Thursday, 3 November 2022

The Black Boy Inn, Caernarfon: times change, but Cofis don’t!

In 2022 we are celebrating the 500th birthday of the Black Boy Inn, one of the oldest surviving inns in north Wales.

Although half a millennium has passed since this historic business was established, some things about the hostelry, and the town, would still be familiar to its earliest customers.

Caernarfon Castle of course has stood since the end of the 13th century, so a time travelling Tudor resident would instantly recognise this most obvious of landmarks. What this citizen would not recognise, however, is the addition of the North Gate entrance to the town walls, which was added in the 1820s to facilitate the increasing traffic into the town at the height of the slate industry.

Parts of the Black Boy Inn’s architecture would still be recognisable to our time traveller; however, when it was first built it was two separate taverns, one being the King’s Head and the other a separate inn, the Fleur de Lys. At some stage in the inn’s history, the landlord of one bought out the landlord of the other, and joined the two into a ‘mega-inn’. The name ‘The Black Boy’ was historically used as a nickname by the King’s Head – see our previous article about the origins of the ‘black boy’ moniker – and so it came to be used formally for the new, combined inn.

Although the Black Boy Inn is situated on a street that is now named Northgate Street in homage to the new gate created in the 1820s, at one time it was known as Black Boy Street in English, and Stryd Pedwar a Chwech in Welsh. This translates to ‘Four and Six Street’, a reference to the price in shillings and pence of securing a bed for the night, something to eat and drink, and the company of a woman. Although this name would probably be familiar to our time traveller today, that particular service most definitely would not! And even if it were, our Tudor guest would be most disappointed to learn that ‘four and six’ – around 22.5p in today’s money – would not buy very much of anything at all!

Life in the Tudor period would have been tough and often dangerous for people from all walks of life. This was an era when the gap between rich and poor was much wider than today, and yet both the wealthy and the less well-off would have used inns as a place for warmth, sustenance and rest after a long journey across Snowdonia’s rugged mountains. This is certainly true today, although of course we have modern modes of transport to relieve the hardship of such journeys. In modern times, the Black Boy Inn provides a welcome – and welcoming – resting place to weary travellers, although today our clientele consists mostly of tourists.

One enduring feature of the Black Boy Inn, however – and this is true of Caernarfon generally, too – is the people who live and work in the town. Caernarfon people – or ‘Cofis’, as they are known locally – are among the most colourful, down-to-earth and welcoming people you could wish to meet, so why not pop in and toast our quincentenary next time you’re in the area, and make some new friends? Just be aware that the Welsh translation of a very offensive word beginning with C is used as a term of endearment around these parts, and you’ll get along just fine!