Dylan Blogs

Contents:  # 1. A Third Dwelling on the road to Llareggub: Dylan Thomas and Thomas                                      Thompson, August 2018                    
                   # 2. Two Dwellings on the road to Llareggub, June 2018 
                   # 3. From Cheltenham to Mariposa: a wander along the road to Llareggub,                                         October 2017 
                   # 4. The Majoliers: Caitlin's Literary Rellies, April 2017. 
                   # 5. At Death's Door, October 2016. 

These blogs were first published on the official Dylan Thomas website at https://www.discoverdylanthomas.com/

Blog # 1      A Third Dwelling on the road to Llareggub

    Dylan Thomas’ Lancashire Loves: Tripe and Onions and T. Thompson

I recently received an email from a pianist in Illinois, who was researching her family tree, having been told she might be related to Dylan Thomas. Her great-grandparents had come from Carmarthenshire but her grandmother had been born in Liverpool, so she wanted to know if Dylan had any Lancashire connections in his family. 

I could think only of two, one an uncle, the other an aunt. The first was Thomas Williams, his mother Florence’s eldest brother, who had been a congregational minister in Oldham and then in Mottram Moor, on the outskirts of Manchester. The second was Florence’s eldest sister, Annie Jones, who paid her rent to a woman born and brought up in Fernhill, but who later eloped to Southport with a Hungarian doctor.  

Thinking that this would look like slim pickings to the pianist, I emailed my old butty Dai Cwc, who had a couple of Lancashire connections himself. He had left school in Port Talbot to study physics at Manchester, and later married a woman from Burnley. 

“You need to mug up on Tommy Thompson, a Lancashire dialect writer,” he replied. 

“What’s this got to do with my American piano player?” 

“Sorry, absolutely nothing at all! It just made me realise that I should have told you about Thompson long ago.” 

“The name rings a bell.” 

“An outstanding community portraitist. Could well have been an influence on Milk Wood.” 

“Llareggub’s a long way from Lancashire.” 

“You did say in your last blog you wanted more info on the play’s aural pedigree, as you put it so nicely.” 

“So Thompson was a broadcaster?” 

“And a writer. Best try the history society in Bury.” 

And then I remembered why the name was familiar. The poet Paul Potts wrote a wonderful tribute in his book, Dante Calls You Beatrice, in which he describes how Dylan 

“loved sweets, bubble and squeak, thrillers, tripe and onions and T. Thompson the Lancashire writer.” 

Thomas Thompson was born in 1880 in Bury, an industrial town of mills, coal mines and furnaces, some ten miles north of Manchester, and he lived there all his life. The son of a mill worker and clog maker, he started in the cotton mills as a child, working as a warehouse boy. Then after a series of jobs as an errand runner, he became a printer’s apprentice; he specialised in book-binding and worked in that craft for much of the rest of his life. 

Thompson had drifted into writing at an early age, with articles on the countryside for his local newspaper, paragraphs for various gossip columns, and a piece in the Sunday Chronicle. These were noticed by The Guardian, who invited him to write something longer. It turned into a regular column, the Plum Street Memoirs, based largely on the people who lived in and around Wood Street in Bury. He’d been brought up there in a house so small, he said, that it seemed you could poke the fire standing on the front door step. The back door opened onto a cul-de-sac, where 

“quite a number of people lived regularly on the edge of extreme poverty…I thought of the patience and the heroism of the poor people who lived in it, and their full-blooded humour…could I tell their tale?” 

He could and he did. Thompson’s column ran in The Guardian through the 1920s, culminating in Blind Alley, a novel about Plum Street’s residents, seen through the eyes of a young book-binder. But The Guardian wanted more, so Thompson continued with a column of Lancashire portraits that ran regularly from the 1930s to his death in 1951. He also published sixteen books, mostly collections of short stories, about Lancashire people and their communities. The first of these, Lancashire Mettle, was published in 1933, with a frontispeice by his friend, L. S. Lowry.

Thompson with L. S. Lowry

And that wasn’t even the half of it. Thompson wrote several plays, and helped write a couple of film scripts: Mario Zampi’s comedy thriller, Spy for a Day, and Carol Reed’s Penny Paradise, starring Betty Driver. He was also a regular contributor of short stories to the Radio Times. 

Besides his writing, Thompson was a prolific and versatile broadcaster, making a name for himself on the BBC with numerous programmes on Lancashire dialect, as well as over thirty sketches, stories and plays broadcast between 1937 and 1951, almost all of them about life in Lancashire towns and villages. He continued broadcasting through the 1939-1945 war, writing a weekly series for the forces called Tom, Dick and Harry, as well as a number of individual programmes such as Hospitality to Foreigners, in which he appealed to listeners to invite soldiers and refugees from abroad to share Christmas dinner and spend the day with them.  

Thompson was also responsible for seven of the nine episodes of Burbleton, an imaginary northern community created by BBC staff in 1937 – the Radio Times even published a map and some vital statistics. His series, Under the Barber’s Pole, broadcast on the Home Service between 1947 and 1952, comprised dialect stories set in the fictional Lancashire village of Owlerbarrow, with Wilfred Pickles in the lead role. It was so successful that Allen and Unwin published a collection of the stories in 1949.   

By now, Dai Cwc was muttering in his emails about whether the similarity between the titles Under the Barber’s Pole and Under Milk Wood was significant or not. What part, he wondered, did the fictional communities of Owlerbarrow, Burbleton and Plum Street play in stimulating Dylan’s thinking about his own fictional communities, such as Montrose Street and Llareggub? 

And how did Thompson’s writing influence the novels of his fellow Lancastrians, Louis Golding (Magnolia Street) and Walter Greenwood (Love on the Dole), both published in 1932? Not to mention Tony Warren’s dialect-enriched soap, Coronation Street, first televised in 1960. Whatever Thompson’s influence, there’s little doubt that he set a high standard of authenticity; he was, said Greenwood, the “most Lancashire of Lancashire writers.” 

Had Dylan and Thompson ever met? It’s certainly possible. Thompson was often in London, both for his film work and broadcasting, as well as his trade union duties. His favourite pubs and hotel were in and around Fleet Street. Thompson’s fondness for London is clearly expressed in his autobiography; his chapter on his visits to the city concludes: “It is a great satisfaction to find so many friends so firmly entrenched there.” 

These friends included Wilfred and Mabel Pickles, and Gracie Fields, whom he visited at her home in St John’s Wood. His 1938 collection of stories, Lancashire Fun, is dedicated to Fields; he later broadcast three programmes about her. As actors, entertainers and producers came and went, whether in London or Manchester, Thompson’s friendships grew: Wendy Hiller, Joan Littlewood, Violet Carson, Betty Driver and Tommy Handley, to name but a castful, as well as one of the BBC’s most innovative producers, Olive Shapley. 

It’s doubtful that Dylan and Thompson would have met in Lancashire, though Dylan had been there in 1938, staying with the BBC’s Geoffrey Bridson. He had also stayed with the historian A. J. P. Taylor, who had a house on the moors outside Manchester. Taylor mentions Thompson in his monumental volume, English History 1914-1945. A few years later, he recalled that “For many years the stories of T. Thompson were the things I first read in the Manchester Guardian. He has had no successor.”  

The Guardian journalists also held him in the highest regard, and its reviews of his books were, perhaps not unexpectedly, full of praise both for his humanism and his humour, as one put it. Of Lancashire Lure, which came out in 1947, the paper’s reviewer felt “it is temperate to say that what Kipling was to India and what O. Henry was to New York that Thompson is to Lancashire.” Other newspapers were of a similar opinion: 

“Instinct with the grit, the humour and the sentiment of Lancashire folk. Mr Thompson is a master of the snapshot. He has an economy of incident and speech which leaves the lines of his sketches bold and distinct.” Times Literary Supplement. 

“Mr Thompson has enormous sense of character…Blind Alley has the vitality of a holiday at Blackpool; but it has tenderness too.” The Observer. 

“Here is authentic Lancashire, presented in a series of masterly glimpses.” Evening Standard. 

“Not bad,” said Dai, “for someone who worked in the mills as a child.” 

“Not bad,” I replied,”for someone brought up in the slums of a Victorian industrial town.” 

Not bad, I thought, for someone whose education “was so small that I remember little about it.”  It was, he said, a poor do. More than fifty years on, the University of Manchester made a better do of it, awarding him an honorary Masters degree for his scholarly contribution to dialect literature.

Thompson died a few months later in February 1951. He was buried in Elton All Saints churchyard in Bury. Wilfred Pickles later described him as “the writer who captured life with all the accuracy and none of the flatness of a photograph, the brilliant and modest man of letters who was as unaffected as he was sincere.” Thompson’s obituary in the Guardian reminded readers that he was blessed with an inspiration that was “nearer to genius than to talent.” 

“I wonder if Under the Barber’s Pole reminded Dylan of Ocky Owen’s barber shop in Llansteffan?” 

“Enough already, Dai.” 

“One thing’s for sure,” he emailed back. “It’s a shame that Tommy Thompson hasn’t got his own Wiki page.” 

“He has now. His granddaughter and I have just done it. ”


© DNT 2018. Images © Jean Hornby. First published at https://www.discoverdylanthomas.com/a-third-dwelling-on-the-road-to-llareggub-guest-blog-by-david-n-thomas 

Press clippings: You can read Tommy Thompson’s first Plum Street column at the link below, as well as a selection of other columns and reviews. It also has his obituary. 


If you have any difficulty using the link, please email me at davidnt@hotmail.co.uk and I’ll send you the clippings as PDFs. 

Photographs of Tommy Thompson: 



My thanks to Jean Hornby, granddaughter of Thomas Thompson, without whom I would have made little progress. And to Roy Turner of the Bury Local History Society, Madeline Keyser at the Lilly Library (D.G. Bridson archive) and staff at the BBC Written Archives Centre, Reading, and the National Library of Wales. 


1. Fernhill landlady etc: see Thomas (2003) chapter 5.

2. Paul Potts on Thompson: see Potts (1961) p183.

3. Book-binding: aged 18, Thompson won the Skinners’ Company silver medal for book-binding.

4. Spy for a Day: Thompson does not appear in the credits but he describes the work he did in Lancashire for Me.

5. Wartime work: Tom, Dick and Harry ran weekly from October 1941 to January 1942. Hospitality to Foreigners was broadcast on December 22 1940, following the BBC six o’clock news (information from Jean Hornby). For details of Thompson’s other wartime programmes, see https://genome.ch.bbc.co.uk/search/0/20?adv=1&order=asc&q=%22T+Thompson%22&yf=1940&yt=1947#search

6. Burbleton: the BBC seems to have taken the name from A. P. Herbert’s spoofs of legal cases, published in Punch magazine and then collected for publication by Methuen from 1927 onwards. Dylan and Caitlin lived next door to Herbert for a short period in 1942. You can read all about the BBC’s community of Burbleton here: http://genome.ch.bbc.co.uk/page/5e01d8e3eaa442509c128446396b5f5a?page=13

7. Montrose Street: in Dylan’s 1946 broadcast, The Londoner.

8. Owlerbarrow: there is an Owlerbarrow Road in Bury, and an Owlerbarrow Farm, and there used to be an Owlerbarrow Hall estate, but there is no village of Owlerbarrow. 

9. Greenwood on Thompson: see Greenwood (1951) p109.

10. Programmes on Gracie Fields: Hello Gracie (3.12.1945). More Gracie (7.3.1946) and Welcome Gracie (17.7.1947), all on the North of England Home Service (information from Jean Hornby).

11. A.J.P. Taylor on Thompson: see Taylor (1976) p6. If you can’t get hold of Thompson’s autobiography, Lancashire for Me, you’ll find some information about him in Rose (2001), as well as in Pickles (1951).

12. Review of Lancashire Lure: the Guardian, September 26 1947.

13. Education a poor do: see Thompson’s autobiography, Lancashire for Me.

14.Thompson’s MA: July 7 1950.

15. Thompson’s obituary in the Guardian: February 16 1951.

16. Ocky Owen: see the interview with him in Thomas (2003).


D.G. Bridson (1971) Prospero and Ariel, Gollancz

W. Greenwood (1951) Lancashire, Robert Hale

F. Halliday (1939) Burbleton Rushbearing, Radio Times July 14

P. Potts (1961) Dante Called You Beatrice, Eyre and Spottiswoode

W. Pickles (1951) Sometime Never, Odhams

J. Rose (2001) The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes, YUP

G. Stowell (1938) Broadcasting the Borough of Burbleton, Radio Times February 11

A.J. P. Taylor  (1976) Introduction to The Bedside Guardian, vol 25, ed. W.L.Webb, Collins

D. N. Thomas (2003) Dylan Remembered 1914-34 vol 1. Seren

                        (2004) Dylan Remembered 1935-53 vol 2. Seren

T. Thompson (1933) Lancashire Mettle. (1934) Blind Alley, novel. (1935) Song o’ Sixpence, novel. (1935) Lancashire Brew. (1937) Lancashire Lustre.  (1937) Cuckoo Narrow, novel. (1937) Stick-in-the Mud, one act comedy. (1938) Lancashire Fun.  (1940) Lancashire Lather. (1940) Lancashire for Me – Little Autobiography.  (1943) Lancashire Rampant. 

(1945) Lancashire Pride.  (1947) Crompton Way, novel.  (1947) Lancashire Lure. (1949) Under the Barber’s Pole.  (1950) Lancashire Laughter.  (1951) The Lancashire Omnibus. (all published by Allen and Unwin) 


Blog # 2     Two Dwellings on the road to Llareggub

           First Dwelling: From Lady Cholmondeley to Jack the Donkeyman

It was several months before I heard from Dai Cwc again. He chided me for ending my last blog in such a tantalising way. Who was this ‘distinguished son’ of Wales? Where exactly was his country home? And what did he or it have to do with Under Milk Wood?

Well, the country home was in the village of St. Nicholas-at-Wade, on the Isle of Thanet, Kent. The distinguished son was Thomas Jones, who had a house there. Jones was a Rhymney boy who left school at fourteen for a local iron works; he subsequently became a professor of economics, Deputy Secretary to the Cabinet under four prime ministers, founder of Coleg Harlech, chairman of Gregynog Press, principal founder of the Arts Council, founding editor of Welsh Outlook, President of the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, and a great deal more as well. Jones, often referred to as the King of Wales, was widely regarded as one of the most powerful men in Europe in his time, whilst his biographer thought him one of the three greatest Welshmen in public life in the twentieth century.

“What’s this got to do with Dylan Thomas?” was Dai’s brief response.

Dylan had gone to St. Nicholas in 1948 to do an outside broadcast for the BBC’s Country Magazine programme. He was living at the time in South Leigh, just outside Oxford. He took the train to London, and then the sleeper on the Thanet Belle to Margate, a long journey for Dylan and an expensive one for the BBC.

“Why does this bother you?”

“Why choose Dylan and not someone who lived closer? He really didn’t have much experience in outside broadcasts. And he’d only done one programme for Country Magazine before. So why send him all the way to St. Nicholas?”

“You think Thomas Jones pulled a few strings?”

Jones was almost as well connected in the literary world as he was in politics, and he was certainly up to speed with that young Swansea garage mechanic who had so quickly made the pages of the mink-and snooded Tatler. At a literary party in May 1936, Jones had chatted with Richard Church, the poetry editor at Dylan’s publisher, who told him that “there is a young Welsh poet in town, Dylan Thomas, gifted but tuberculous.”

Some time later, at the London home of Lady Cholmondeley, Jones met the Duchess of Kent, who “thoughtfully guided the conversation to the poetry of W.H. Davies and Dylan Thomas.” And it wasn’t all social chit-chat: Jones knew Dylan’s work well enough to mention him in a 1941 article on the Welsh way of life.                                   

Dylan’s own way of life at South Leigh, to where he and his family had moved in August 1947, is well caught in Colin Edwards’ interviews with local residents. The time there was a key period in the development of Under Milk Wood. He worked on the play through 1948 and, by March 1949, many of its characters were already in place: the organist, the two lovers who never met but wrote to each other, the baker with two wives, the blind narrator and the Voices. 

But Dylan also had to undertake work that brought in money, and contracts for BBC programmes were important in this. So, on the morning of June 10, he arrived in St Nicholas to take part in the Country Magazine programme, which the BBC had described as a ‘Special Number’; he used the day, and the next, scouting around for local people who could feature in the programme, which was to be held in the village pub. There was one rehearsal of four hours on June 12, and another of three hours on Sunday June 13, the day of transmission on the Home Service. Dylan wrote and edited the script – his handwritten alterations are all over it. He also compèred the programme:      

“We’ve rigged up a sort of studio here in The Bell – I might say an ideal studio – with bar billiards, dart boards, push penny (shove halfpenny’s big uncle), smoky ceiling, oak beams, wickerwork hatrack, piano with yellow teeth, on the wooden walls a buffalo head askew – probably shot charging round a corner – beer here and there, mostly there – quiet old St Nicholas at Wade...’tis brilling in the wade this morning – a few slithy coves at the end of the room...”

As compère, of course, he had to introduce both St Nicholas and the Isle of Thanet to  the listeners. So he duly provided a potted account of the area; it is more back-of fag-packet stuff rather than the studied tourist guidebook of the kind that appears both in his 1946 Margate broadcast and in Under Milk Wood. Then followed conversations with a number of locals, though he doesn’t mention Thomas Jones or the village’s other celebrity, Molly Bernhard-Smith, founder of the Twenty-one Gallery. 

The local newspaper was so excited by the event that it published the story on the front page on June 15 and then again three days later on the inside. You can read all about it here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1i9NwdgaV6zxVH_h1L-2D1ypwI06X9oy3/view?usp=sharing

 “Was there any creative squirt?” asked Dai. “Given that Dylan was working on Milk Wood when he did the broadcast.”

"He describes the Thanet resorts as ‘cockle-and-winkle seaside landladied and sandladied places’. 

“Well, that’s pretty squirty.” 

“And Jack Brown of Margate introduces himself as ‘I’m Jack the Donkeyman.’” 

“Bringing to mind Milk Wood’s ‘I’m Tom-Fred the donkeyman.’”

“The broadcast also mentions a village of pigeon fanciers, none of whom own any pigeons.” 

“Brilling in the wade? That’s Jabberwocky, isn’t it?”  

I sighed, and sighed again. It was time to get back on track. And back to specifics: “Is there one particular radio programme you’d choose?”

“Choose as what?”

“As an influence on Milk Wood?”

The Wise Fools of Gotham.”

Written by the distinguished author and playwright, Lawrence du Garde Peach, it was a re-working of the old stories about the the Village of Fools, Gotham in Nottinghamshire, where the villagers feigned madness to keep King John and his court at bay. It was broadcast on the Home Service in August 1942, at the very time when Dylan was developing his own ideas about Llareggub as a village of the mad.    

And what radio programme or individual, asked Dai, would I choose, as an influence?

"Another Port Talbot boy. Philip Burton, midwife to the first half of Milk Wood. More on him in a month or two.”

“And a programme?”

“I’d go for the Country Magazine broadcasts, and that’s what I want to dwell on next.” 

“That surprises me.” 

“I want to know everything possible about what Dylan was listening to at the time he was thinking about Milk Wood. The play’s aural pedigree, if you will.” 

“Did he even have a wireless?” 

 “He was seldom without one. It was as much for Caitlin’s dancing as for him. He even hired one in Italy, though I think that was mainly for the cricket.”


Second Dwelling: Dylan’s Wireless Background

Country Magazine, said the BBC’s Geoffrey Bridson, “was the most popular series that Features Department ever mounted.” Such was the programme’s appeal that it spun off a separate series, Songs from Country Magazine, as well as two television programmes and three books. 

The programme ran fortnightly on Sunday afternoons, often with repeats, from 1942 to 1954; as such, it coincided with a large part of the period when Dylan was developing his ideas for Milk Wood. We can’t be sure it was a programme he listened to, but it’s very likely he did: he compèred two of its broadcasts, and his friends and colleagues produced many others. 

The series had been devised to show that both town and country were pulling together in the war effort; it followed on from a strong pre-war interest within the BBC, particularly after 1935, in broadcasting features about village and small town life. This resulted in several radio series such as Provincial Journey, Village Opinion, and The Village, not to mention a large number of programmes on villages in other countries.   

Country Magazine provided community portraits of villages and the people who lived in them. One of its founders, A.G. Street, said it

             “painted in sound a faithful picture of its subject…the farmer, the farm worker, the                     butcher, the doctor, the retired colonel, the saddler…could and did rub shoulders…and                 broadcast, not what the producer might want them to say, but what they themselves                 wanted to say.” 

But it was not as spontaneous as Street suggests; there was always a script produced by the compère or producer that was based on prior conversations with locals, as well as a day of rehearsals. And the programmes all had a well-established format: country people talking about their work and life, interspersed with country sounds and country songs i.e. local folk tunes, and all held together by the compère. Desmond Hawkins, the wildlife broadcaster and one of Dylan’s editors and drinking companions, had taken part in a number of the early programmes, and was struck by both its novelty and effectiveness: 

“Coming up with just a sound picture was quite a novelty and the one I remember…had nice background noises of a farming village, animals and cattle lowing and so on, and then…church bells sort of sounding across the meadow and then suddenly in the foreground a mistle thrush singing. I was very impressed with this. It seemed to me something that we could do, that books and newspapers and the other media couldn’t do. So this was a germ for me, and a very important one.” 

The musicologist, Frank Collinson, had been appointed as Country Magazine’s musical director from the outset, and he toured the countryside with his tape recorder before each of the programmes. The songs were not seen as simply interludes between the passages of talk but were integral to the character and popularity of the programme. 

Dylan could hardly have been unaware how much the listening public enjoyed the carefully crafted mix of dialogue and song. It’s tempting to wonder if the programmes could have been a factor in the way he himself so successfully interwove dialogue and singing in Under Milk Wood. Note that it was Country Magazine’s mix of local people and folkloric songs that Dylan envisaged for his perfect pub: 

“Everybody’ll want to go to Quid’s Inn…and I want to go myself. I want to hear the village and the village singers…to hear, not sopping dance lyrics, but, affectionately guyed, such ballad-concert favourites as ‘Drakes Drum’ and ‘King Charles’…I want to hear, very much, the medley of all English country accents…” 

Country Magazine’s founding and principal producer was Francis Dillon; he had given Dylan his first part in a radio drama in 1941, and thereafter produced him off and on through the 1940s, even chasing him for a Light Programme script as Dylan was getting ready to leave for America on his last trip. Dillon was just Dylan’s type, bohemian, freethinking and a man who liked his pint, as the Sunday Pictorial noted: 

Francis Dillon, the man who has gathered the farmers, basket makers, cowherds and glovemakers together, is … a homespun type, wears corduroys and a fisherman's hand knitted guernsey in Portland Place bars, drinks beer, and doesn't like the idea of getting publicity in the Press. 

 Some thirty editions of Country Magazine were about communities in Wales, with Welsh producers and compères. These included T. Rowland Hughes, as well as  Dylan’s friends and colleagues such as Philip Burton, (who produced eight of them), Wynford Vaughan Thomas and Aneirin Talfan Davies. When Dylan was living in South Leigh, and thinking about Llareggub, four Welsh editions of the programme were broadcast nationally, three of them made by Philip Burton.

There were, of course, a small number of other radio series that ran alongside Country Magazine that strived to create community portraits, including the Billy Welcome series, devised by Geoffrey Bridson, which ran on the Home Service from July 1941 to June 1945, with three programmes produced by T. Rowland Hughes at the BBC in Cardiff. Billy was a lad from Halifax, usually played by Wilfred Pickles, who wandered the country looking for work, meeting ‘ordinary folk’ on his journeys. Billy came to Wales on his wanders, including one round the Rhondda in April 1945.

Another was Village on the Air, which ran weekly from October 1948 to May 1950. The BBC holds very little information on this programme, and I’ve not yet turned up any scripts. The aim of the programme, said the BBC at its launch, was to create ‘sound-pictures’ of village life from interviews with residents. An early review of the broadcasts mentioned that Village on the Air aimed at capturing the atmosphere, rather than the drama, of village and small town life. The Narrator, it said, “is cock-of-the-roost and he has in his power the secret of capturing our attention so that imagination can more freely wander.”

These, then, were but a handful of the programmes that may have formed part of Dylan’s wireless background as his ideas on Under Milk Wood were developing. But we cannot include The Archers amongst them; as Dai Cwc pointed out in my last blog, The Archers did not start broadcasting nationally until January 1951, by which time Dylan had already written most of the first half of Milk Wood

© DNT 2018. First published June 9 2018 at https://www.discoverdylanthomas.com/two-dwellings-road-llareggub-david-n-thomas 


Country Magazine scripts: BBC Written Archives Centre, Reading.

My thanks also to Ben Jones, grandson of Thomas Jones, as well as Nigel Deacon, Madeline Keyser at the Lilly Library (D.G. Bridson archive) and staff at the BBC Written Archives Centre and the National Library of Wales. And to Moira and Chris Sanders for their lovely Normandy gite, La Jolière, where this blog was finished.


First Dwelling 

1. Dai Cwc on my last blog:  http://www.discoverdylanthomas.com/cheltenham-mariposa-wander-along-road-llareggub-guest-blog-david-n-thomas  October 2017

2. Richard Church, Lady Cholmondeley, Duchess of Kent: see Thomas Jones (1954) pp 202 and xxii respectively. Jones on the Welsh way of life: Western Mail April 17 1941  

3. Interviews with South Leigh residents: see Thomas (2004) pp124-139.

4. For a fuller account of Dylan’s work on the play at South Leigh, please go to


5. St Nicholas script: BBC Written Archives Centre, Reading. There is a full account of the broadcast in the Thanet Advertiser and Echo, June 15 1948.

6. L. du Garde Peach: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L._du_Garde_Peach

7. The mad town/village : see my https://sites.google.com/site/dylanthomasandnewquay/dylan-and-the-town-that-was-mad

8. Radio for Caitlin’s dancing: see letter to Charles Fisher, July/July 1938, Collected Letters. On hiring a wireless in Italy - see various letters e.g. to John Arlott, June 11 1947. 

Second Dwelling

9. Songs from Country Magazine was broadcast between 1944 and 1954.

10. Several radio series on country life: for example, Ourselves by Ourselves October –December 1933, Provincial Journey April 1935-February 1938, Village Opinion February 1936-October 1937, The Changing Village October-November 1935, Our Country Correspondent October 1935-April 1937, The Village October-December 1936, In the Village Hall October-December 1938 and Discovering Wales March 1936-November 1939.

11. A.G. Street quote: in Dillon (1950)

12. Desmond Hawkins: interview for Wild Film History, 1998. Drinking companion etc: see Dylan’s letters to Hawkins and Andrew Dally’s article at https://dylanthomasnews.com/2013/08/22/desert-island-dylan/

13. Quids Inn: Dylan’s letter to Ted Kavanagh, Februay/ March 1951.

14. Dillon in the Sunday Pictorial: see his entry in the Oxford DNB.

15. Village on the Air, a review: Western Morning News, December 15, 1949.


D.G. Bridson (1971) Prospero and Ariel, Gollancz

F. Dillon (ed. 1950) Country Magazine, Odhams

T. Jones (1954) A Diary with Letters 1931-1950, OUP

D. N. Thomas (2004) Dylan Remembered 1935-53 vol 2. Seren


Blog # 3   From Cheltenham to Mariposa: a wander along the road to                        Llareggub

Not so long ago, I had an email from Dai Cwc, who’d been at school with me in Port Talbot. He’d been reading my last blog on the Majoliers, Caitlin’s literary rellies. “How come you got to kiss Liz Taylor in the Aberavon club house?”

“You remember my uncle Arth?” I asked. “He was the club treasurer.” 

At my time of life, I’m not often taken aback, or easily. But taken aback I was when Dai Cwc’s next email arrived. Did I know that Dylan had once worked as a garage mechanic? Not very likely, I replied politely, he didn’t have a car, nor did he know how to drive.

His reply simply said “A boy wonder! From mechanic to celebrity in just four years!”  Attached were two scans of newspaper reports; the first was an item from the Manchester Evening News about David Archer, the bookshop owner who had 

“brought to public notice the first work of Dylan Thomas, a young garage mechanic who writes brilliant ‘advanced’ poetry in his spare time.” (April 21 1939)

The second was a clipping from The Tatler, a piece mentioning Dylan, alongside photographs of Sir Algernon Peyton and his daughters on one side and, on the other, Lord de Freyne and Lady Lambart: 

“The Marquess and Marchioness of Londonderry lunched out; so did the Dowager Marchioness of Townshend; Lady Eleanor Smith wore her dark hair in a red fish-net snood....Mr John Davenport and Mr Dylan Thomas, the poet, were together; Mrs Pat Gamble and her sister, Miss Pamela White, had tea, both hatless and very attractive; and Mrs Eveleigh Nash shopped in a mink cape.” (August 4 1943) 

“Where’s this leading?” I asked, slightly exasperated, though mildly interested that Dylan could get into The Tatler, especially without a hat, snood or cape.

 Then came another email, which went straight to the point: “Here’s something on the Cheltenham Festival. A link to Under Milk Wood !!?”

 I opened up Dai Cwc’s attachment, a scan from the Gloucestershire Echo, describing Dylan’s dazzling performance at the Cheltenham Literary Festival in 1950. He had been invited to talk on light verse: 

“I’m not going to talk seriously on such a serious subject. I only read poems I like and the platform is the place where I give them the works, before people voluntarily cornered like yourselves today.” (October 7)

 What followed was “an hour of rambling, wholly brilliant verbal fireworks...an effervescent flow of verse and comment, bubbling over with the spectacular talent of his mimicry.” Dylan read poems by Belloc, Graves, Auden, Betjeman, Pound, W.H. Davies, and Henry Reed. But the Echo’s reporter noted that “crippling criticism for the unskilled scribbler was poured forth with alarming sincerity by Mr Thomas in his reading of Ogden Nash’s Very Like a Whale.”

 Dylan dismissed Kipling’s If  as “a militant boiled pudding, made of cement and handcuffs.” Reed’s Naming of Parts, and Leonard Strong’s The Brewer’s Man, provided him “with heroically-taken opportunities for unrestricted, and visibly exhausting, mimicry.” The reporter concluded that “proof of Mr Thomas’s astounding fluency and verbal virtuosity was the difficulty experienced by many listeners in distinguishing between actual verse readings and extempore comment by the poet himself.” 

Later that day, Dylan took part in a Brains Trust on books. His companions were the novelists Eric Linklater, E. Arnot Robertson and Emma Smith. The Echo’s reporter noted Dylan’s “barbed, caustic ebullience.” Answering a verbose, involved question on the duration of fame, Dylan quipped: “The function of posterity is to look after itself.”

When asked whether it was easier to understand a poet’s face or his poetry, Dylan replied that he only looked at his face when he breathed on a mirror to see if he was dead. To which, from the back of the hall, came: “Do you ever do the same with your poetry?”

I always find Dylan’s comments about his death a little unnerving, especially at this time of his life. And especially when a part of his performance at Cheltenham was described as “visibly exhausting”. This was hardly surprising; he had only recently completed his first trip to America, a gruelling tour of twelve thousand miles and thirty-nine readings. He was, said Caitlin on his return, dead to the world. 

I sent a gloomy email to Dai Cwc, wondering if the columns surrounding the Echo’s piece on Dylan seemed to speak of a life in decline: a Mr George Drinkwater fined for drunkeness, an advert for Carter’s Liver Pills and another for an undertaker, all dominated by an announcement that the Salvation Army band was coming to town.

I also expressed my surprise that Dylan seems to have made no mention of Under Milk Wood at the Festival. Just a few weeks afterwards, he sent the BBC a draft of what would become the first half of the play. Did Denis Morris, the senior BBC man who chaired the Brains Trust, have a quiet word, urging Dylan to get on with the long-promised script? They had, after all, both worked in the Ministry of Information during the War, and might have known each other then.

“And Morris was on a high,” emailed Dai back. “He’d just piloted The Archers, a few months before the Festival.”

I asked him if he thought the radio programme had affected Dylan’s thinking about Milk Wood.

“Wouldn’t have thought so. He’d written the first half by then. But The Archers did turn us into a nation of eavesdroppers, Captain Cats if you like. So that probably prepared listeners for Milk Wood, three years later.”

Then he asked me if I’d noticed the advert, right next to the Festival report, for a performance of Our Town. That’s Dai Cwc all over, very sharp down the blind side but I just about understood what he was getting at. 

Thornton Wilder’s Our Town is sometimes described as an Under Milk Wood without the laughs, songs and saltiness, but I’d always thought it was probably a more convincing influence on the development of Dylan’s play than either Masters’ 1915 Spoon River (a collection of poems) or Anderson’s 1919 Winesburg, Ohio (a collection of short stories).

First performed on stage in America in 1938, Our Town tells the story of a fictional community, Grover's Corners, through the ordinary and everyday lives of its residents. Like Under Milk Wood, it’s a play for voices, in the sense that it’s performed with no set, little scenary and few props. Like Under Milk Wood, it has a narrator (the Stage Manager) who, said one reviewer, casually presents scenes from the villagers’ daily routines, scenes which have their counterparts in villages everywhere: “Humour, pathos and profound philosophy are blended in the lives of the most ordinary people.”

Not surprisingly, Our Town also has a good number of characters in common with Milk Wood, such as the organist, the milkman, the undertaker and the policeman. There’s no Willy Nilly postman in the play, but in Grover’s Corners it’s the paper boys who deliver the town’s gossip from door to door. Neither is there a Voice of a Guidebook, but the play begins with the Stage Manager describing the town with what The Tatler called an old-fashioned guide-book dullness:

             “Up here is Main Street. Way back there is the railway station…Polish Town's across the              tracks. Over there is the Congregational Church; across the street's the Presbyterian.                 Methodist and Unitarian are over there. Baptist is down in the holla' by the river.                         Catholic Church is over beyond the tracks. Here's the Town Hall and Post Office                             combined.” 

Then the voices of the town’s professor and newspaper editor take over to provide details of its history and vital statistics. It clearly foreshadows not just Voice of a Guidebook in Under Milk Wood  but also the Voice of Information that appears in Dylan’s 1946 broadcast, Margate – Past and Present. Here’s an edited extract, without the Stage Manager’s interventions: 

“Grover's Corners lies on the old Pleistocene granite of the Appalachian range... Anthropological data: early Amerindian stock. Cotahatchee tribes…The population, at the moment, is 2,642. The Postal District brings in 507 more, making a total of 3,149. Mortality and birth rates: constant. By MacPherson's gauge: 6.032… We're run here by a Board of Selectmen. All males vote at the age of twenty-one. Women vote indirect. We're lower middle class: sprinkling of professional men…ten per cent illiterate laborers. Politically, we're eighty-six per cent Republicans; six per cent Democrats; four per cent Socialists; rest, indifferent. Religiously, we're eighty-five per cent Protestants; twelve per cent Catholics; rest, indifferent…Very ordinary town, if you ask me. Little better behaved than most. Probably a lot duller.” 

There’s a lot more to say about Our Town and other towns, too, and their influence on the writing of Under Milk Wood, but I’ll leave it to a future blog (though there’s more on Margate in Note 5 below). For now, I’ll just answer the question that Dai Cwc had left hanging in the air. Was Dylan familiar with Our Town? He’d certainly met with Wilder on that first American tour in 1950, and Brinnin’s account indicates he knew his work: 

“Thornton Wilder, whose work, he thought, had been insensitively dismissed by many highbrow critics, struck him as one of the most endearing men he had ever met.” 

Put crudely, it would have been extremely difficult for Dylan not to have known about Our Town, for which Wilder was given the Pulitzer Prize. Hollywood quickly took the play on board, and it went on general release in British cinemas in 1940. Its first stage performance here came in early 1941, the very year that Wilder came to London to be fêted by the English Speaking Union. He was already established as a major literary figure, largely through the success of his 1927 novel, The Bridge of San Luis Rey. 

Thereafter, through the 1940s, Our Town appeared in many provincial theatres, as well as being taken up by numerous am-dram groups. Its first West End production began at the New Theatre on May 1st 1946. Might Dylan have seen the play then? He was living in Oxford at the time, and was in London for much of early May, recording for the BBC and reading poetry at the Wigmore Hall on May 15. Wilder’s sister was there: 

“Isabel heard Dylan Thomas read some of his poems in London (she sat two yards from the Queen!), fine self-forgetting projection she says. He dresses ‘non-gentleman’. The distrust and unkindness of Englishman to Englishman along those hair-fine social categories...so of course Dylan Thomas wears colored wool shirts.”  

It’s also possible that Dylan could have listened to Our Town on the radio. The BBC put out three broadcasts in 1946, and another in 1949. The play’s impact here would have been enhanced both by Wilder’s visits to Britain, and the success of his plays that followed Our Town onto the British stage, particularly The Skin of our Teeth, directed by Laurence Olivier, and starring Vivien Leigh (and for which Wilder had won yet another Pulitzer). 

We’ll never know how Our Town influenced the writing of Under Milk Wood, but it probably did much to create a public appetite for it. Sadly, Under Milk Wood did nothing in return. From the mid-1950s onwards, as stage and broadcast productions of Under Milk Wood increased, those of Our Town went into rapid decline; Wilder himself had seen it coming, declaring in 1954 that his play was destined for the waste-paper basket. 

So there you have it: Masters, Anderson and Wilder, a possible line of American influence on Dylan’s road to Llareggub. But there is yet another name to consider, that of Stephen Leacock, an English-born Canadian. He was a professor of political economy and a biographer of Twain and Dickens, as well as a widely-known humourist to whom comedians Groucho Marx, Jack Benny and Woody Allen, as well as writers Robert Benchley and S.J. Perelman, have acknowledged their debt. He was also a potent influence on The Goon Show and on Harry Secombe in particular, as well as on a generation of post-war comic scriptwriters such as Frank Muir and Denis Norden. 

Leacock’s book, Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, preceded the small town books of  Masters, Anderson and Wilder. Published in 1912, in New York and London, it is a sequence of stories about the people of Mariposa, a fictional town on the shores of a Canadian lake. The book’s narrator takes us through the everyday lives of the townspeople - the barber, the undertaker, the journalist, the priest, the judge’s daughter and so on. The narrator introduces the town in the matter-of-fact tones of a tourist guide-book: 

            “I don't know whether you know Mariposa. If not, it is of no consequence…There it lies in             the sunlight, sloping up from the little lake that spreads out at the foot of the hillside on                which the town is built. There is a wharf beside the lake, and lying alongside of it a                         steamer that…goes nowhere in particular, for the lake is landlocked…The town, I say,                 has one broad street that runs up from the lake, commonly called the Main Street…”

 I don’t need to say anymore about it here because Wikipedia have produced their own version of the Mariposa guide-book at  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mariposa_(fictional_town)

Sunshine Sketches was well received, building on the success of Leacock’s previous two novels. Widely reviewed on both sides of the Atlantic, its sales were helped by his continuing prominence in the British press as a humourist, political economist and cancer campaigner, not to mention his letters to The Times on the folly of prohibition. Penguin brought out a new edition of the book in 1941, three years before Leacock’s death. In February 1948, the year in which he did some serious work on the first half of Under Milk Wood, Dylan appeared in a BBC broadcast about comic writers, and made clear his own admiration: 

“I read only his ‘Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town’, for only in these did Leacock create a home for his imagination, a ‘place’ in which his people could be born and die, love, fall down, philosophize, have their hair cut, let their hair down, put their feet up.” 

Sound familiar? 

So I wrote it all up, from Cheltenham to Mariposa via Grover’s Corners, and sent Dai a draft. “Not bad,” he replied. “But you’ve left out Emporia, Kansas.” 

“Enough already.” 

In Our Town, 1906. By William Allen White, poet, biographer, novelist, politician and editor of the Emporia Gazette. And he really liked the Welsh.” 

White’s works of fiction contain various references to Welsh Emporians but at the beginning of In Our Town he devotes a chapter to a Welshman, David Lewis, a printer at the Emporia Gazette. Lewis was deeply in love with his printing machines, as deeply as Llareggub’s Mr Morgan was in love with his organ and the music he could make on it: 

“Lewis petted them and coddled them and gave them the core of his heart, they were speckless, and bright as his big, brown, Welsh eyes…Whereupon, he fell in love with two divinities at once - the blonde one working in the Racket Store, on Main Street, and the other, a new linotype that we installed… his heart was sadly torn between them. He never went to bed under midnight after calling on either of them, and, having the Celt's natural aptitude to get at the soul of either women or intricate mechanism, in a year he was engaged to both…” 

Curiously, the Racket Store, where the blonde divinity worked, was a general store, selling groceries, dry goods, hardware, tableware, pots, pans, washtubs and such like. Mrs Organ Morgan, the groceress, also ran a general shop that sold “custard, buckets, henna, rat-traps, shrimp-nets, sugar, stamps, confetti, paraffin, hatchets and whistles.” 

All the same, I had to tell Dai that I’d found nothing yet to suggest that Dylan had read White’s In Our Town, or even that it had been published in Britain and reviewed here, though I’ll be glad to be corrected on that. 

It was time to move on.“Did Port Talbot ever make into The Tatler?” 

 “It did, actually. Half a page on the Aberavon rugby team, plus a photo of the players, March 7 1951.” 

“I don’t suppose any of them were wearing a snood. Or sporting a mink, like Mrs Eveleigh Nash? Didn’t her husband’s firm publish Conan Doyle?” 

“Never mind all that. I think we should have our own literary festival.” 

Well, he had a point. Just look at the poets the town’s produced: John Davies, Ruth Bidgood, Gwyn Williams, Sally Roberts Jones, Lynne Rees, to name just a few. As well as several very good poems about Port Talbot, too. 

I sent off another email to Dai. “Bet we’ve also got a fair number of garage mechanics who write advanced poetry in their spare time.” 

“And Dylan himself must have written a few verses there.” 

“None that I can think of.” 

“He didn’t have a car, did he?” 

“No. Bus and train always.” 

“So wherever he was going, his train had to go through Port Talbot.”  

“He did write some of Milk Wood on an American train.” 

“There you are, then.” 

“And Dylan’s uncle Arthur was a railway man in the town,” I replied. “Perhaps a Visitor Centre down at the station?” 

That seemed to stop Dai in his tracks. There were no more emails. I had a sneaking feeling he’d gone on tour with the Lions. He was mad on rugby, and had been a decent full-back in the school team, though John Davies, renowned today as both poet and wood carver, was usually first choice, not least for being cooler under the high ball. 

So good luck to Dai, wherever he is! I’m off to the country home of one of Wales’ most distinguished sons. Dylan went there once, on the sleeper from Victoria. I’ve a feeling it might just deserve a mention in the making of Under Milk Wood. 

With gratitude to my late uncles, Doug and Arthur Roberts; and to Mary Ellen Budney at the Beinecke Library,Yale, for help with the Wilder archive, as well as thanks to the Gloucestershire Echo.

 © David N. Thomas  first published at http://www.discoverdylanthomas.com/cheltenham-mariposa-wander-along-road-llareggub-guest-blog-david-n-thomas


1. The Archers: five pilot episodes were done in Midland region, in the week of May 29 1950; the programme went nationwide in January 1951. Dylan gave the first half of Under Milk Wood to the BBC in late October 1950; the second half was mostly written in America in 1953. The first BBC broadcast of Under Milk Wood was in January 1954.

2. Davies and Maud (1995, p.xxx) helpfully draw attention to Dylan’s knowledge of  Masters’ Spoon River Anthology and Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio. Cardullo (2015) points to some of the other similarities, and differences, between Our Town and Under Milk Wood.

3. Scenes from village life: the review was in The Scotsman, November 26 1946.

4. Guide book dullness: The Tatler: May 15 1946.

5. Voice of Information, Margate broadcast: I’ve reproduced this below, editing out interventions from other cast members. Dylan’s description of Margate does not describe the town as it actually was in 1946. Whilst his figures (e.g. 240 hotels, 1,300 boarding houses etc) are broadly correct, he took them from a guidebook describing Margate in the 1930s (see p.51 of Barker et.al. 2007). The figures for 1946 were very much lower: just a couple of hotels and a handful of boarding houses. Nor does Dylan mention the destruction of the town that he would have encountered in 1946: 2,700 German shells and bombs had hit Margate, destroying 238 buildings and damaging nearly 9,000 others. As Barker et. al. have noted: “The immediate post-war period was dominated by loss and decline...” What’s more, nobody seems to have told Dylan that J.M.W. Turner had been a past resident, or that Oscar Wilde considered the town “a nice spot not vulgarized by crowds of literary people.” 

“Population of Margate, about 30,000…At a rough estimate about 80% of the population are engaged in some way or another in entertainment, including those who accommodate, cater for, or entertain the visitors, and those who are responsible for transport and lighting…Number of hotels – 240. Number of boarding-houses – 1,300. Number of apartment houses – 5,000. The number of beds available to visitors to Margate is, in hotels 10,800, in boarding houses 39,000, in apartment houses 23,000. That makes altogether…72,800 Margate beds…Margate, under Queen Elizabeth was a small fishing village with twenty small hoys..In the 18th century Margate first became known as a bathing place…And Benjamin Beale, a Quaker, introduced bathing machines.”

 Dylan’s radio piece on Margate is about an American soldier returning to meet the woman, Molly, whom he’d dated during the War. Her parents run a boarding house for show people. Dylan seems spot-on with this storyline: compare Molly’s last long passage (“I like Dreamland in the dark.”) with this: 

“Mum and Dad met at a Friday night dance at Dreamland. Dad was on leave from the Navy during his National Service at the time…My mother and her family were amongst the first people to return to a deserted and silent Margate after the war. They had to tear down the wooden boarding from the doors and windows of my great grandmother's home (a theatrical boarding house) to enter a house that had been dark and empty for years. Old props – Gypsy Rose Lee dresses, birds cages and giant carnival heads - hung from the picture rails covered in dust. I can only imagine it.” See http://www.kentlive.news/a-couple-s-sapphire-wedding-anniversary-and-memories-of-old-margate/story-29660544-detail/story.html 

6. Dylan and Wilder: Brinnin (1955, chapter 1). In November 1953, Wilder was one of the distinguished American writers who signed a letter appealing to prospective donors for contributions to the Dylan Thomas Memorial Fund. 

7. Isabel Wilder at the Wigmore Hall: letter from Thornton Wilder to his brother, Amos, May 31 1946, in Selected Letters. 

8. BBC broadcasts of Our Town: September 28, 30 and December 1 1946; December 1949. 

9. Wilder’s visits to Britain include: July/August 1928: Liverpool, London, Oxford and Sussex, widely reported in the British press. The BBC took the opportunity to broadcast several readings of his play, Leviathan, that August. His friendship with Gene Tunney, the retired heavyweight  boxing champion, brought Wilder even more publicity. In September 1941, Wilder attended the International Congress of P.E.N. in London, followed by a lunch in his honour at the English Speaking Union, both widely reported in the British press. For more on his and his family’s time in Britain, including Edinburgh, Glasgow, Bristol, London and Oxford, as well as meetings with Laurence Olivier, Michael Redgrave and T.S. Eliot in 1948, see Niven (2012). 

10. Admiration for Leacock: in A Dearth of Comic Writers, reproduced in Maud (1991). Serious work on Under Milk Wood in 1948: at South Leigh, Oxfordshire; for more on this, see https://sites.google.com/site/dylanthomasandnewquay/birth-of-under-milk-wood 

11. W.A.White also wrote of the Welsh: “The Welsh people in Emporia and vicinity probably number several thousand souls; yet there are no Welsh paupers, no Welsh criminals, no Welsh loafers, no Welsh snobs; they are the salt of the earth, and Emporia is a better, cleaner, kindlier town because it is the home of these people.” Quoted by Davies (1988). 

12. Poems about Port Talbot: e.g. Tracey Herd’s The Afternoon Shift Leaving the Port Talbot Steelworks, John Davies’ In Port Talbot and Gillian Clarke’s Heron at Port Talbot.


 1. S. Anderson (1919) Winesburg, Ohio, Huebsch, free online at http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/416/pg416-images.html 

2. N. Barker et. al. (2007) Margate’s Seaside Heritage, English Heritage 

3. J. Brinnin (1955) Dylan Thomas in America, Avon 

4. R. J. Cardullo (2015) A Play Analysis: A Casebook on Modern Western Drama, Sense Publishers 

5. P. G. Davies (1988), The Welsh in Kansas, the Welsh History Review, January 1. 

6. W. Davies and R. Maud (eds) (1995) Under Milk Wood: The Definitive Edition, Everyman 

7. S. Leacock (1912) Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, The Bodley Head, free online at https://gutenberg.ca/ebooks/leacock-sunshine/leacock-sunshine-00-h-dir/leacock-sunshine-00-h.html 

8.  E. L. Masters (1915) Spoon River Anthology, Macmillan, free online at http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/1280/pg1280-images.html 

9. R. Maud (ed.) (1991) On the Air with Dylan Thomas, New Directions  

10. P. Niven (2012 ) Thornton Wilder: A Life, Harper Collins 

11. W. A. White (1906) In Our Town, McClure, Phillips, free online at http://www.gutenberg.org/files/26207/26207-h/26207-h.htm

12. T. Wilder (1938) Our Town, free online at  http://studylib.net/download/8328277


Blog #4      The Majoliers: Caitlin's Literary Rellies    April 2017

The last time I was in Port Talbot, I walked the Richard Burton Trail. My first stop was the park, which boasts the rather underwhelming Burton Memorial Flowerbed. Then on to Connaught Street to plaqueless number six, where Burton once lodged. Both he and I spent our teenage years in these sulphurous back streets. Across the road is the school we went to, though not at the same time. There’s little else we have in common, except that we’ve both kissed Liz Taylor, he quite a lot, but me only a peck on the cheek in the bar of the Aberavon rugby club.

So the other day when Stevie suggested we celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary by going on a Quaker retreat down in wet and windy west Wales, I demurred, thinking how much nicer a Burton international trail would be. “Let’s go to Positano,” I suggested, a town that hangs on the cliffs of the Amalfi coast, just south of Naples. 


“How about the Sirenuse? I’ll book Richie Burton’s old suite.” 

Caitlin had fetched up at the Sirenuse in the spring of 1956. Both the hotel and the town had become increasingly popular after John Steinbeck’s 1953 article in Harper’s Bazaar: “Positano bites deep. It is a dream place…” Caitlin took a different view, calling it an “icy, touristy, snob fool’s clip joint…neither fashionable nor primitive enough…” 

The American poet, Joseph Langland, was already resident in the hotel with his family. Soon the Langlands and Caitlin were on the beach together, and partying in the evening. Dylan inevitably came up in conversation. The Langland children had grown up with A Child’s Christmas in Wales. Joseph admired Dylan’s work, but it was all too much for Caitlin: 

“One day, the artsy gang was on the beach. My parents, Caitlin and others were there. Caitlin, herself a very good writer and very competitive with Dylan, suddenly charged at full sprint to the water and dived in screaming ‘Jealousy is difficult, but posthumous jealousy is intolerable!’” 

But she was already working on it. The following year, Leftover Life to Kill was published and three more books came after, earning her a place in the impressive literary pedigree of her mother’s extended family. It‘s a pedigree that we’ve grievously neglected; and that’s a pity, because it contains some intriguing names such as Mary Poppins and Gertrude Stein, as well as Anton Dolin, Mrs Feather and many other illustrious characters, including, perhaps, Charles Darwin.

 Caitlin was brought up by her mother, Yvonne Macnamara née Majolier, who had spent much of her early life in France. Her house in the New Forest overflowed with books, both French and English, as well as literary magazines such as the Nouvelle Revue Française, which she prized for its instalments of Proust. Yvonne was intelligent and widely read; an indulgent French father, an expensive education (French governesses and Heathfield), as well as improving holidays every year in Cannes, “made of her une femme cultivée.” So well read that in a café in Arles, as a young bride, she recognised the poet Frédéric Mistral, and asked him to inscribe a copy of  Le Poème du Rhône. Not surprisingly, Yvonne attracted a stream of interesting visitors: “I cannot remember a single regular visitor who was not either a writer or painter,” said one of her daughters.

 Caitlin’s father, Francis, largely absent, was a minor poet and essayist. Perhaps the best we can say of him is that without his philandering we might never have had Mary Poppins. The books’ author, Pamela Travers, was one of his lovers; without his approval, it’s doubtful she would have been confident enough to send it to a publisher. He warned her he disliked children’s books. She sent a draft to him all the same. Reluctantly, Francis read it, and his response had a lasting effect on her self-confidence: “Why didn’t you tell me? Mary Poppins, with her cool green core of sex, has me enthralled forever.”


In contrast to her father, Caitlin’s maternal cousin, Joseph Maunsell Hone, was one of Ireland’s literary giants, a distinguished historian, publisher and biographer of George Moore and W.B. Yeats, and close enough to the family to write Francis’ obituary. His grandson, also Joseph Hone and more Aeronwy’s generation than Caitlin’s, was a broadcaster, travel writer and spy novelist. The Hones, were not just literary but sporty, too, one of whom was the first Irish player to turn out for England in a Test match.

 And then there were the many scribbling Graves in the family; Caitlin’s maternal great-uncle, Alfred Perceval Graves, was a poet, essayist, anthologist, playwright, song writer and President of the Irish Literary Society. Honoured at the 1902 National Eisteddfod, he devoted his later life to Welsh literature and music. Caitlin’s cousin, Philip Graves (half-brother to Rosaleen, Clarissa, Charles and Robert Graves, all scribblers four), was a journalist on The Times and a prolific author, including twenty-one volumes on the Second World War, learned articles on butterflies and a book of poetry with Faber in 1930. 

 Nicolette Devas, Caitlin’s sister, published six books, including one about the Majoliers, who were the French and Quaker side of the family from Congénies, near Nîmes. From the age of eight, Caitlin went on holiday to the Majolier home, Bel Ombre, and had even attended the village school. Her great-grandfather, Edouard Majolier, had left there to settle in London in the early 1840s, following in the steps of both his sister Christine (who later married the London Quaker, Robert Alsop) and his brother, Antoine Georges Majolier, who had been smuggled across in 1814, disguised as a girl, by the Welsh Quaker, Evan Rees of Neath.

Helped by his family’s Quaker business contacts, Edouard soon prospered as a corn merchant. He became President of the French National Society in Britain, and of the French Chamber of Commerce, a man esteemed for his philanthropy. He was a founder in 1867 of the French Hospital in London, set up “for the benefit of distressed foreigners of all nations.” It’s now the Covent Garden Hotel, and the plaque with his name on it has long gone.

Edouard’s son, also Edouard but known as Ted, was Caitlin’s maternal grandfather; he followed his father as a board member of the French hospital, and in his membership of the Huguenot Society which, on his death, said of him: “He had more than any of us preserved the French side of his character, and a great part of his time was spent on the family estate at Congénies.” Ted also followed in the family business as a corn merchant. He married Susannah Cooper of Limerick, the daughter of a family with over a thousand acres to its name, though probably not much ready cash. Ted had plenty of that and, to mark the wedding, he commissioned a portrait of his bride from John Hanson Walker; it was shown at the Royal Academy of Arts in 1886 and then again at the 1889 international exposition in Paris.

Quite a change for Susannah! Just a few years earlier, she had been working in Huddersfield, as a maid for Alfred Perceval Graves, who had married her sister, Jane. Well-read and well-met, Jane had known Ruskin before her marriage. After her death, it was her younger sister, Ruth, who came to housekeep for Alfred. And it was to one of Alfred’s sons that Ted trusted his secrets about his library of erotica. Who can doubt that his interest in such matters was purely aesthetic? Indeed, he was the first Majolier to publish, bringing out Bibliotheca Ropsica, a scholarly work, said a granddaughter, that described his collection of erotica from the Belgian artist, Felicien Rops. To be fair, a Sotheby’s catalogue reveals that Ted’s library also included books on numismatics, as well as editions of Voltaire, Shaw, Dickens, Galsworthy, Beatrix Potter and various ancient Greek and Roman authors.    

The Graves and the Majolier/Coopers were thus closely intertwined. As Alfred describes in his autobiography, the Graves’ summer house had been within calling distance of the Cooper’s Limerick estate; in fact, so convenient that Alfred, whilst still courting Jane, had helped one of her sisters find a husband. Alfred was also glad to have the Coopers visit at his home in Wimbledon. When Susannah’s sister, Lady Grace Pontifex, came to visit, “her very Irish combination of ferocious, if humorous, candour, personal charm and good looks, were more than enough to cause a pleasant flutter.” Alfred also mourns the death of one of Susannah’s brothers, and then notes a conversation with her about the state of feeling in the south of France during the Great War.

In later years, Susannah welcomed the Graves children to Congénies, where she lived for much of her married and widowed life. An English Quaker visiting France in the early 1900s noted:

Madame Majolier most hospitably entertained us. We stayed all day, walking about her pretty garden, where a cousin (or niece) of hers acted as gardener….as I was passing an arbutus tree full of flower and fruit, I said to this girl, ‘I wonder if you know that lovely song The Arbutus Tree?’ ‘Well,’ she said, ‘I ought to know it, for my father wrote it.’ So I found I was talking to the daughter [Mary] of Alfred Perceval Graves, who also wrote Father O’Flynn.”

 This was no paper family. The Majolier home in Kensington (but Earls Court, really) became the centre for family gatherings, particularly musical evenings when “batches of brothers and sisters” would come to listen, for example, to Luigi Denza in the ballroom, or to enjoy the dancing of one of the family’s Irish cousins, the young Anton Dolin. Wedding receptions in the ballroom were another of the Majolier specialities, and that of Dolin’s aunt Chippie had been one of the first that Susannah organised. Nicolette Devas recalls that Dolin was the first man she fell in love with, when she was just ten years old; perhaps he was also the first to inspire the even younger Caitlin to take up dancing. 

 It was a family, as Caitlin put it, where “there were always aunts and uncles, cousins and relatives all around us.” This was largely due to Susannah. In between social events and charitable work for distressed Irish ladies, she also organised an annual “great muster of relations”, including those from France and Ireland; it sometimes lasted a week and was once held in a rented boarding school. And there lie a few questions; one of the families that attended the great musters was “the Darwins and their progeny from London.” Were these descendents of Charles Darwin? If so, who were they and how were they related to the Majolier/Coopers?

 There is no record of the Beaumonts turning up for the musters, but they must have come to some. When Susannah’s sister, Honoria, had married William Spencer-Beaumont in 1876 (in Port Talbot, of all places), it lifted the Majoliers socially, as did the marriage of Honoria’s daughter, Elizabeth, to a grandson of the Duke of Somerset. Things got even better in 1903 with the marriage of another of Honoria’s daughters, the brightly-named Violet Rachel Villiers-Tuthill Beaumont. The officiating minister was Lord William Cecil; the guests at the reception, hosted by the Majoliers, included not just the Unionist politician Sir Edward Carson, but also a splendid confection of earls, knights and dowager countesses. But amongst those absent was Honoria’s son, Dudley, who had recently married Sibyl Collings, Dame of Sark and its 21st Seigneur. Caitlin’s grandchild, Hannah, is a fourth cousin to the present Seigneur.

The last of Susannah’s family gatherings was a grand reception that she hosted for the marriage in 1937 of her nephew, Philip Graves, to her great-niece, Kitty Dewar. Her father, a bankrupt horse trainer, was long dead, so Kitty was given away by another of Susannah’s nephews, Sir Robert Uchtred Eyre Knox, the civil service’s undisputed honours expert. If you wanted a gong, he was the man to know. His father, Alexander, had published Differential Calculus for Beginners; he was a private tutor preparing young men for Army examinations, pointing out that learning need not interfere with gentlemanly pursuits: “Country Advantages. Evening study. Cricket. Fishing. Stabling for Horses.”

Let’s now have a look at Caitlin’s five maternal aunts and uncles:

 1.  Caitlin’s eldest uncle, Paddy, went to Eton and Oxford; he had no literary pretensions but his name appears in one or two books, not least because he was in the university eight that won the 1910 Boat Race. He made the papers, too, playing in Ireland in the same cricket team as his cousins, the Hones. Charles Rycroft, the eminent post-Freudian psychoanalyst, married Paddy’s daughter, Dr Chloe Majolier, in 1947. It’s a pleasing thought that when Chloe sold her grandfather’s erotica at Sothebys in 1950, the money helped support the hard-pressed Rycrofts whilst they were both starting up as analysts.

 2.  After Heathfield, Caitlin’s eldest aunt, Christine, worked as a nurse in the Hôpital Majolier, which her mother, Susannah, had set up in Congénies during the Great War. One of those who brought them medical supplies from Nîmes was an American woman called Gertrude Stein, and her companion, Alice. Christine asked her cousin, Joseph Hone, about her and was told she was an up-and-coming writer of some promise. She continued to exchange letters with Stein, now living in Paris, for another ten years or so.

 As the war ended, Christine married René Methol, an antiques dealer; their home in Cannes would soon become a bolt-hole for the teenage Caitlin and her sisters, as did Susannah’s own flat in the town. Her heart set on a literary career, Christine published reviews for The Dublin Magazine, as well as an article on the gypsies of the Carmargue. She also published a novel in 1925; but she was having difficulties with her short stories. The magazine’s editor thought they were too revolutionary for the Irish people. Christine, writing as often from her Paris house as from Cannes, sent them to Stein for her advice, who held nothing back, calling them superficial. Her last letter to Stein in 1929 reported that she was busy preparing another novel, as well as“doing translation & scenario work for some one in America.” After this, we have little more, just tantalising hints of Christine’s wider social and literary circle. She knew, for example, Antoinette Alston née Tarn, sister of the English poet, Renée Vivien who, like Dylan, is remembered as much for her lifestyle, and the manner of her dying, as her work.

 3.  Next up, Caitlin’s middle aunt, Grace. She married into a talented family of innovators, who lived in the village right next to Congénies: “As children,” wrote Devas, “I and my sisters followed the paths between the vineyards that separated Bel Ombre from the Maroger’s Château….” Grace’s husband, Sam Maroger, was an ingenious inventor of pumps, whose designs was as distinguished as his company’s art deco adverts. His brother, Jacques, was technical director at the Louvre, and wrote an influential book on the techniques of the Old Masters. Their father, Ernest, published a ground-breaking book on the cultivation of vines. Sam’s uncle Jean-Jacques was a poet and a writer on the French theatre, whilst Sam’s aunt Marthe, who made the front page of Le Figaro as the first French woman to gain a hospital internship, published a book and several papers on women’s health.

 4.  I’ve searched high and low on Caitlin’s youngest aunt, Suzanne Majolier; all I could find was the following letter to Peter Pan’s Wendy. Before you read it, you need to know that her mother Susannah was very much alive and well.

    “My dear Wendy Thank you so much for writing your name in my birthday book and signin         your postcard. Do you collect postcards. I do....Have you a mummy. I have not. I have a             nurse. I would like you for my mummy but daddy says you don’twant me and he would not         let me go and of course I don’t want to leave him” (sic)

 You can really hear what Suzanne is saying about family life if you look back to the April 1891 census at the plight of her three older siblings. Whilst their very well-off parents were at their palatial, five-storey and ballroomed Kensington home, Yvonne (4yrs), Paddy (2yrs) and Christine (1yr), were with two nurses, sharing a two-bedroom terraced house in Eastbourne with a carpenter, his wife and her sister.

 Well, that brings us nicely back to Suzanne, and the De Pury brassière. Her husband was Roger Emile Casalis De Pury, whose father was a surgeon and successful corset retailer in France. Not very glamorous, perhaps, but a money-spinner, at a time when Barkers of Kensington had its very own Ladies’ Corsetry. Roger himself patented a design for a rather odd bra, as well as one for an india rubber sheet, neither of which, as far as we know, were ever used by Suzanne.

 Their marriage brought another well-known figure into the family; Roger’s sister, Jeanne de Casalis, was not only a glamorous film star, and a very close friend of Vivien Leigh and Noel Coward, but an author as well. In the 1930s, she produced two books on the dithering Mrs Feather, a radio character she had created. She also wrote and directed Dearly Beloved Wife, and co-authored, St Helena, a play about Napoleon, which Churchill praised in a letter to The Times. After her appearance on Desert Island Discs in 1952, Heinemann published two collections of her short stories.

 5.  Finally, Caitlin’s youngest uncle, Michael Majolier, who was yet another author in the family. He went to Kenya to farm, went bust and returned penniless to England. He married Nathalie Mamontova, step-neice of Tsar Nicholas II, but times were tough. He took to writing stories to eke out his income, and published three detective novels in the late 1930s, whilst Nathalie published a book of reminiscences. But after life in the Russian court, an attic flat in Battersea was quite a come-down, a Cinderella in reverse, as one newspaper put it:

         Mrs. Majolier lights a coal fire, scrubs lino, climbs five flights of stairs each morning with             her shopping basket…darns socks, types her husband's reports, peels potatoes, cooks and          washes up. “I don’t pine for the old life of luxury because I am happy as I am,” she says.             “We dine out twice a year at a Chinese cafe in Soho and enjoy that better than Czarist                 Russian caviar and champagne suppers. I still love my husband…he is now a traveller for a          cement company.” (1939)

 And what remains? Memories, books, paintings, a French pine growing in the New Forest from a Congénies cone, an Irish snowdrop, Galanthus Mrs Macnamara (aka Milkwood) as beguiling as ever, Pompes Maroger still thriving and la source Perrier still bubbling. It’s an intriguing thought that in 1903 the Majoliers might possibly have been go-betweens, interpreters perhaps, when Dr Louis Perrier decided to sell his now-famous spring, which is just down the road from Congénies. It was bought by an enterprising English gentleman with substantial resources to invest but with very little, if any, French to speak of:

         “My father knew Yvonne when she was Yvonne Majolier and lived at the beginning of the           20th century at Congenies. He was then organising the purchase of what became Perrier               water on behalf of St. John Rothermere [Harmsworth].”

 Not long after, Ted Majolier died at the very young age of fifty; Susannah quickly found out that money was now in short supply. Most likely with a heavy heart, she advertised Bel Ombre, their Congénies home, as a winter let:


Proper drainage? Good educational advantages? Who could possibly resist? Not us. We’ve decided that, for our 30th wedding anniversary trip, we should go to Bel Ombre, now a Quaker centre, no Burton-style suites, just plain but comfortable rooms, and only a ten-minute drive to the Perrier museum and bottling plant in Vergèze. What could be better?

 Being at Congénies will also give me time to read more about Caitlin’s great-grt-grt-aunt who left the village, aged twelve, to live in London as the adopted child of the Quaker, William Allen. This was Christine Majolier-Alsop (1805-1879), who became one of Europe’s most influential Quaker emissaries, on familiar terms not just with the French, Prussian and Russian royal families but Queen Victoria as well. Not to mention Wilberforce, who came to chat, and Elizabeth Fry, a good friend to the end, a weighty Quaker who had once stayed in the Congénies post office house. And like many Majoliers, Christine could also write; her journal has been selling well for over a hundred years, and has recently become available in French.

 And while I’m in Congénies, I’ll also mug up on the Quakers. I’m sure there weren’t any in Port Talbot in my time. As Dylan so rightly said, we all thought sects were what the coal came in.

 Two family trees follow below, after the booklist.

 With thanks to Melody Cartwright, Stevie Krayer, Paul Langland, Daniel Thuret and Geoff Fitzpatrick of the Kay Family Association UK,  for ideas and material.

 Stein and the Majoliers: Stein collection, Yale. Sotheby’s catalogue: Dingwall collection, Senate House Library, London

 © David N. Thomas   April 2017  First published at:  http://www.discoverdylanthomas.com/majoliers-caitlins-literary-relatives-guest-blog-david-n-thomas

Publications mentioned in the text:

 Nicolette Devas: Two Flamboyant Fathers (1966) and Susannah’s Nightingales (1978)

Christine Majolier: Content (1925)

Jacques Maroger: The Secret Formulas and Techniques of the Masters (1948) and see


Ernest Maroger: La Goutte D’Eau (1924)

Jean-Jacques Olivier: see https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean-Jacques_Olivier

Marthe Francillon-Lobre: Hygiène de la femme et de la jeune fille (1909) and see https://criticartt.blogspot.co.uk/2016/11/la-doctora-marthe-francillon-vs-el.html

Jeanne de Casalis: St Helena (1936), Mrs Feather’s Diary (1936), Mrs Feather, Duologues (1938), Things I don’t Remember (1953), Never shall she be Unfaithful (1954).

Nathalie Majolier: Step-daughter of Imperial Russia (1940).

Michael Majolier (written under the name of James Street): Death in an Armchair (1936), Carbon Monoxide (1937), A Wastrel Goes West (1937)

Christine Majolier-Alsop: Memorials, ed. M. Braithwaite (1881), Mémoires d'une missionnaire (2012). Available online in English at https://archive.org/stream/memorialschrist01braigoog#page/n2/mode/2up


1. Susannah and her sisters


 Notes on the tree

 Jane (1848-1886), Susannah (1861-1942), Sarah (1857-1887), Honoria (1852-1932), Ruth (1863-1889). 

Anton Dolin (1904-1983), born as Sydney Francis Patrick Chippendall Healey-Kay. His great-grandfather was Joseph Robert Reeves (1802-1866) of Athgarvan House, Newbridge, Kildare, and Fitzwilliam Place, Dublin, who was an uncle to Susannah Majolier’s father, James Cooper. Robert Reeve’s daughter, Fanny, married Captain John Henry Chippendall Healey in 1863. Their daughter, Helen Maude Chippendall Healey of Athgarven House, (1868-1960), who married George Henry Kay, was Dolin’s mother. Susannah and Helen were second cousins, Yvonne and Anton were third cousins.

 Alfred Perceval Graves (1846-1931) poet, song writer, essayist, anthologist. On his daughter Mary and her gardening, see http://www.botanicgardens.ie/glasra/ns4_4.pdf

Philip Graves (1870-1953) half-brother to Robert, a journalist on The Times and a prolific author. First married Millicent Knox Gilchrist. Philip was Susannah Majolier’s nephew but he was also related to the Majolier/Coopers through his second marriage to Susannah’s great-niece, Katherine Eleanor (Kitty) Dewar née Palmer. 

Kitty Graves (b. c1896) was the granddaughter of Susannah’s sister, Honoria, and her husband, Capt. W.H.F. Palmer, who had married Honoria in 1872. Two years later, he died, leaving her with two children: (1) Elizabeth Mary Palmer, who married Maj. Richard Harold St Maur in 1891, the grandson of the 12th Duke of Somerset. (2) William Henry Eyre Hollingsworth Palmer. Kitty was William Henry Eyre’s daughter by his first marriage to Hannah Ellinor Roberts. During the Great War, Kitty worked in the Hôpital Majolier alongside Christine, Grace and Suzanne Majolier. She married Peter Dewar in 1923 and Philip Graves in 1937. In her book, Nathalie Majolier notes that Kitty and Peter Dewar had a villa in Grasse and would meet up with the Majolier/Methols in Cannes.

 William Hone (1842-1919) cricketer, as were his brothers.

Joseph Maunsell Hone (1882-1959) writer, literary historian and biographer. He married Vera Brewster, niece of the Shakespearean actor, Julia Marlowe. Vera’s portrait was done several times by Sir William Orpen. 

Joseph Hone (1937-2016) broadcaster, travel writer and spy novelist.

Camillus Hone (d. 2011) brother of Joseph Hone, adopted by Pamela Travers, author of the Mary Poppins books and lover of Francis Macnamara, Caitlin’s father.

 William Spencer Beaumont (1848-1926). Married Honoria Palmer née Cooper in 1876 at Margam, Port Talbot. They had Nora,  Dudley and Violet Rachel Villiers-Tuthill, as well as bringing up Elizabeth Mary Palmer and William Henry Eyre Hollingsworth Palmer. William Beaumont was a soldier, London county councillor and Deputy Lieutenant for Tower Hamlets. He was the son of Caroline and John Augustus Beaumont, insurance magnate and property developer (eg Wimbledon), and grandson of Sophia and John Thomas Barber Beaumont, painter, author and philanthropist whose work helped in the setting up of Queen Mary College, London, where today there is the Barber Beaumont Chair of Humanities.

Dudley John Beaumont (1877-1918), soldier and painter. In 1901, he married Sibyl Collings, Dame of Sark and its 21st Seigneur from 1927 to 1974.

Francis William Beaumont (1903-1941), film producer and married to (1) Enid Corinne Ripley and (2) the actor Mary Lawson.

Michael Beaumont (1927-2016), 22nd Seigneur of Sark, son of Francis and Enid. Married Diana La Trobe-Bateman.

Christopher Beaumont (1957-), 23nd Seigneur of Sark.

Alexander Knox (b.1849) married Ruth Cooper in 1887. Educated at Cambridge, he was a private tutor at his home, Norton Court, Somerset, and author of Differential Calculus for Beginners (1884, Macmillan). His brother was Sir Ralph H. Knox, Permanent Under-Secretary of State at the War Office. Alexander and Ruth had two children (i) Mary Sybella Knox and (ii) Robert Uchtred Eyre Knox (1889-1965) K.C.B., K.C.V.O., D.S.O., who married Dorothy Margaret Hill, the daughter of James Duke Hill, D.L., of Terlings, Harlow in 1924. 

2. The Majoliers     

* Louis-Antoine Majolier of Congénies was a leading figure in southern French Protestantism and Quakerism. He was a land surveyor, notary, weaver and school teacher. He is credited with introducing the growing of potatoes to farmers in the south of France. His other children included Alix, Christophe, Elisabeth and Lydie.

* Antoine Georges Majolier b.1805, left Congénies in 1814. Described as a merchant in 1826. He married, first, Louisa King in London in April 1826 and, second, Marie Isaline Bres in June 1845 at Nîmes. Antoine and Louisa had:

(1)    Louis Antoine Majolier b. December 1826, who attended Croydon Quaker school 1841-43. He was described as a merchant in a patent application of 1863, and living in Stoke Newington, London. He married Anne Fourmaud in Congénies, and had a son Edmond, b.1868 in Congénies.

(2)    Marie Louise Majolier (1830-1857), who married Thomas Cannell Dixon in 1851, a wine and spirits merchant of Whitehaven. Their children were: (i) Louisa Margaret Dixon b.1852, who married William Pierson, schoolmaster, Speldhurst, Kent, in 1880; their children included Victor Majolier Pierson b.1887 who married Sarah Stephenson in 1919. (ii) George Herbert Dixon b.1855, a solicitor, married Eleanor Martina Dodgson and (iii) Tom Majolier Dixon (1856-1883) died in Melbourne.

Both Marie Louise Majolier and her daughter, Louisa Margaret Dixon, were brought up by their aunt, Christine Majolier-Alsop, and her husband, Robert. See Christine’s Memorials, ed. M. Braithwaite (1881), in which Louisa also describes Christine’s visits to Buckingham Palace.           

* Edouard attended the Quaker school at Croydon 1843-45, before joining the corn-chandlers, Harris  Bros. on the Baltic Exchange, eventually becoming a partner. His wife, Elizabeth, was the daughter of John Keyte, a master butcher in London.

* Adelaide and Arthur Urmston, grandson of Sir James Brabazon Urmston, had Adelaide Majolier and Edward Arthur.

* (1) Paddy (1888-1918) married Geraldine Briggs and had Chloe and Peggy.

   (2) Christine (1890-1969) and René Methol had at least one child, Jerome.

   (3) Grace (1891-1945) and Sam Maroger had Christine, Francine and Pierre.

   (4) Suzanne (1894-1955) and Roger Emile Casalis de Pury had Roger James Casalis de Pury. 

(5) Michael (1901-1967) enlisted in the Navy when he was thirteen and fought in the Great War.      He and his wife Nathalie had Alexandra Majolier. Nathalie had been previously married to Val Gielgud and Cecil Gray, the composer. 


Blog # 5        At Death’s Door     October 2016 

Sitting in the dentist the other day, I found myself musing about the state of Dylan’s teeth, the only part of his body he seemed to care about. Then my eye caught a poster about the dangers of plaque and, as one thing led to another, I was soon thinking about the various Dylan memorials that I had come across. One of my favourite plaques reads: ‘Dylan Thomas slept in this cottage on March 10 1953, on his way back to the Boat House in Laugharne.’ The cottage is in Cwmsylen, a village in Marcel Williams’ 1990 novel, Diawl y Wenallt. Was this, I wondered, Dylan’s very first appearance as a character in a literary work of fiction?

Two more quickly came to mind, both also written and published in Wales. Dylan is a central character in The Dylan Thomas Murders, a mystery novel set in the real-life village of Ciliau Aeron. Then came Rob Gittins’ The Poet and the Private Eye, a fiction about Dylan’s last days in New York in 1953. But are there other works out there, literary plaques if you will, that bring Dylan back to life, perhaps as a character in a short story, or in a play or novel?

As I waited for the injection to kick-in, I googled a useful Wiki page that included a handful of references to Dylan in works of fiction. I found the most plaqueable in Walter Mosley’s 2012 crime novel, All I Did Was Shoot My Man, a street poet’s eulogy in a New York bar. It’s a hybrid form, as much placard as plaque:

        “….among many of the recognised and lauded lights of the New York poetry scene the                 allure of Dylan Thomas has faded… They criticise everything from his depth of linguistic             complexity to the obvious melodrama of his most well-known works. But what these                     poetry pontiffs fail to understand was that Thomas was a people’s poet, a man that                     connected song and metre and the concerns of every human being living their lives and             suffering the consequences. His work, in its every repetition, fights for the survival and                 lifeblood of a form that most so-called great poets have moved beyond the reach of the                 common man …”

The extraction of my wisdom tooth was painless but messy. I wandered home, and shuffled papers. Two letters from Dylan to fellow-poets, neither in the Collected Letters, one to Alun Lewis, and another to John Berryman. A note from a New Quay resident, recalling that Dylan and Caitlin had lived there in 1942-43. Not in Majoda, she insisted, but down on the front in Penwig Isaf, and shouldn’t there be a plaque? And an email from Paul Langland, with stories of Caitlin and a young poet in Italy in 1956.

        “When I was four or five, we spent the year in Positano. I was playing with two other                     children I had just met on the beach. Their babysitter overheard part of our                                   conversation, seemingly an effort on my part to gain points with my new playmates.                     Doubled up with laughter, she told my parents that I had bragged to the kids that my                 father was a poet. Their response: ‘Our father was Dylan Thomas.’”

Are there any plaqueful words that can help us understand why Dylan, a relatively young man, died of a very treatable illness, and in a city which boasted some of America’s finest hospitals? He was already ill when he arrived in New York, and using an inhaler to help his breathing. A course of penicillin would have taken care of his developing chest disease but his doctor injected morphine, sending him into a coma from which he never recovered. The doc’s plaque has already been written by one of his patients: A wild doctor who believed injections could cure anything.

But the ending of Dylan’s life was a joint enterprise; his agent, John Brinnin, failed miserably in his duty of care. He was completely fed up with looking after Dylan, and decided to stay away from New York. For Brinnin’s plaque, we need go no further than his own memoirs, where we find these words of chilling ambiguity:  “Getting rid of Dylan was an obsession I was never able to curb”.

He knew Dylan was very ill, so you might wonder why he didn’t cancel his programme. But that was never an option for Brinnin; he was badly in debt and facing legal action. He desperately needed the money that would come from Dylan’s engagements, a punishing schedule of four rehearsals and two performances of Under Milk Wood in just five days. The play, said Dylan, “has taken the life out of me…” But he soldiered-on, conscientous to the end but he, too, needed the money. The Times Literary Supplement insightfully plaqued: 

        “A man of genius who was overworked, overstrained and overdriven by material                         pressure, but who was trying to do his best for a public that appreciated him for all the                 wrong reasons”.

And that useful Wiki page? It’s by no means comprehensive but it’s as fitting a memorial as any plaque or gravestone. Here’s to you, Dylan. Without you, we would never have had Ivor the Engine.


 © David N. Thomas    October 2016  First published at: http://www.discoverdylanthomas.com/guest-blog-discover-dylan-deaths-door-david-n-thomas