International Dylan Thomas Day on May 14th would be a great time to visit a location associated with Wales’ best known writer, so we’ve come up with the essential guide to the places associated with the great poet. Dylan Thomas is famous for his connections to Swansea and Laugharne, but as you will see there are locations further afield that played an important part in his life and work.
Dylan Thomas was born in the Uplands district of Swansea on October 27th 1914, and his birthplace at 5 Cwmdonkin Drive is an essential visit. He spent his first twenty years here, and a significant proportion of his poems were begun during these early years. The house, which has recently been restored to it’s Edwardian suburban splendour, is open for guided tours, events, and even overnight stays.
Just a few minutes walk from the Birthplace is Dylan’s childhood playground of Cwmdonkin Park. Here you can see the drinking fountain that features in Dylan’s poem The Hunchback in the Park, the recently restored ‘Fern Hill’ memorial stone, and a number of other Dylan Thomas tributes.
In Swansea city centre you will find the Dylan Thomas Centre, home to a large, family-friendly exhibition dedicated to Dylan Thomas. This is another essential visit, where you will find out more about the life and work of the poet. The Return Journey self-guided tour app will lead you around the City Centre following in the footsteps of Dylan’s nostalgic post-war broadcast Return Journey. Consider also a visit to the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery who have recently been exhibiting portraits of Dylan Thomas and Caitlin Thomas by Augustus John.
Mumbles & Gower
Just a short drive from Swansea is the coastal village of Mumbles. Dylan acted with the Swansea Little Theatre in a church hall here, and frequented the local pubs. Some of Dylan’s childhood holidays were spent in the beautiful coastal district of Gower. Head for the world famous Rhossili beach and the Worm’s Head promontory, both of which feature in stories from Dylan’s autobiographical collection Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog.
Dylan’s parents had their family roots in rural Carmarthenshire, and Dylan made regular visits to stay with his extended family throughout his childhood. His much loved poem Fern Hill was inspired by childhood visits to his Aunt Annie’s farm near to the village of Llangain, and he was a regular visitor to the pretty coastal village of Llansteffan.
Laugharne is home to perhaps the most iconic of Dylan Thomas locations, the Boathouse, where he lived for the last few years of his life. Now a museum and tearoom, this is another essential visit, as is the nearby Writing Shed. Dylan wrote much of his short story collection Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog in the summerhouse in the grounds of Laugharne Castle.
You will find two other former homes of Dylan Thomas in Laugharne (Eros & Sea View), and many other Dylan Thomas tributes around the township. The Dylan Thomas Birthday Walk follows a route walked by the poet himself. No visit would be complete without a visit to Dylan’s favourite watering hole, Brown’s Hotel, before a pilgrimage to Dylan’s final resting place in St Martin’s Churchyard.
Although perhaps less well known for it’s connections to Dylan Thomas, the West Wales county of Ceredigion played an important part in his life and work. Dylan and Caitlin lived in the harbour town of New Quay for a time during the second world war, and the town inspired his broadcast Quite Early One Morning, and is one of the inspirations for Llareggub in Under Milk Wood. New Quay is another essential visit, and the local connections to Dylan can be explored using the excellent Dylan Thomas Trail. Dylan’s favourite New Quay pub The Black Lion has a small collection of Dylan Thomas memorabilia on display.
Further afield in Ceredigion are places Dylan visited such as Lampeter, where Dylan stayed at the Castle Hotel, the Aeron Valley where Dylan and Caitlin occasionally stayed, and the charming Georgian town of Aberaeron. If you are lucky the National Library of Wales at Aberystwyth may have some of it’s extensive collection of Dylan Thomas material on display, but if not, it is still well worth a visit to experience some of the precious works of Welsh literature in both Welsh and English.
A number of locations in Pembrokeshire have interesting connections to Dylan Thomas. Dylan visited the tiny city of St David’s on more than one occasion, visiting the Cathedral and the Bishop’s Palace, and just along the coast he drank at the beach-side pub, The Sailor’s Safety Inn, at Pwllgwaelod. A blue plaque in beautiful Tenby marks the location of one of Dylan’s only performances of Under Milk Wood in Wales, which took place the month before his death in 1953.
In the harbour town of Fishguard you can find the sites of location shooting for the 1972 big screen adaptation of Under Milk Wood starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. A plaque commemorates the filming beside the harbour in Lower Fishguard. The Ship Inn has some memorabilia from the filming of Under Milk Wood on display. In Solva you can hunt for locations from the 2015 big screen adaptation of Under Milk Wood, which was also released in a Welsh language adaptation as Dan yr Wenallt.
Although Dylan spent his early years in Swansea, and his last years living in Laugharne, he had periods living in England, in London and Oxfordshire.
Cornwall plays a small but surprisingly important part in Dylan’s life, as it was here in 1937 that he married Caitlin Macnamara. Dylan had first visited Cornwall in 1935, staying in the tiny village of Polgigga, and he clearly took a liking to the area, describing Mousehole as the ‘loveliest village in England’.
Head to Penzance where a plaque marks the site of Dylan and Caitlin’s wedding at Phoenix House, formerly the registry office. Then visit Mousehole where Dylan and Caitlin stayed at the Lobster Pot, and nearby Lamorna Cove, a popular location with artists, where Dylan and Caitlin stayed in Oriental Cottage.
Dylan first moved to London in 1934, sharing digs in Redcliffe Street with his Swansea friends Alfred Janes and Mervyn Levy. Over the next few years he lived at a number of different London locations; a blue plaque marks his former home at 54 Delancey Street.
Head to Fitzrovia where Dylan regularly frequented pubs and bars. A plaque marks his connection to The Wheatsheaf, and this is an essential visit as it was here that Dylan first met his future wife Caitlin Macnamara. The pub still celebrates it’s connections to the poet when the Dylan Thomas Society visit each year following the annual wreath-laying at Westminster Abbey in November. The Abbey is another essential visit to make a pilgrimage to the memorial plaque to Dylan in Poet’s Corner.
Other locations where Dylan worked or performed include BBC Broadcasting House where Dylan was a regular visitor to work on radio programmes, the Royal Albert Hall where Dylan performed in 1953, and the Wigmore Hall where Dylan performed before the Royal Family in 1946. The National Portrait Gallery and British Library both hold Dylan Thomas related items in their collections (check to see if they are available to view before visiting). The recently re-opened Half Moon pub in Herne Hill (opposite Milkwood Road) was another favourite drinking haunt.
For a more comprehensive list of London locations connected to Dylan Thomas click here.
In 1946 Dylan and Caitlin moved to the summerhouse at Holywell Ford in the grounds of Magdalen College. They were guests of Dylan’s patron Margaret Taylor and her husband, the historian AJP Taylor. Holywell Ford and the summerhouse are now private college buildings, but Holywell Ford can be seen from the grounds of the college, and the college is well worth a visit.
Margaret Taylor was also responsible for finding the Thomas’s another Oxfordshire residence, the grand sounding but rather basic Manor House at South Leigh. The Manor House is also a private residence, so perhaps a better idea to follow in Dylan’s footsteps is to visit some of his favourite pubs in the county. The city centre boasts the atmospheric Turf Tavern, and the Wheatsheaf. Further afield are the George Hotel at Wallingford, The Trout at Wolvercote, and The Fleece at Witney, from where Dylan presented a live broadcast of Country Magazine for the BBC in 1948.
During the summer of 1935 Dylan stayed in a remote cottage near Ardara in County Donegal. Now a ruin, it would be a challenging but rewarding Dylan Thomas pilgrimage.
Other Irish locations connected to Dylan Thomas include the capital Dublin, where Dylan stayed for four days in 1946. The same trip took him to County Kerry, where he visited Puck Fair in Killorglin, and the Blasket Islands.
The Falls Hotel in Ennistymon, County Clare, is a former family home of the Macnamara family, and has a Dylan Thomas bar.
New York & North America
Much of Dylan Thomas’s reputation as a hard-drinking poet was forged during his four reading tours of North America, starting with his first visit in 1950, and ending with his tragic death during his fourth tour in 1953, at the age of 39.
New York is the essential location for any Dylan Thomas fans in North America, and several locations stand out as must-visit places.
Dylan was first invited to perform in New York by John Malcolm Brinnin, Director of the Young Men’s and Young Women’s Hebrew Association Poetry Center, popularly known today as the 92nd Street Y. Dylan performed at this iconic location on numerous occasions, including the first cast performance of Under Milk Wood, which took place on May 14th 1953.
Dylan was also a regular visitor to the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan, and it was here, in Room 205, that he fell into his final illness. At the time of writing the Chelsea is in the midst of a long-running and problematic refurbishment.
Drinking haunts that Dylan frequented include the San Remo Cafe (now closed, site marked with plaque), the Minetta Tavern, and the White Horse Tavern, where Dylan was drinking shortly before being taken ill.
Perhaps the best way to experience some of these iconic location is by following the Greenwich Village Walking Tour, designed by poet Peter Thabit Jones and Dylan’s late daughter Aeronwy Thomas. The tour includes the site of the former St Vincent’s Hospital, where Dylan Thomas died on November 9th 1953.
Download PDF of Greenwich Village Walking Tour
For a more comprehensive list of New York locations connected to Dylan Thomas click here.
There are numerous locations connected to Dylan Thomas across North America, but we’ll focus on three of the most significant. The Fogg Museum at Harvard in Cambridge MA was the venue for the first solo reading of the still unfinished Under Milk Wood in May 1953. The Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin holds a significant archive of Dylan Thomas material, as does the University at Buffalo in New York State.
For a more comprehensive list of North American locations connected to Dylan Thomas click here.
This list is by no means an exhaustive list of the places connected to Dylan Thomas, and more intrepid fans might like to explore other places. Most places with some connection to the poet have been detailed on the Discover Dylan Thomas website, and if you do visit somewhere please tell us about your experience.
Please check on opening times and availability before making visits, and please respect residents and local people at those sites not open to the public.
Andrew Dally (April 2019)
All photographs copyright of Andrew Dally unless otherwise stated.