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The Honest Man

‘The mention of ale-house tempts me to speak of mine, by the sea-side, in the township of Bychton, called Lletty Gonest, or the honest house.’

Thomas Pennant, The History of the Parishes of Whiteford and Holywell, p.49

 

On the coast road through Mostyn on your way, I'm sure, to an exciting elsewhere is the rather wonderful Lletty Hotel. The name is tautological, since lletty and and hotel mean much the same thing. It has been known by several names, and locally,  still is. In the 18th century, when it was owned by none other than Thomas Pennant, it was known as Lletty Gonest - The Honest Inn.

The reason for this name is something of a legend. Pennant suggests that it was built by a man by the name of Smith of Worcester. He says nothing of the date of its build, but one look at the curious relief sculpture above the door gives us the impression of a late 17th century raising - this may be true, but it is hard to say with any accuracy, since there has been some considerable work on the building in the years since.

 

The legend states that the building was begun by an Englishman - Smith, perhaps. However, it was said that he was required to leave the area in some haste, though the reasons are unknown. Whatever they were, they were not financial, since he left no debts behind, and apparently left bags of money on the tables of the half finished inn to ensure the work was completed and the workmen were not out of pocket. Smith the honest man?

 

The inn had an excellent reputation, and the beer was a highlight. Brewed by Jane of Lletty, Pennant speaks highly of its quality. Apparently, so good was Jane’s ale, that she became both well known and wealthy, passing on her fortune to her children, who were also known for their ‘industry’.

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'The face is averted, and expressing much agony.'

‘Above the door is a very singular sculpture, a cut in bas-relief in stone, and let into the wall. One part is a strange chimerical figure of a monster with four legs, and the head of an owl, fixing its claws in the side of a human head. The face is averted, and expressing much agony. The eye-lids are drawn up, the eyes the same, the mouth half opened, and the teeth closely fixed together. The face is young, has a pair of whiskers, and is far from being ill cut.’

Thomas Pennant, The History of the Parishes of Whiteford and Holywell, p.50

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It is unlikely that this fabulous and deeply curious sculpture, still remarkably extant above the doorway of the building, is the Smith, or honest man of legend. Pennant thought it had been removed from a church building, and in this he may be right. What we may have, then, is a conflation of material - the striking bas-relief sculpture placed above the doorway of an inn already known as the Honest Man. It’s hard to see how they could possibly go together. As Pennant makes abundantly clear, the head of the bearded man expresses a quite disturbing level of pain or shock - wide eyed terror, in fact. What is less clear is the creature, described by Pennant as the ‘chimerical figure of a monster’. In fact, the human head seems to be terrored by nothing more than an aggressive sheep. Clearly then, there has been some alteration, some wearing of the original form. The whole has been painted several times, surrounded by various text over the years, as earlier photographs of the sculpture make clear.

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The Honest Man c.1917 

Almost everything we know of the inn comes from Pennant. It had been owned by his family for years, and certainly by his grandfather. Pennant suggests that the inn may well have been used as a, ‘place of confinement for impressed men,’ which he suggests the bars on the windows in his time were the reason for. This may give us the reason why the Inn was used by customs agents working against smuggling in the area.

 

‘In the reign of King William, this house was remarkable for the violent hands laid on a vast seizure of French wines.’

Thomas Pennant, The History of the Parishes of Whiteford and Holywell, p.50

 

The bars upon the inn did little to prevent the taking of much port wine at the beginning of the 18th century. Customs officers had managed to confiscate the wine from the great barn at Talacre - possibly a tithe barn in the area. The alcohol had probably been smuggled into the Point of Ayr and was destined, perhaps a little surprisingly, for use by local Welsh gentry - Pennant’s family included perhaps?  Pennant claims the wine was sixty pipes worth, which is hard to render into a modern equivalent, but may well have been in excess of 7300 gallons - an extraordinary amount. The wine was transferred by the agents to the Inn where they intended to stay overnight.

 

However, at midnight, a considerable number of individuals, described as colliers - coal miners - descended upon the inn, broke into the premises, restrained the customs agents and made off with the wine - loading it into carriages, ‘and conveyed it into places so secure that it never more could be heard of.’ The whole operation suggests a level of resourcefulness and organisation which would seem to indicate the involvement of the very same gentry for whom the wine had been intended. And given that some of the colliers were said to have worn rings and fine linen, it would seem reasonable to agree with Pennant’s assertion that wealthy landowners had been at the heart of the operation. None of the perpetrators were identified, although the tapster at the inn was offered much money to identify the culprits. His silence afforded him the thanks of the local worthies, and he, ‘lived long after, supported by the grateful contributions of the neighbouring squires.’

 

There have been suggestions that the inn was used for smuggling, with local legend telling of two tunnels in the building, one linking the place with Mostyn Hall, the other leading to the coast. It is said that the doorway to the latter tunnel is hidden in the north west corner of the inn, behind skirting boards and panelling. A local was said to have lost his dog beneath a table, and in searching for the hound, discovered a tunnel in which his dog was found. The inn is closed now and boarded up, so the truth of these stories is difficult to discover.

 

Perhaps the most amusing tale of The Honest Man is that told by Pennant of his grandfather. Within the trees above the inn was a summer house owned by the Pennants, where Thomas' grandfather would retire from the inn of an evening, his guests in tow, to drink Jane’s delicious ale. Thomas continued the tradition, but avoiding ale, he drank tea and ate shrimp with his friends. This did not sit well with, ‘an honest vicar of a distant parish, who had been a most intimate friend of my convivial grandfather.’ The idea of tea being drunk shocked the vicar.

 

‘Struck with horror at the degeneracy of the grandson, the good man with indignation exclaimed, ‘DRINK TEA! His grandfather would have SCORNED IT!’

Thomas Pennant, The History of the Parishes of Whiteford and Holywell, p.51

 

The Honest Man, empty for some time has now happily been bought and is in the process of being restored to its former glory days, on the busy A548 through Mostyn, with its terrored sculpture and legends of smuggling.

 

 

Further Reading

 

Thomas Pennant, The History of the Parishes of Whiteford and Holywell, London (1796)

 

https://historypoints.org/index.php?page=the-lletty-hotel-mostyn

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