The family home of the Thomas family from 1914. Dylan was born in the front bedroom on October 27th 1914 and spent his first 20 years living at the house. It was in this house that Dylan wrote a large proportion of the poems that would make up his first three published collections, recording them in a series of notebooks. Dylan took lodgings in London in November 1934 but returned frequently to the family home until 1937 when his parents moved to a smaller house at Bishopston. The house was finally sold in 1943. By the 1990s the house was languishing as a student bedsit before being painstakingly restored by Geoff and Annie Haden to replicate how it would have looked during Dylan’s time at the house. Dylan’s tiny bedroom has been carefully re-created from descriptions and clues in his letters and writings. The house is open for tours, stays and as an events venue.
In my untidy bedroom, surrounded with books and papers, full of the unhealthy smell of very bad tobacco, I sit and write.
Dylan’s formal education began at the age of seven when he began attending Mrs Hole’s private school in Mirador Crescent. The school, run by English widow Isabel Hole, was intended to prepare pupil’s for their further education at grammar school. It was here that Dylan met his lifelong friend Mervyn Levy who went on to become a successful artist and was a fellow member of Swansea’s Kardomah Gang. Dylan left the school in September 1925 when he won a place at Swansea Grammar School. Dylan describes his time at the school in his broadcasts Reminiscences of Childhoodand Return Journey.
In Mirador School he learned to read and count. Who made the worst raffia dollies? Who put water in Joyce’s galoshes, every morning prompt as prompt? In the afternoons, when the children were good, they read aloud from Struwwelpeter. And when they were bad, they sat alone in the empty classroom, hearing, from above them, the distant, terrible, sad music of the late piano lesson. (Return Journey)
So I remember that never was there such a dame-school as ours: so firm and kind and smelling of galoshes, with the sweet and fumbled music of the piano lessons drifting down from upstairs to the lonely schoolroom where only the sometimes tearful wicked sat over undone sums or to repent a little crime, the pulling of a girl’s hair during geography, the sly shin-kick under the table during prayers. (Reminiscences of Childhood)
Dylan attended the Grammar School on Mount Pleasant from September 1925 to 1931. His father David John (D.J.) Thomas was the Senior English master at the school, having been at the school since 1901. Dylan was not an academically successful pupil, he excelled in English but failed to apply himself in other disciplines. He did find success in the debating and dramatic societies, and went on to edit the School Magazine that had published some of his earliest poems. He was also a good athlete, winning cross-country races including the under 15 school mile in 1926. The school was bombed during the second world war and after the war relocated to Sketty as Bishop Gore School.
…appeared regularly in detention classes, hid in the cloakroom during algebra, was, when a newcomer, thrown into the bushes of the Lower Playground by bigger boys, and threw newcomers into the bushes of the Lower Playground when he was a bigger boy; he scuffled at prayers, he interpolated, smugly, the time-honoured wrong irreverent words into the morning hymns, he helped to damage the headmaster’s rhubarb, was thirty-third in trigonometry, and, as might be expected, edited the School Magazine.”
Dylan met Daniel Jones at Swansea Grammar School. Daniel Jones went on to be a successful composer and was a fellow member of the Kardomah Gang. Dylan’s first meeting with Daniel is recorded in Dylan’s story The Fight.
‘… a strange boy, whom I had not heard approach, pushed me down the bank. I threw a stone at his face. He took of his spectacles, put them in his coat pocket, took of his coat, hung it neatly on the railings, and attacked…The strange boy rabbit-punched me twice…I fell down the railings. I was down in the dust, hot and scratched and biting, then up and dancing, and I butted the boy in the belly and we tumbled in a heap.’
Despite the poor start to their friendship, they became very close during their teenage years and Dylan was a regular visitor at Daniel’s home, aptly named ‘Warmley’.
Dylan regularly met a group of friends at the Kardomah Café on Castle Street in Swansea, which he affectionately referred to as his ‘Home Sweet Homah’. They were an extraordinary group of talented individuals including poets Charles Fisher and John Prichard, musician Daniel Jones, as well as artists Alfred Janes, Mervyn Levy, Mabley Owen and Tom Warner. Mainly boys but they were sometimes joined by Evelyn (Titch) Phillips and her sister Vera. The poet Vernon Watkins, Dylan’s friend and mentor joined the group, though this was later as he first met Dylan in 1935. The group have become known as The Kardomah Gang or The Kardomah Boys. They drank coffee and had debates on complex subjects such as religion, death, science and art. Interestingly, before it became a cafe, it was the chapel where Dylan’s parents, D.J. and Florrie, got married.
In February 1941, Swansea was heavily bombed in a ‘Three Nights Blitz’. Unfortunately the original ‘Kardomah Café’, was destroyed, however it reopened after the war in a new location in Portland Street, a short walk from where the first Café stood and is now called The Kardomah Restaurant and Coffee Shop. The Café was the location for a Doctor Who episode called, ‘The End of Time‘.
Dylan’s home town of Swansea; now the second largest city in Wales. The Swansea town centre that Dylan was familiar with was largely destroyed during the second world war when the German Luftwaffe carried out a three-night blitz of the town in February 1941; or destroyed later by civic redevelopment. Forty-one acres of the town were obliterated, and no less than eight hundred and fifty seven premises were destroyed. Two hundred and thirty people were killed, four hundred and nine injured, and seven thousand were left homeless. Stopped clocks showed the times the bombs fell. Buildings surviving from Dylan’s days include the No Sign Bar in Wind Street, the No 10 in Union Street, The Three Lamps in Castle Square, and The Queen’s Hotel in Gloucester Place.
Dylan’s 1947 radio broadcast Return Journey takes a nostalgic journey through the Swansea of Dylan’s memory.
I went out of the hotel into the snow and walked down High Street, past the flat white wastes where all the shops had been. Eddershaw Furnishers, Curry’s Bicycles, Donegal Clothing Company, Doctor Scholl’s, Burton Tailors, WH Smith, Boots Cash Chemists, Leslie’s Stores, Upson’s Shoes, Prince of Wales, Tucker’s Fish, Stead & Simpson – all the shops bombed and vanished. Past the hole in space where Hodges the Clothiers had been, down Castle Street, past the remembered, invisible shops…(from Return Journey)
Today Swansea celebrates its famous son with a number of tributes including the Dylan Thomas Centre, Dylan Thomas Theatre, and statues of Dylan and Captain Cat in the Maritime Quarter.
Dylan’s first job after he left the grammar school was as a junior reporter for the Swansea evening newspaper, the South Wales Daily Post (renamed the South Wales Evening Post shortly after he joined). Dylan joined the paper in 1931 and left in November 1932. His time at the newspaper allowed Dylan to develop important writing skills and gave the aspiring writer ample opportunity to observe some of the character of Swansea’s ‘seedier’ pubs by the dockside. The newspaper’s offices in Castle Street were destroyed during the Second World War. Dylan took nostalgic looks back at his time at the newspaper in his 1947 broadcast Return Journey and in his short story Old Garbo.
…can you tell me whether you used to know a chap called Young Thomas. He worked on the Post and used to wear an overcoat sometimes with the check lining inside out so that you could play giant draughts on him. He wore a conscious woodbine, too… and a perched pork pie with a peacock feather and he tried to slouch like a newshawk even when he was attending a meeting of the Gorseinon Buffalos. (from Return Journey)
Swansea public houses frequented by Dylan included the Uplands Hotel (now the Uplands Tavern), in Uplands Crescent, The Bay View Hotel, on Oystermouth Road, and The Three Lamps, Temple Street, which was destroyed during the blitz and later rebuilt in Castle Square (now The Office). The No Sign Bar in Wind Street is still in operation, the No 10 in Union Street is no longer a pub but its attractive facade still exists, but The Bush Inn on High Street has been demolished in recent years.
I liked the taste of beer, its live white lather, its brass-bright depths, the sudden world through the wet brown walls of the glass, the tilted rush to the lips and the slow swallowing down to the lapping belly, the salt on the tongue, the foam at the corners
Dylan’s home suburb, Uplands, is on the western side of Swansea and encompasses Dylan’s birthplace in Cwmdonkin Drive, his childhood playground Cwmdonkin Park, and his first school in Mirador Crescent. Centred around Uplands Crescent, the area houses shops, restaurants and bars, and today hosts the annual Dylan Thomas inspired Do Not Go Gentle Festival. In Dylan’s day the area was an up and coming residential district favoured by the middle-class. Dylan was a regular at the Uplands Cinema on Glanmor Road which was demolished to make way for Lloyds Bank, and the Uplands Hotel (now the Uplands Tavern) was Dylan’s first local.
A village and suburb at the western end of Swansea Bay, Mumbles was a popular destination for Dylan who often caught the Mumbles train from Swansea. From 1932 to 1934 Dylan acted in numerous amateur productions staged by Swansea Little Theatre who rehearsed in the church hall at Southend. Mumbles was home to some of Dylan’s favourite pubs, The Antelope in Oystermouth Road which still stands but has been empty for some time, and The Mermaid, also in Oystermouth Road, which fell into disrepair and was demolished following a fire. The Marine on Mumbles Road is now the Village Inn.
a rather nice village, despite it’s name (Letter to Pamela Hansford Johnson)
Dylan made some of his radio broadcasts at the BBC studios at The Grove, Uplands.
Painting by Jeffrey Phillips
In October 1949 Dylan took part in a discussion programme recorded at the studio, Swansea and the Arts. Also taking part were Dylan’s Swansea friends, the writers Vernon Watkins and John Pritchard, the composer Daniel Jones, and the artist Alfred Janes.
We speak from the Grove of Swansea. But if anyone in the deep damp caverns of the rustic dead, in some Welsh tenebrous regional, should have seen this programme announced in the Radio Tombs, turned on his badger’s set, tuned in on a long-forgotten gravelength and caught that opening statement, let me hasten to tell him that he, alas, would hardly recognise the Grove at all. (The start of Dylan’s introduction to Swansea and the Arts)
Built as Swansea’s Guildhall in 1825, the building became the Dylan Thomas Centre in 1995 and houses the Love the Words permanent exhibition of Dylan Thomas memorabilia. Opened by former US President Jimmy Carter, a keen Dylan Thomas fan, the centre also hosts arts events and is the focus of the annual Dylan Thomas Festival which runs from October 27th to November 9th.
Based in Swansea’s Maritime Quarter, the Dylan Thomas Theatre has been home to Swansea Little Theatre since 1979. Dylan was an active member of the amateur theatre company from 1932 to 1934. A statue of Dylan Thomas is situated nearby.
Swansea University hold a collection of Dylan Thomas material including the rediscovered poetry notebook acquired by the university in 2014. The collection forms part of the Richard Burton Archive created by the university’s Research Institute for Arts and Humanities. The university is a leading centre for the study of the work of Dylan Thomas, led by Professor John Goodby, an international authority on Dylan’s poetry and editor of the latest edition of the Collected Poems. Since 2014 the University has been the chief sponsor of the International Dylan Thomas Prize, the most valuable literary prize for young writers.
St Thomas, a suburban district close to the docks on the eastern side of Swansea, was, in Dylan’s day a mainly working class area. Dylan’s mother Florence Hannah Williams was born here at 29 Delhi Street in 1882. The house is still standing.
Dylan would have been a visitor to his Aunt Polly and Uncle Bob who lived in St Thomas before moving to Blaencwm in Carmarthenshire.
But George had never left home for more than a night; and then, he told me, one half-holiday when it was raining and there was nothing to do but stay in the wash-house racing his guineapigs giddily along the benches, it was only to stay in St Thomas, three miles from his house, with an aunt who could see through the walls and who knew what a Mrs Hoskin was doing in the kitchen. (From Extraordinary Little Cough)