To mark the centenary of the birth of Dylan Thomas, David N. Thomas recounts the acclaimed Welsh author and poet's connections with Llangadog.

The statue of Dylan Thomas in the Maritime Quarter, Swansea

 

The ground is comfy in Llangadock

by

David N. Thomas

It's the centenary of Dylan Thomas' birth on October 27 2014, and I've recently been thinking about his connections with Llangadog.

Dylan's paternal grandmother was Anne Lewis, born in Llangadog in 1835. She married Evan Thomas from Brechfa and lived in The Poplars, Johnstown, in Carmarthen. Their son, David John Thomas, was Dylan's father.

Anne Lewis gives her birthplace as Llangadog in census returns. In 1841 and 1851, she was living with her parents at Black Rock, Llandingat, Llandovery. Anne's father, William Lewis, was born in Llangadog, in 1795. He was a gardener who eventually moved to Carmarthen, and was living at The Poplars at the 1881 census. I'll come back to William in a minute.

Dylan also had an aunt who was born and brought up in Llangadog. She was Ellen Ann Lewis , born 1866, who may or may not have been related to William Lewis. I believe her parents were a William and Rachel Lewis; he's a railway porter in the 1861 census, and was born in 1838. But Ellen was brought up by her great-grandmother, Ann Vinson, who ran the Rose and Crown pub with her husband, James (1841-1871 census returns). Aged sixteen, Ellen was still living with Ann in 1881 at “Bankyrefel”, Llangadog, by which time Ann had left the pub and was “In receipt of parochial relief.”

Ellen married William Thomas in 1897; he was the brother of Dylan's father, D.J. Thomas, so Ellen was Dylan's aunt. She and William lived at 12 Fulham Road , Kensington, when William was a hosier's assistant (1901) and then at 13 Derby Ave North Finchley when he was a shop assistant (1911). William died around 1947 – see Dylan's letter to his parents of January 12 1947 in which he refers to “poor Will.”    Poor Will   was also the title of a short story that Dylan was thinking about writing in late 1946.

And now back to William Lewis , Dylan's great-grandfather. William is “Grandpa” in Dylan's short story, A Visit to Grandpa's , in which Grandpa expresses his determination to be buried, not in Llansteffan, but in Llangadog. It's a story the D.J. Thomas used to tell Dylan when he was a boy:

“There's no sense lying dead in Llanstephan. The ground is comfy in Llangadock; you can twitch your legs without putting them in the sea.”

William Lewis died on February 20 1888 at The Poplars, and his wish was granted. His body was brought back to the church in Llangadog and buried here. I haven't yet found the grave but the parish register records his burial on February 23 1888 .

We don't know for sure whether Dylan Thomas visited Llangadog. We do know from some 1960 interviews* that he had been to Carreg Cennen. When he was living in Laugharne, he and his friend, Phil Richards, came out to Trapp:

“There's one thing that sticks out in the memory. 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.”

Carreg Cennen and the Swadde are mentioned in Under Milk Wood , as part of the Rev. Eli Jenkins' morning prayer.

It's also said, but without confirmation, that Dylan came to Llangadog to visit his friend, Keidrych Rhys (1914-1987), journalist, editor and poet. It seems that Rhys had been born at Blaenswadde farm, near Llanddeusant. He was born William Ronald Rees Jones, son of Morgan and Margaretta Jones nee Thomas. He later adopted the name Keidrych Rhys, seemingly taken from the river Ceidrych which ran near his parents' farm. After his marriage to the poet Lynette Roberts, he lived from 1937 at Pen-y-bont farm, Llangadog, from where he edited the influential magazine, Wales , which he had also founded. He and Roberts later moved to Llanybri.

 

* Interviews carried out by Colin Edwards in the 1960s. See Dylan Remembered , two volumes, Seren 2003 and 2004, edited by David N. Thomas

1 May 2014

 

David Thomas has written several books on Dylan Thomas. David lived in Llangadog in 2013-2014; his uncle, Eifion Jones, was Vicar here for many years.