There have been many changes in the 134 years since the Hotel first opened. It began as Coleman’s Hotel in 1872, opened by Edwin Coleman who was a shopkeeper and Postmaster in the nearby village of Howey. It built up a reputation as a simple but reliable family and commercial hotel, supplied with vegetables from the Coleman garden and with provisions from the Howey shop which Edwin’s son ran – the nearest other shops then were in Builth Wells 8 miles away.
In 1885 the Hotel was bought by the Wildings who were an old Radnorshire family. John Wilding organised the purchase of the hotel as he was dying, convinced that his eight children would go on to prosper with a stake in the new, rapidly growing Spa town of Llandrindod Wells. The Wildings also owned the Severn Arms at Penybont and the Builders Arms at Crossgates. They changed the name from Colemans to The Bridge Hotel after the Arlais stream which flows under the road behind the hotel.
The five sisters and three brothers developed the Hotel with great energy and drive; they worked so hard only one of them ever married, channeling all their energies into the new improvements. They added a Billiard Room to the hotel, and a Laundry. The lawns opposite the hotel were levelled and laid to grass (this is where the Circus used to perform each year, on one memorable occasion a Lioness escaped and came into the Bar before being caught). The slate roofed verandah at the front was built and the glorious Wisteria which still delights both locals and tourists was planted then. Their family farm at Cwmtrallwm supplied the hotel with most of its meat, poultry and eggs, supplemented still by Coleman’s vegetable plot.
By 1897 the Wilding siblings decided it was time to retire, so they put the Hotel on the market and moved to Cecil Lodge nearby.
Mrs Elizabeth Miles bought the Hotel for £7850. She was an extraordinary woman. Widowed at the young age of 24, she had two young sons called Francis and William. Hotels had already become the focus of her business and she was eventually to own the licenses of 10 inns and hotels in South Wales. She also saw the potential of a good roadside position in a rapidly growing town. The age of the Car was just beginning. 1897 was also the year the RAC was founded.
The Spa town was attracting more and more tourists to take the waters, breathe in the clean Welsh air, and stroll through the various picturesque parks and walks that had been created. Wealthier and wealthier visitors from the booming West Midlands made their way to the relative tranquillity of Mid-Wales, often hoping to cure a wide variety of ailments. The arrival of the railway led to a massive increase in the town’s popularity and size.
Elizabeth made huge differences in the Hotel to accomodate the greater numbers and greater wealth of her visitors. She built onto the original Bridge hotel both upwards and outwards, including the building of a substantial Ballroom. She increased capacity of the Hotel from 40 guests to 250 by 1923. At this point she achieved an ambition; the hotel was the largest in whole of the Principality of Wales.
The immense practicality of her nature became clear to all those who worked with her. She visited the bakery every day without fail to ensure the freshness of the bread for the hotel; she travelled across England to Norfolk for a Hotel sale where she bought several carpets and large quantities of cutlery and china. When her sons pointed out on her arrival home that all of her purchases were monogrammed with the initial ‘M’ – she replied saying she would therefore change the name of her hotel to The Metropole!
In 1925 her son Francis took over the Hotel. He continued her work, building the largest open-air swimmingpool in mid-Wales which was open to the public. It was on the site of the present swimming pool and leisure complex. But the Depression was a difficult time for a hotel of this size, and during World War II the Army requisitioned the hotel as an Officers Cadet Training Centre. The fabric of the Hotel suffered badly and it took a particularly undaunted group to re-open the Hotel in 1947. This group was made up of Mrs Nancy Miles, Mr Spencer Miles, Mrs Elizabeth Baird-Murray and Mrs Mary Caughey, all relatives and descendents of Francis and his mother Elizabeth. In 1954 her Grandson David Baird-Murray returned from working in Morocco and took over the running of the hotel. Gradually he and his wife Norma built up the standards and reputation of the Hotel again. David built on a resident’s lounge and tackled the huge task of providing all the bedrooms with bathrooms (not considered a necessity in Victorian times). It is said that his job of carving bathrooms out of the space of bedrooms was only made possible because the original bedrooms were so large – because they had been built to the large measurements of Elizabeth Miles’ Norfolk-bought hotel carpets.
In 1972 the Old Spa Treatment Centre was closed, where guests had in the past been able to taste the waters; bathe in them, and have pressurised water jet massage treatments.
The Leisure complex now has an indoor swimming pool and gym. Guests cannot drink the Spa waters of the Chalybeat Spring, but they can still drink in the pure air of Mid-Wales and walk again down the beautiful park walks created for the Victorian guests.
The Metropole is still very much a family run hotel. David and Norma Baird-Murray’s son Justin now runs the Hotel with his sister Sarah; the fifth generation to do so. They have continued the family tradition of improvement and expansion; the Conference facilities and Dining Rooms were expanded and upgraded recently, and in 2006 the Bar named after Justin and Sarah’s great Uncle Spencer has been remodelled and opened in grand style. Also, the Leisure Spa has had a complete face-lift and re-opened in early 2007.