The Robin Hood Inn is claimed to be the oldest pub in Monmouth, and the Tudor arched doorway built in dressed stone suggests that this claim is not without merit. When I investigate the history of old pubs like this one I am always amazed by two things which keep cropping up. The first is that there is an intrinsic link in Wales between pubs and the church. The second being that pubs have always been prominent in the country’s storied history of rebels, outlaws and underdogs. Never was this truer than in the case of the Robin Hood.
In the sixteenth century, Britain was wrestling with the ramifications of the Reformation. Being a practising Catholic became a very risky business. It was viewed as seditious, and followers were persecuted.
Despite the great personal risk, the landlord of the Robin Hood allowed the inn’s upper room to be used as a safe space for Monmouth’s Catholic community. There is even evidence that it was used to celebrate Mass in secret and remnants of religious paintings where discovered when an area was replastered in the latter part of the 20th century.
Had he been caught he would have instantly been shut down and imprisoned, possibly executed. However, there is no doubt that these secret gatherings continued for more than 100 years, because by 1778 religious tensions had cooled sufficiently for parliament to pass the Catholic Relief Act, in which places of Catholic worship were given licenses to exist. It took the council in Monmouth fifteen years to act on this reform, but when they finally did, they granted the Robin Hood Inn a license to act as a ‘Publick Catholic Chapel’.
It was a condition of the license that the building could not be made to look like a place of worship and that worshippers could not enter from the main street. Once the restriction on Catholic worship was lifted, a lot more people felt comfortable turning up to Mass, and the upper room of the Robin Hood Inn quickly became inadequate to support their numbers. Instead, the landlord of the Robin Hood at the time, a man called Michael Watkins, financed the building of a purpose-built chapel.
This exert is taken from a new book called “Historic Pubs of Wales” by Welsh author and historian; Graham Loveluck-Edwards and published by Candy Jar Books (Cardiff) LTD.
The book charts the amazing haul of history tied up in 89 historic pubs from right across Wales including 21 from the Monmouthshire/Gwent area. It is available in WH Smith and other good book shops and on Amazon or at a £2 discount on the author’s own website at http://grahamloveluckedwards.co.uk