that were situated there. The sign of the inn was a bear with the word Bere, and hence a pun. They seemed to like puns in those days! The Inn remained after the monasteries were dissolved by Henry VIII and was a centre for merchants to trade. Russell's carrier service was based at the site of the Bear Inn from before 1800, with heavily laden horse-drawn wagons bound for London departing at dawn, every day of the week. There was a second Bear Inn situated further up South Street from about 1820 to 1871.

Fragments of a drain installed by the Romans for their Bath House in Cathedral Yard were excavated in the street, indicating the street was within the Roman fortress.

Bear Street was very close to the public water conduit situated at the front of the College of the Vicars Choral; the ancient underground passages from St Sidwell's fed the conduit with pure water. When the cholera outbreak of 1832 broke out, many from the other side of South Street, in the Westquarter were infected from water dipped from the leats. Bear Street, although very short, only suffered two deaths from the disease, a result of their clean water supply.

Celebration of a wedding

On the marriage of the Prince of Wales in March 1863, the street erected celebratory decorations "Bear-street had a fine bold arch of evergreens, interspersed with coloured lamps, and surmounted by a fine transparency, with the words- "Albert Edward and Alexandra - Health and happiness," belonging to Mr. Hutchingson."

It was proposed the the street be widened from the top at Palace Street down to the last house fronting South Street in 1871, although the scheme never happened due to the cost. Then, 1884, it was macadamised and a pavement created on the north side. Apart from the Bear Inn, the only other public house so far traced to Bear Street is the Crown and Anchor which had a change of licensee in 1873.

This list of occupants in 1897 indicate how few lived in Bear Street.

Bear street, South street to Deanery place.    
1 Loney Miss Emma, wardrobe dealer
2 Phillips Miss E.crape cleanr
2 Callaway Charles, tailor

2 Callaway, Louisa , laundress   
3 SiIbey Charles, boot maker
4 Seaward, William H. Coach Builder
5 Sibley, William Charles Engraver
6 Steer, John Bookbinder
7 Meadway, Frederick J. Harness maker

World War One Dead - Bear Street

Private, F J Hettish, Devonshire Regiment, 1 July 1916.

Bear Gate and Tower

Bear Gate was one of seven gates for the Cathedral Close, it dated from 1286, when the close was walled and gated to prevent access at night, after the murder of Walter Lechlade, on the 5 November 1283. The Bear Gate was situated at the opposite end of Bear Street (sometimes referred to as Bear Lane) and its position is still marked with a small ring in the wall, allowing the street to be blocked for one day a year, preventing it becoming a public right of way.

John Hoker wrote that after the murder of Lechlade, The Bishop and Dean and Chapter agreed to erect the seven gates around Cathedral Yard, and this included a "broad gate, eight foot in width, between the House of the Dean of Exeter and the house which is now in possession of Master Roger of Dartford."

It is thought that the gate also had a simple pitched roof before a chamber was added over the gate by 1584, as Mr Barcombe paid two pence per year in consideration of "his new building over the gate going into the churchyard by the said Bear Gate". It was demolished in the Spring of 1813 and a certain Thomas Matthews paid the princely sum of £10 for the salvaged materials.

All the buildings dating back several hundred years, on the northern side of Bear Street at the Cathedral Yard end, were demolished in the 1930's. The Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart situated in South Street replaced the old Bear Inn in 1885, on the corner of South Street. On the opposite corner can be found a tree and shrubs, marking the site of the 14th Century Bear Tower which was demolished in January 1966. Jenkins associated this tower with a nunnery, although no other reference to its existence has been found.

Bear Street showing the garden site of the Bear Tower

Bear Street showing the garden site of the Bear Tower.

Bear Street with the Sacred Heart Church

Bear Street with the Sacred Heart Church on the right.

Hookers map of Cathedral Yard

Hookers map of Cathedral Yard. Bear Gate is immediately above the coat of arms at the bottom of the image.

The Bear Gate appears to have been a square structure

The Bear Gate appears to have been a square structure. Looking towards South Street.

The ring in the wall

The ring in the wall (left bottom) is the position of the gate.

The entrance to Bear Street

The entrance to Bear Street, with the Bear Inn (Pickfords transport) on the right.

The Bear Tower

The Bear Tower, centre, before it was demolished.

Arthur Norcombe, wardrobe dealer

Arthur Norcombe, wardrobe dealer, outside hias Bear Street shop.

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