Ever wondered why we make pancakes on Shrove Tuesday? Because the practice might all originate from a tradition started at an old pub in North Wales. The Groes Inn, in Ty’N-Y-Groes near Conwy. This lovely old pub on the pilgrimage route to the shrine at St Winifred’s Well has many claims. Not least of which is a copy of its first licence to trade dated 1537. This means it can prove that it has been trading as an inn for longer than any other pub in Wales.
It is also (possibly) the birthplace of the tradition of making pancakes on Shrove Tuesday.
Before we get carried away, let’s just examine the alternative theory too.
I am sure at some point or another we have all been guilted into making pancakes for our children because that’s what their friends’ parents are doing. It’s only fitting really: guilt is a big part of Shrove Tuesday. The word ‘shrove’ comes from an old Saxon word ‘shriven’, which means ‘absolved of sins’. Early Saxon Christians would make sure that they had confessed to all their sins on Shrove Tuesday so they could enter the holy fast of Lent free from the burden of guilt.
There is a theory that the flat bell chimed to draw people to confession on Shrove Tuesday was nicknamed ‘the pancake bell’, and many think this is the origin of the pancake day tradition.
But this being Wales, we obviously have an alternative theory that suggests it was all our idea first. And it begins near Conwy with an amateur historian called Stan Wicklen.
Shrove Tuesday is known in Welsh as ‘Dydd Mawrth Ynyd’, which means ‘the day of the martyr Ynyd’, a sixth-century Welsh saint. The name this pub goes by, the ‘Groes’, is actually an abbreviation of its proper name ‘Groesynyd’, which translates as ‘Ynyd’s cross’. In other words, the inn had the patronage of the saint whose festival day was Shrove Tuesday. This meant that the inn had a special tradition and celebration of their own, to mark their namesake’s day. It involved playing tricks and practical jokes on visitors and passers-by, as well as the eating of Welsh cakes and other ‘pan cakes’ and pastries. And that, in Stan Wicklen’s opinion, is where the tradition of eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday started.
As you know, I love an old story with an ancient pub at its heart. Regardless of how true it is likely to be. Maybe we should substitute the bottle of maple syrup on the pancake day table with a bottle of ‘cwrw da’ (Welsh for good beer).
This information is taken from ‘Historic Pubs of Wales’ by Graham Loveluck-Edwards. A book full of the quirky back stories of Wales’ oldest and most interesting pubs. For more information visit our online bookshop.