Dylan and Caitlin moved to the small coastal town of New Quay in September 1944 and stayed until the summer of 1945. The town was the setting for Dylan’s radio story Quite Early One Morning which has echoes of the later Under Milk Wood, adding to the theory that the town was one of the main templates along with Laugharne for the fictional town of Llareggub. Dylan’s sketch of Llareggub, which is part of the National Library of Wales collection, bears a striking resemblance to New Quay.
Who lived in these cottages? I was a stranger to the sea town, fresh or stale from the city where I worked for my bread and butter wishing it were laver-bread and country salty butter yolk-yellow. (from Quite Early One Morning)
The small bungalow where Dylan and Caitlin lived from September 1944 to the summer of 1945 is situated on the cliffs about a mile from New Quay; it has panoramic views of the town across Cardigan Bay. It was here in March 1945 that the shooting incident took place that was portrayed in the 2008 film Edge of Love. Dylan’s Swansea friend Vera Killick (nee Philips) lived in the neighbouring bungalow Fynonnfeddyg during their stay at Majoda. The present Majoda is a later replacement of the wood and asbestos building that existed during Dylan’s time. Dylan Thomas Trail blue plaques commemorate Dylan’s association with Majoda and Fynonnfeddyg.
Quite early one morning in the winter in Wales, by the sea that was lying down still and green as grass after a night of tar-black howling and rolling, I went out of the house, where I had come to stay for a cold unseasonable holiday, to see it if was raining still, if the outhouse had been blown away, potatoes, shears, rat-killer, shrimp-nets, and tins of rusty nails aloft on the wind, and if all the cliffs were left (from Quite Early One Morning)
The Apple House is a stone outbuilding in the grounds of Plas Llanina, a summer residence of the North Wales’ aristocrat Lord Howard de Walden. Dylan wrote in the Apple House at the invitation of de Walden who also provided him with occasional financial support. Dylan is thought to have worked on several poems during his time in New Quay including A Winter’s Tale and This Side of Truth.
Blue plaque at Plas Llanina
Plas Llanina fell into disuse and was derelict by the 1980s. In recent years it has been rebuilt and is now a private home. The Apple House is not generally accessible to the public but is opened for visitors from time to time by the owners of Plas Llanina.
And the stars falling cold,
And the smell of hay in the snow, and the far owl,
Warning among the folds, and the frozen hold,
Flocked with the sheep white smoke of the farm house cowl,
In the river wended vales where the tale was told. (from A Winter’s Tale)
The Black Lion Inn was perhaps Dylan’s favourite drinking haunt in New Quay, and he became friends with the landlord Jack Patrick.
…as I weaved towards the toppling town and the black loud lion where the cat, who purred like fire, looked out of two cinders at the gently swilling retired sea-captains in the snug-as-a-bug back bar (from The Crumbs of One Man’s Year – 1946)
Today the Black Lion has a collection of Dylan memorabilia on display.
The National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth holds an important collection of Dylan Thomas material including original manuscripts. The majority of the Dylan Thomas collection is not on display and it is advisable to contact the Library if that is the reason for your visit. Much of the collection can be viewed on their excellent online exhibition. Dylan is not thought to have visited the National Library, but he did make a number of visits to Aberystwyth. He visited the writer Caradoc Evans on at least two occasions. Evans’ controversial short story collection My People, which caused a sensation when it was published in 1915, was probably an influence on Dylan’s early short stories. Dylan also gave a poetry reading in the town in November 1952.
During the second world war, the family of Dylan’s Swansea friend Vera Phillips rented Plas y Gelli, a large country house at Talsarn in the Aeron Valley. Dylan and Caitlin were regular visitors to the house; Caitlin often staying there whilst Dylan worked in London. Dylan liked to explore the valley, visiting pubs in Talsarn and Ystrad Aeron, and in 1943 the river Aeron gave it’s name to Dylan’s daughter Aeronwy. Dylan’s poem A Winter’s Talewas inspired by the landscape of the Aeron valley.
It is a winter’s tale,
That the snow blind twilight ferries over the lakes,
And floating fields from the farm in the cup of the vales. (from A Winter’s Tale)
Dylan’s great uncle William Thomas was minister at Yr Hen Gapel. Thomas was a poet and adopted the bardic name of Gwilym Marles; his name inspiring Dylan’s parents to adopt Marlais as Dylan’s middle name. Dylan’s sister Nancy was also given the middle name Marles. Thomas was a champion of Unitarianism and his support of Unitarian ideologies led to the local landlord evicting him and his congregation from the chapel in 1876. Dylan’s uncle has been suggested as an inspiration for Under Milk Wood‘s Reverend Eli Jenkins.
Dylan sometimes stayed at the town’s Castle Hotel during his visits from London in the summer of 1942 to visit Caitlin at Talsarn, where she was staying with friends at Plas Gelli. There is a Dylan Thomas trail blue plaque on the front wall of the hotel. Later, in 1945, Dylan was a witness for the prosecution when his friend William Killick was charged with attempted murder following the ‘Majoda’ shooting incident. Killick, on leave from serving behind enemy lines with the Commandos, discharged a gun at Dylan and Caitlin’s home in New Quay, Majoda, during a jealous rage. His wife, Dylan’s Swansea friend Vera Phillips, was living next door to the Thomas’s and was spending a lot of time with them in her husband’s absence.
The trial took place at Lampeter Assizes, in the building which now houses the Welsh Quilt Centre. The incident features prominently in the 2008 film Edge of Lovestarring Matthew Rhys, Sienna Miller and Keira Knightley. The film employs a fair amount of artistic license and is only loosely based on the facts, so for an accurate account of events refer to the book Dylan Thomas : A Farm, Two Mansion and a Bungalow by David N Thomas. A poignant postscript to Dylan’s associations with Lampeter can be found in a letter he wrote in response to a request from a Mr Rowland to give a poetry reading in the town.
Thank you for your reply. Yes, certainly, the Friday previous to 19 March 1954 would suit me very well to come along to Lampeter:- I quite understand about your not being able to pay a big fee, but I’m afraid I must ask for five guineas on top of my expenses. Please do let me know if you manage this. And, incidentally, what a long time ahead you do plan! I hope we’re not all dead by then. (Letter dated June 20 1953)
Dylan’s associations with New Quay and the surrounding area are recognised by the Dylan Thomas trail, a tour of locations with connections to Dylan. The trail is based on research by the author David N Thomas and maintained by Ceredigion County Council, and was officially opened by Dylan’s daughter Aeronwy in July 2003. Blue plaques mark numerous locations in New Quay as well as other sites of interest in Ceredigion.
The Dolau Inn, on the Dylan Thomas Trail, New Quay