Friday, 16 April 2010

The Black Lion, Conwy

The Black Lion, Castle Street, Conwy (Photo Credit)

One of my favourite buildings in Conwy is the Black Lion (Y Llew Du), built in 1589 by John Brickdall, Vicar of Conwy (1569-1607); his initials and those of his wife appear over the door together with the date 1589 (they were married on the 10th May 1589). Brickdall's father was the Constable of Conwy Castle at the time of construction and later died of the plague.

The building was turned into the Black Lion Inn in the 1700s; a usage that continued for over 200 years (it was also the venue for the popular Monday morning Pig Market) until the 15th March 1935, when falling trade made it unviable. It then had a variety of uses, including tearooms and an antique bookshop, until it became empty in the 1990s when its condition deteriorated sharply due to dry rot. The exterior was renovated a few years back and it was then sold but no work appears to have been carried out since the sale - I believe the interior is just a shell. I just wish somebody would renovate it and bring it back into use- its a lovely old building, full of character, and in a prime spot on Castle Street.

A local artist, Jean Morgan Roberts, was born in the Black Lion and, in her book 'The Character of Conwy'*, she says "I grew up in the wonderful old atmosphere of the house with its secret passages, a cellar reputed to have an escape tunnel that led to the quay, a well, stables, stone steps to the town walls, a tower, Elizabethan fireplaces and a beautiful walled garden." You can visit her website here.

A local guidebook** states that the building has two ghosts; one being an elderly gentleman who often sits beside the large fireplace in what was once the pub's parlour (see interior photo below), smiling to himself and nodding benignly. A former proprietor stated that 'he's a nice old fellow and we've got used to him and take his appearances for granted'.

The other ghost is quite the opposite, described as being a 'tall person in a cloak', bringing with him a 'feeling of malevolence' as he haunts the upper floor of the building. A former employee stated that 'he's a real fierce character...he has rocked the bed, frightening many a sleeping person, striking terror in the dead of night". Fortunately, the second ghost is very rarely seen!

Black Lion Inn in 1935

Black Lion Antiques Shop & Tearooms in 1950s

Interior as Antique Shop & Tearooms in 1950s

Interior Plan (1939)

Rear of the Black Lion

The Black Lion or Y Llew Du is a later C16 house built by John Brickdall, Vicar of Conwy (1569-1607); his initials and those of his wife appear over the door together with the date 1589. Later in use as Black Lion Inn. Two storeys. Slate roof with massive square central chimney and second chimney to right. Walls of stone, with front wall of whitewashed pebbledash cladding with stuccoed plinth. Ledged central door in heavy frame. Two two-storey flanking rectangular gabled bays. Sash windows with horns (RAJ 10/7/03; based on CADW listing description).

Black Lion Inn - Landlords:
Edward Williams (1850s)

* - 'The Character of Conwy' by Jean Morgan Roberts. Available to purchase from her shop at 14b Castle Street, Conwy.

** - 'The Ghosts of Conwy' by Margaret Williams. Available to purchase from the 'Smallest House' on the Quay in Conwy.

See the Black Lion on Google Streetview


Reggie said...

Just noticed the three birds above each of the three gables.
The middle one obviously isn't real.

How about the other two?

Chameleon said...

They're all fakes. Nice touch, eh?

Anonymous said...

I believe the birds are Jackdaws.
As in the Conwy Jackdaws which you can only join if you where born within the walls.
The Black Lion has changed hands a couple of times since the renovation was started.

Chameleon said...

Thanks for the info, Anon. If you happen to see it coming up for sale again, perhaps you could let me know?

Christine said...

i really love those jackdaws, and the hubby says that he peered inside a couple of years ago when there was soome work going on inside and that there are still rooms in there.

Another place I want for my own now!

pato said...

pato Although we appreciate everyone loving the birds, has anyone noticed the state of repair of this magnificent building. I thinks that it is a crying shame that this building is going to ruin. Where are the National Trust, or Cadw. Why are the owner not being taken to task by their lack of maintenance of a property in the middle of the historic town of Conwy.

Angharad Jones (Owner) said...

I feel it is always better to check both sides of a situation before coming to a conclusion. I refer to your 19th February 2012 comment "Owner that has left it to languish ..." Apart from the poor English ("who" not "that"), the statement is also wrong. I have battled for 4 years to renovate this building, I was advised at the beginning to appoint a firm of conservation architects (which I did) and they would work with the Principal Conservation Officer to produce plans and obtain planning permission. After three years and over £23,000 architects fees, the plans were refused. Total failure! Even my attempt to obtain permission to carry out emergency repairs was met with the response "... the Principal Conservation Officer will not assist in resolving the remaining outstanding issues that have previously been identified and potentially could create further delay in determining your application". It is my firm belief that he is carrying out his threat. As any planning application is either passed or refused and is never partly passed, it is important that every point is correct. On such a complicated scheme, the chances of one thing not being acceptable is high. I have therefore broken down the proposals into Stages. Stage 1 is the yard, the well and the drainage. Two reasons for this: (1) a spade in the ground means having an archaeologist there to watch and report (the supports for the car port/roof garden, the well and the drains all require a spade in the ground so they all form part of Stage 1). The yard Archaeological Report will be added to the building Archaeological Report which I commissioned in May 2009 - the whole thing will then be deposited in the Royal Commission archives. (2) until I provide drains, I cannot instal guttering, as the discharge of large quantities of water into the ground in a few places could lead to subsidence. If you check the actual planning application for Stage 1 (DC/0/38740 and 38741) you will see that (contrary to your comments) no part of the building is to be demolished to build the carport/roof garden. That is a complete fabrication. As far as the three bathrooms are concerned( and these will be subject to a later Stage application - not Stage 1), there are seven upstairs rooms - the numbers are totally in proportion. For some reason Conwy Council does not put planning applications on-line, but I would respectfully suggest that if your interest is enough, that you go to Colwyn Bay and go through the paper copy. It is a fairly large file, even for a Stage of the work, but there are pictures of the proposed carport/roof garden and a lot of correspondence, comments and replies to comments as well as the plans. I hope for the sake of fairness that you do publish my reply to your comments dated 19.1.12

Chameleon said...

Of course, your comments would be published - why not?

And very welcome they are, too. Everyone in Conwy is very concerned about the Black Lion's current state. If you would like to email me any plans/photos etc, I would be more than happy to do a follow up post explaining your position/plans in more detail.

In fairness to my own comments, though, other organisations have expressed concerns about the plans for the property, notably the Council for British Archaeology, who commented that:

"Proposals to turn the building back into a single domestic dwelling have not been opposed by the CBA, but we objected to the removal of historic fabric by the proposed addition of three ensuite bathrooms and the removal of internal walls. The case also raised concerns over the public accessibility of the archaeological report, which the owner is presently not willing to make available, a position that the CBA considers to be deplorable."

My personal view is that the Black Lion is unsuited to residential use - with 2 of what I shall diplomatically refer to as 'not the quietest pubs in Conwy' next door and the door/windows of the Black Lion being directly on the pavement, its asking for trouble. For that reason, I think a commercial usage would be more appropriate. Just my own opinion, you understand.

Angharad Jones (Owner) said...

Thank you for publishing my comments.

With regard to the CBA comments: they were taken on board and the kichen (subject of the original plan to remove half a wall) has been re-sited and there are now no plans to remove any internal walls. The point about the Archaeological Report being available once complete, was covered in my first reply.

I investigated the possibility of commercial use when I first purchased the property. There is an alchohol prohibition clause in the deeds, so a restaurant or pub is out of the question. There are loads of cafes in Conwy already and a cafe would not produce the return necessary for this expensive renovation. When I asked a commercial estate agent for the prospects as a retail outlet, I was told that the windows were hopeless for selling and he would not be able to rent or sell the property for retail. The reversion to residential was the only viable option. All this information is in the Stage 1 planning application. I really have gone into all the options thoroughly.

Angharad Jones (owner) said...

I cannot find your e-mail address.

Chameleon said...

Angharad Jones said...

No, that e-mail address does not work

Chameleon said...

I can assure you that it does. I've just tested it by sending an email to it from another account and it worked fine.

Angharad Jones (owner) said...

So sorry - I included "bay" in the address - has it come through this time?

Chameleon said...

Yes, I have it, thank you. It all looks very interesting, I will have a proper look at it tomorrow.

Angharad E.M.Jones(Owener) said...

Have you any comment on the plans of the carport/roof garden I sent you?
Needless to say, Conwy Council missed yet another deadline (8th May 2012) and so I have sent all the documents (applications, plans, comments etc) to the Welsh Assembly Planning Inspectorate in the hope that something will now happen.

kolourspace said...

To Angharad Jones -

I've always been really interested in your building and have some thoughts about it which I'd like to discuss with you.

Please would you mind contacting me:

Many thanks

kolourspace said...

To Angharad Jones -
I've always been very interested in your building. I've some thoughts about it which I'd like to discuss with you. Please would you mind contacting me on

Thank you.

Mark :Leicester said...

WOW its took me AGES to find out info on this property

I remember it for sale a few years back and i was very very tempted. After reading about the problems im pleased i didn’t peruse it

I remember looking inside the letter box at the time and felt the building had a sinister feeling to it (god knows why)

if the property is renovated please don’t get rid of those crows - they are brilliant, just love looking at them

Anonymous said...

I would love to see this building restored to it's former glory, be it residential or commercial. Good luck to the owner in her endeavours. I agree with Mark:Leicester the Jackdaws are iconic and should stay.

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