The Black Boy Inn, set deep in the evocative Royal Borough of Caernarfon, has been a welcome retreat for weary travellers for centuries. Built circa 1522, it is one of the oldest inns in North Wales.
Formerly the ‘King’s Arms’ and the ‘Fleur de Lys’, one landlord bought the other out and created the Black Boy Inn as it is today. Prior to 1828, the ‘King’s Arms’ was known as the ‘Black Boy’.
Located in Northgate Street, the Black Boy Inn is one of the few remaining free houses owned by an independent family business in the United Kingdom. It has load bearing walls of up to one and a half metres thick, and four exterior signs each showing a ‘black buoy’ on one side and a ‘black boy’ on the other.
There are at least three theories to explain the origins of its name. One relates to a black boy brought into the country on a ship, another suggests it is related to a navigational buoy which existed in the harbour in the early days of the Inn, and the third refers to the nickname given to Charles II by his mother and the fact that Royalists met here secretly at that time.
In days of old, Northgate Street was at the centre of the town’s red light district and known as ‘Stryd Pedwar a Chwech’ in Welsh, which translates as ‘Four and Six Street’. ‘Four and six’ means ‘four shillings and sixpence’ – about 22 pence in today’s money. Allegedly, for that not-too-princely sum, one could get a room complete with a bottle of gin and the services of a young lady for the night!
From this street there is a good view of the town’s sentry wall, towers and well-preserved stone stairs which have the effect of doubling the wall’s thickness. It is hoped that eventually it will be possible to walk this section of the wall as far as the Eastgate gatehouse.
The archway at the end of Northgate Street is a 19th century addition to help facilitate the flow of traffic in and out of the old town, and was not part of the original town wall design.
In the 1990s, excavations were conducted nearby and an old woman’s skeleton was found. The archaeologists concluded that she had been buried there to save the expense of a funeral. More recently during restoration work at the Black Boy Inn, workmen uncovered a range of items underneath the dining room floorboards including a child’s shoe, clay pipes and, unusually, animal jaw bones.
For those with an interest in archaeology, there is a continuous programme of archaeological digs being carried out within the town walls by the Gwynedd Archaeological Trust.
Another interesting feature of the Black Boy Inn is the reported presence of the ghost of a nun seen passing through the Inn to the nunnery, which at one time was at the rear of the Inn.
This gate was the main entrance to the old walled town and therefore the most carefully guarded. Originally built at the same time as the Castle with an external barbican and wooden drawbridge, this was subsequently replaced by a fixed six-arched bridge-way.
The rooms above the gateway served to accommodate the Exchequer in 1284, as the administration and financial centre for the counties of Caernarfon, Anglesey and Merioneth. The town’s curfew bell was also originally housed here. Any inhabitant not inside the town wall by 8pm was locked out till 6am the following morning.
At one time, a large gas-light illuminated clock with four faces was housed within its high tower. This had to be removed owing to it misleading sailing vessels trying to negotiate their way into the harbour at night. In the 1830s it was also used as a lock-up and watch house.
In 1767 the upper floors were adapted as a town guild hall. Other alterations in 1833 and 1873 are commemorated by a slate tablet set into the archway entrance. There are now plans afoot to convert the old gatehouse into a heritage site and town museum.