Dylan’s father David John (D.J) Thomas was born at ‘The Poplars’ in Johnstown in 1876. The building has lately been a public house, but is now closed. Johnstown features in Dylan’s short story A Visit to Grandpa’s
We gathered together in Johnstown square. Dan Tailor had his bicycle, Mr Price his pony trap. Mr Griff, the butcher, Morgan carpenter, and I climbed into the shaking trap, and we trotted off towards Carmarthen town.
Although Dylan’s mother Florence was born in St Thomas, Swansea, her family had its roots in the villages and farms of the Llansteffan peninsula. Florence’s relations lived in the rural communities around Llangain, Llansteffan, Llanybri and Llangynog. Llansteffan was home to the Edwinsford Arms a public house that features in Dylan’s story A Visit to Grandpa’s, as does the village of Llansteffan. Fern Hill farm (see own listing) is close to Llangain, and the matriarch of Fern Hill, Dylan’s Auntie Ann Jones, and her husband, are buried at Llanybri. Dylan was a regular visitor to the area during his childhood and he was still visiting the area in the 1950s.
When we came to Llanstephan village at the top of the hill, he left the cart by the Edwinsford Arms and patted the pony’s muzzle and gave it sugar, saying: ‘You’re a weak little pony, Jim, to pull big men like us.’
Blaen Cwm are a pair of cottages that belonged to Dylan’s mother’s family. Dylan was a visitor here in the 1930s to his Uncle Bob and Aunt Polly, and to his Uncle David Rees and Aunt Theodosia. During stays in 1933 Dylan wrote several poems into his notebooks including My hero bares his nerves. Dylan brought his family here during the summers of 1944 and 1945 to stay with his parents who had moved here from Bishopston after inheriting one of the cottages in 1941.
I am staying, as you see, in a country cottage, eight miles from a town and a hundred miles from anyone to whom I can speak to on any subjects but the prospect of rain and the quickest way to snare rabbits. It is raining as I write, a thin, purposeless rain hiding the long miles of desolate fields and scattered farmhouses. I can smell the river, and hear the beastly little brook that goes gurgle-gurgle past this room. I am facing an uncomfortable fire, a row of china dogs, and a bureau bearing the photograph of myself aged seven – thick-lipped, Fauntleroy-haired, wide-eyed, and empty as the bureau itself. (Letter to Pamela Hansford Johnson, October 1933)
Fernhill is a small farm near to the village of Llangain. During Dylan’s childhood it was farmed by his Aunt Ann Jones and her husband Jim, and his visits there clearly made a lasting impression on him. The farm features (as ‘Gorsehill’) as the setting for his short story The Peaches, and gives it’s name to one of his most popular poems Fern Hill. Ann Jones was also the inspiration for the poem After the Funeral. (In Memory of Ann Jones). The Jones left the farm in 1928 or 1929.
Then a door at the end of the passage opened; I saw the plates on the shelves, the lighted lamp on the long, oil-clothed table, ‘Prepare to Meet Thy God’ knitted over the fire-place, the smiling china dogs, the brown-stained settle, the grandmother clock, and I ran into the kitchen and into Annie’s arms. (The Peaches)
And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barnsAbout the happy yard and singing as the farm was home (Fern Hill)
The county town of Carmarthenshire, and the closest large town to Laugharne, Carmarthen features in a number of Dylan’s short stories. Dylan and Caitlin were regular visitors to the town and often frequented the Boar’s Head hotel on Lammas Street; it was there that Dylan had his last drink in Carmarthenshire on an evening out with Caitlin before his fateful final trip to North America. The hotel is still open today. Dylan and Caitlin’s second son Colm Garan was born at Carmarthen Hospital on July 24th 1949; and Dylan’s Aunt Ann Jones died there in 1933.
We trotted on, we crept up Constitution Hill, we rattled down into Lammas Street, in front of his wheels. As we clip-clopped over the cobbles that led down to Towy Bridge….’And what do you think you are doing on Carmarthen bridge in the middle of the afternoon,’ he said sternly, ‘with your best waistcoat and your old hat?’ (A Visit to Grandpa’s)
Dylan’s great-uncle, David Jones, won many medals for rescuing sailors wrecked on the treacherous sands of the estuary. There were also several other relatives in the village, including a cousin who ran the newspaper shop on the square. Dylan came here to drink in the White Lion, sometimes coming across from Laugharne in a boat. It’s been suggested that Ferryside, which sits across the estuary from Llansteffan, was another village that fed into Dylan’s ideas about Llareggub. For more on Dylan and Ferryside, see His Ferryside aunts and uncles at https://sites.google.com/site/dylanthomasandhisaunties/home
“We told our visitors that sailors were shipwrecked along the ill-fated Cefn Sands…My father would always give them his version of the wreck. He was eleven in October 1925 when the Paul of Hamburg foundered between Llanstephan and Ferryside, and its crew and canary were carried ashore…He could see the remains of the four-masted white schooner wedged in the sand from the train on his way to Ferryside and Johnstown with his father.” Aeronwy Thomas
Dylan’s paternal grandparents, Evan and Anne Thomas, came from the upper Tywi valley, Evan from the Brechfa area and Anne from the nearby village of Llangadog. We don’t know for sure whether Dylan visited Llangadog, but he had certainly been to nearby Carreg Cennen castle, mentioned in the Rev. Eli Jenkins’ morning prayer.
We went to Carreg Cennen castle. And he named the Loughor and the Cennen, and all the rivers, and we seen the castle from a little pub called the Cennen Arms, and had bread and cheese and pickles, and he enjoyed it. You know, he enjoyed it.
Pendine Sands, the seven mile beach on the shores of Carmarthen Bay, plays a minor but interesting part in Dylan’s story. The sands were used to shoot scenes for the 1951 film Pandora and the Flying Dutchman starring Ava Gardner and James Mason. Dylan went to watch the filming and was photographed among the extras in a crowd scene. Recently, Jeff Towns, the Dylan Thomas specialist and collector, has identified Dylan in a very brief piece of moving footage from the film ; this tantalising glimpse is the only known moving footage of Dylan. Pendine Sands was also the location for perhaps Dylan’s only attempt at driving a car. Vernon Watkins recalled in his 1957 book Dylan Thomas Letters to Vernon Watkinsthat they both were allowed to drive a friend’s car on the beach, and that Dylan reached a maximum acceleration of just ten miles an hour. Pendine Sands are mentioned in Dylan’s short story The Fight
‘What would you do if you had a million pounds?”Id buy a Bugatti and a Rolls and a Bentley and I’d go two hundred miles an hour on Pendine Sands.’ (from The Fight)