T.Meirion Hughes

Of all the street names in Caernarfon, the one that visitors find most puzzling is the Welsh for Northgate Street, which translates as Four and Six Street.

If one were to ask a number of true Caernarfonites (Cofis) how the name originated, several answers would be forthcoming. Many would say that it is short for four shillings and six pence, in the days long before decimalization occurred in 1971. Some would even go as far as to say that it was the sum charged for bed and breakfast in lodging houses in the street during the 19th century, when ships from many countries visited the Port of Caernarfon.

For four shillings and six pence - a week’s wages for a quarryman in those days - the lodger would receive a bottle of Gin, the company of a female, a comfortable bed and a substantial breakfast the following morning. Others would suggest that the 4 and 6 referred to the number of windows in the houses. 4 for a building with 2 floors and 6 for a 3 floored one, whilst some would argue that the cost of bed and breakfast would have been 6 pence in the better class establishments and 4 pence (groat) in those offering a lesser standard of comfort.

Those, generally, are the reasons given for so naming the street, but they are hardly credible. However, Guide Books, published half a century and more ago, read as follows: "Various explanations for this curious name, such as - a tavern sign having 10 fleur de lis in rows of 4 and 6 respectively".

There were 2 taverns situated in the street at the beginning of the 19th century viz. "The King’s Arms" at number 7 and "Fleur de lis" at number 9. (See Pigot & Co’s Directory 1835). Today, there is only one "The Black Boy" or "The Black Buoy" and over the years there has been much arguing as to which name is correct. Some say that the tavern was referred to as "The Black Boy" because a coloured seaman, having "swallowed the anchor", settled in Caernarfon and worked there as a barman early in the 19th century. Others say that the tavern, being a popular local for the town’s fishermen, called it "The Black Buoy" after a large navigation buoy on the Menai Strait.

Recently, however, another explanation was offered by Mr. Ivor Wynne Jones, a native of Caernarfon and a well known journalist, author and historian. He happened to be present at the Court in Caernarfon in 1950, when the then landlord of "The King’s Arms" applied for a change of name to "The Black Boy" in view of the fact that this was the name by which it was commonly known. He also applied for an extension to the premises, which was to include an empty building that had once been the "Fleur de lis" tavern.

Documents were presented to the Court confirming that the building had been a tavern during the 17th century, at the time of the Civil War and the Cromwellian period. It appears that persons loyal to the King met secretly there, where part of the King’s Coat of Arms appeared on the sign which hung above the door viz. "Fleur de lis". It was their custom to drink a toast to the young exiled Prince, who later became Charles II. However, showing such an allegiance could result in their arrest, should they be caught by Cromwell’s supporters and the toast had to be drunk in secret or more specifically in code. They would raise their glasses "To the Black Boy", a subtle reference to the fact that the Prince, like his mother, had a swarthy complexion

The location of "The King’s Arms" can be seen in the photo taken c.1900. It stood where the 2nd sign on the left hand side appears and according to the Census of 1851, its number in the street was 7 and number 9 was the "Fleur de lis". By 1858, however, only "The King’s Arms" is recorded in Slater’s Directory for 1858/59.

Yes, Caernarfon is steeped in history.