Butterflies Bar & Kitchen
A unique gastropub situated in the heart of the World Heritage Town of Blaenavon. Our menu is inspired by local produce and some dishes our chef has picked up whilst travelling around the world. Our steaks are renowned in the area and we have just won an award for “best steaks and grills” in South East Wales.
We have two restaurant areas; The Garden Room is a contemporary room with views onto the courtyard and our large walled garden. The Cwtch is part of the original pub built c1832 and has two feature fireplaces, one of which houses our beautiful log burner.
Many people refer to us as Blaenavon’s hidden gem - we have to agree!
The Cross Keys Inn was probably built during the 1830s and is shown on the Llanover Tithe Map of 1844 as part of the Francis James estate. At that time the pub was a detached property, situated within a large garden, on the cross roads between the old roads Heol Gwas Distewi and Heol Garegog (modern day Queen Street/Llanover Road and Hill Street).
In the 1840s, the Inn was purchased by Lewis Edmunds (1814-1903), a relatively prosperous Welsh-speaking tiler and plasterer. This was a period of economic unrest in Blaenavon and Edmunds supplemented his income by serving as an officer for parish of Llanover. As such, he had the somewhat unpopular responsibility for carrying out parish removals, namely taking impoverished, unemployed families back to the parish of their birth. He sold the pub in 1849.
The Cross Keys developed a reputation for its public events and celebrations. Perhaps the most famous of these was its annual St. David’s Day celebrations, which were held at the Inn for well over thirty years in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. On these occasions, the Inn would be adorned with evergreens, the national emblem, coloured flags and Welsh mottoes. Up to 150 people would attend and enjoy a ‘substantial dinner’ in celebration of the patron saint. The local press observed that the St. David’s Day celebration was the most popular event in the social life of Blaenavon.
The Inn was also associated with foxhunting during the 1870s and 1880s. The landlord would keep foxes in a sack at the Inn the night before a hunt. The huntsmen would assemble there on the morning of the hunt and see the fox released. In 1881, a fox hunt took place from the Cross Keys Inn, the chase went on for about twenty miles across the countryside, with the fox giving his pursuers the slip in Llanellen. A fox in 1878 was not so lucky. On being released from the sack, he simply laid down quietly and the ‘dogs dispatched him on the spot’. There was criticism in the local press that it was quite unsporting that the poor fox had not even been given a chance.
Other notable occasions included a large event and dinner in 1900 to celebrate the British relief of Ladysmith during the Boer War.
On New Year’s Eve 1890, 120 tradesmen of Blaenavon and many others enjoyed a grand supper at the Cross Keys, suggesting the pub had some ‘respectable’ clientele. However, a less savoury incident occurred a few months later on Mabon’s Day in 1891 when four young men, in a drunken state, hunted down a rat in the pub.
They caught it, skinned it and decided to cook it in the public house oven, with a pound of butter. Not satisfied with eating the rat, a quarrel took place as to who the gravy belonged to. One of the men succeeded in dipping his bread in the dish, and he soon ‘polished away the remains’. The Free Press reported that ‘such disgusting conduct as this in a Christian town like Blaenavon, is a disgrace to the whole community’. The story is still told in town today and some locals even call the pub “The Rat Catchers”. I remember when working in the paper shop, an elderly customer recalled that when drinking in the pub as a youth, he could remember a chair was always kept vacant in memory of the man who ate the rat! Indeed, some of the customers were certainly ‘less than respectable’! For example, three men were charged and fined in October 1898 for using obscene language towards Harriet Edmunds, the landlady. In 1889, Mrs Edmunds was targeted by a thief, who took 12s from a basin in the pub.
Public houses were often used for coroner’s inquests in the 19th century. The Cross Keys was no exception. From time to time, inquests were held concerning sudden deaths that occurred in the town. For example, in November 1878, E.D. Batt, the coroner, held an inquest at the Cross Keys concerning the death of Lewis Evans, a fireman on the Blaenavon Company’s tramroads, who slipped on a wet rail and fell under a truck, crushing his abdomen and killing him.
Like many public houses in Blaenavon, the Cross Keys hosted its own friendly society, which provided sickness and welfare benefits to its members if they fell on hard times. Known as the ‘Ever True’ club, they provided a programme of social events throughout they year, including dinner and speech nights. For example, in 1909, a dinner was held for the society, with 100 members present.
Special events were often held in Blaenavon’s pubs to celebrate the services made by individuals. In 1921, a presentation was made in the Cross Keys by Cllr William Jones and Cllr Rees Jones, on behalf of the workmen and townspeople of Blaenavon, in honour of Sister and Miss Rodenhurst. The sisters had rendered excellent services at Blaenavon Workmen’s Hospital for many years and were presented with solid silver tea spoons in an oak case, with a silver plate inscription, together with £50 each. This was followed by a musical evening organised by the noted local vocalist John Thomas (Eos Brycheiniog) and speeches by prominent Blaenavon citizens, including Henry Charles Steel, former Estate Agent to the Blaenavon Company, who referred to his long association with the sisters who were ‘wonderfully good and kind to all who came under their professional care’.
The landlords for much of the late 19th and early 20th century was the Edmunds family. Harriett Edmunds (1854-1931) was widowed by 1891 but continued to run the pub alongside her son, John Henry Edmunds and some live-in servants. Sadly, in 1920, J.H. Edmunds (known locally as ‘Harry’) died aged just 38 years. He was a popular man and at his funeral was a large attendance of members of the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes (a fraternal society) and members of the Cross Keys ‘Ever True’ society. His obituary noted that he was one of the founder members of the Blaenavon Ratepayers association and belonged to two of the oldest families in Monmouthshire, the Edmunds of Aberbeeg and the Williams of the Whistle Inn Blaenavon. He was educated at Reading and Monmouth Grammar Schools and served his apprenticeship as a mechanical engineer in Hereford. He was well known for his philanthropy sent sums of money and parcels of groceries to the elderly of Blaenavon.