Thanks to the combined efforts of the Victorians and the Luftwaffe, most of the old inns in Swansea city centre are gone for ever, but the Cross Keys (pictured above in 1880, 1926 and now) has survived them all and has antiquity by the spade full.
The name is a nod to the legend that St Peter held the keys to the gates of heaven. A clue to its godly past. The building it self was built by Bishop Henry de Gower (Bishop of St Davids) in 1330, not as an inn but an almshouse and early hospital annexed to a monastic cell. The charter of 1332 says that it was established for ‘the support of other poor chaplains and laymen deprived of bodily health.’ It was not only there to look after people taken ill or injured, but to support the destitute, poor and starving.
The institution must have had some significant patronage, as it survived right up until the Reformation and the dissolution of monasteries in 1536. It was then confiscated by the Crown and sold to Sir George Herbert, who was a very powerful and rather unscrupulous man, descended from a family of ‘Marcher’ lords. And to make matters worse, he was from Cardiff.
He was a man of very different moral fibre to Henry de Gower, and as there was no money to be made from feeding the starving or tending to the sick, he closed down the hospital and almshouse and broke the estate up, turning the old buildings into shops and an inn. Later all the other buildings were demolished, but the inn thrived.
By the beginning of the twentieth century the pub was very dilapidated and run down. and its origins had largely been forgotten, so it was a very brave undertaking to get it all restored and renovated. But when the rendering got stripped away, to the delight of the owner who oversaw the work, a lot of the original features, like the stone arched windows and medieval timber, were re-discovered. The two bays on the St Mary Street side were added onto the original building in the seventeenth century, and it is believed that when they were built, they contained two narrow shops separated by a passageway which ran to the back of the building.
Inside there are some lovely features. The massive ceiling beams tell a story of all the walls and partitions that have been added and taken away in the last 700 years, and there are fragments of medieval roof trusses on either side of a small seating area in the lounge.
The layout of the pub today suggests that this part of the original building had two uses. The old hall would have been located on the first floor, which would have been a cleric’s living accommodation. Meanwhile below would have been part of the old hospital, possibly a ward.
This exert is taken from a new book, out now, called “Historic Pubs of Wales” by welsh author and historian; Graham Loveluck-Edwards and published by Candy Jar Books. It charts the history, folklore and incredible stories that are tied up in 89 historic pubs from all over Wales. Everything from royal patronage and assassination attempts to ghosts and priest holes. Even one which claims to have an elephant buried under the beer garden. It is available from good, independent book shops, WH Smiths, Amazon or direct from the author at a discounted price at http://grahamloveluckedwards.co.uk.