Settle’s Naked Man

One of Settle’s many attractions is Ye Olde Naked Man café. This eyebrow-raising name is on account of a black figure painted and carved into its wall whose only appeal to modesty is a date stone (in the shape of a pair of underpants, appropriately) bearing the year 1663, and the initials IC. The building itself looks rather nineteenth century to me, an observation shared by Historic England. I am sure the date-stone is original, and may have featured on the site’s original premises. It may also be linked to a naked lady who graces a house in nearby Langcliffe, this time bearing the year 1660. 

There seems to be little explanation for these figures’ prominence. I believe they were created by people who had tired of the rule of the saints under Cromwell and General Lambert. When Charles II returned, moral standards fell. Historian Roger Baker argues that the Restoration marked a reversal of the stringent Puritan morality, "as though the pendulum swung from repression to licence more or less overnight" (Drag, 1994). The excesses of the Stuart court encouraged the unscrupulous country folk. Not only were depictions of naked figures stuck to buildings, but phallic may-poles were danced about and bawdy theatre productions were once more permitted.

Ye Olde Naked Man is now a quaint tourist attraction, but I suspect his original raison d'être was to offer a two-fingered salute to godliness.