In autumn 1945, Dylan and Caitlin started visiting their friends Margaret and AJP Taylor, a historian at the university, at their home, Holywell Ford in Oxford, which was in the grounds of Magdalen College next to the River Cherwell. It appears that the Thomases stayed regularly over the next few months as Margaret introduced Dylan to the Oxford literary circles and invited other guests to stay, such as Grahame Green and Stephen Spender.
They officially moved into the summerhouse next to Holywell Ford in March 1946; while their daughter Aeron lived with the Taylor’s, sharing a room with their two daughters, Sophia and Amelia. The summerhouse had gas and electricity, but no water, which they needed to collect from the main house. Dylan rudely referred to his new, compact, dwellings as a ‘converted telephone kiosk with a bed where the ledge for directories used to be.’ Though in a letter to his friend Dan Jones he was more upbeat commenting that he had access to ‘a river and a punt, a cricket ball and a choice of lawns’ and that ‘they have a tame robin and the swan calls on Mondays.’ They stayed here until March 1947.
Oxford I sing, though in untutored tones, alack!
I heard, long years ago, her call, but blew it back;
…Ah, not for me the windblown scarf,
The bicycle to the Trout, the arm-in-arm sweatered swing,
Marx in a punt, Firbank aloud round the gas-ring.
Never in flannelled and umbrella’d youth did I
Tire the sun with talking and drive him down the High. (This poem, and some rather interesting notes about the ‘characters’ amongst the University professors can be found in archives at Austin University in Texas.)
Holywell Ford now serves as student accommodation and is not open to the public, but the property can be seen from within the grounds of Magdalen College.
Dylan and Caitlin moved to the small village of South Leigh in the Oxfordshire countryside in September 1947, staying until May 1949. It is likely that they initially lived in an old-fashioned gypsy caravan (later to be Dylan’s writing hut) eating from tins and keeping warm with a paraffin heater, before moving a few months later into South Leigh Manor, bought for them by Margaret Taylor.
Margaret did warn Dylan not to expect a ‘moated, mullioned grange coat of arms’ as the Manor itself had vanished long ago and this was the farmhouse that once belonged to it. The house, however, did have two or three acres of land which would flood in winter and bloom with long grass in the summer. Friends remember Caitlin attacking the grass with an enormous scythe and while hacking away saying, “I hope to God none of the children are in there!”
It was the first real home the Thomas family had had for about seven years and it seems to have been a content time as both Dylan and Caitlin felt part of the community. Dylan even brought his parents to join them in a nearby cottage. There are many stories of Dylan expertly playing shove ha’penny at the Mason Arms while Caitlin in her usual bohemian way, danced and cartwheeled across the tables. A few of the locals at the time claim that they are No Good Boyo and Mrs Dai Bread Two from Under Milk Wood so perhaps there is yet, another, picture box village that can claim to have influenced Dylan.
Dylan socialised with friends or met with undergraduates at many of the Oxford’s pubs, including: the Turf Tavern, the Wheatsheaf, The Gloucester Arms, The George Hotel in Wallingford, The Trout at Wolvercote, and The Perch at Binsey, as well as lunching at the Randolph Hotel with BBC Colleagues. On February 8th 1948 Dylan broadcast an episode of Country Magazine for the BBC Home Service from The Fleece at Witney.