David N. Thomas
As the centenary of Dylan Thomas’ birth approaches, it’s timely to wonder about his childhood and teenage years. After all, he was an early-onset poet. Much of his published poetry was written in his late teens, some as early as sixteen, but all before he was twenty. So the more we know about Dylan’s early years, the better we might understand his poetry, as well as other aspects of his life, including his difficulties with drink and women. We might also learn more about his infantilism, which some see as the source of his genius.[i]
Born in October 1914, Dylan was the first boy in his mother Florence’s close family for over sixteen years. Since boys were just as rare in his father’s immediate family, the spoiling must have started young and been very easy.[ii] He was brought up by a nurse, an indulgent mother and a doting older sister, who was "very motherly to him". All but one of his first cousins were girls, all very much older than him. There was also a houseful of other girl cousins a few streets away: “Everybody mothered Dylan; everybody, even my family mothered Dylan...” As far as Florence was concerned, he had to be carefully watched over. Child deaths had been a recurring event in the family’s history, and it’s said that she herself had lost a child soon after her marriage. So Dylan was both mothered and spoilt, cuddled and cocooned, as a family friend had observed: “It was pretty obvious that Dylan had been brought up very, very, very annwyl, as they say in Wales...he was brought up very dearly and closely, you might say. Sheltered in many ways.” His friend from childhood, Vera Phillips, put it more bluntly. He was, she said, "hopelessly mollycoddled".[iii]
The real spoilers, of course, were his aunts. Some of them were very important in his upbringing, so much so that a girlfriend once observed that he "had a thing about aunts." She could remember nothing more about it, except that he used to say "Uncle Dylan is coming to bed with his auntie Babs."[iv]
Dylan’s paternal aunts had died long before he was born. His maternal aunts included not just Florence’s four sisters but, in the Welsh way of things, some of her first cousins as well. These women and their families lived in farms around Llangain and Llansteffan, and in the estuarine villages of Ferryside and Pontardulais. They were frequent visitors to Cwmdonkin Drive, usually coming for tea after a day’s shopping. Dylan was a lot more Welsh than Swansea, and these various aunts had much to do with it.[v]
Caitlin has written of the aunts that Dylan “couldn’t stand their company for more than five minutes.” Yet, she added, “They were the background from which he had sprung, and he needed that background all his life, like a tree needs roots.” Geographically, this was the Llansteffan peninsula that lies between the Taf and Tywi estuaries in Carmarthenshire. It was the land of his aunties, a rich concentration of relatives, family history and memories rooted not just in Llangain and Llansteffan but also in the parishes of Llanybri and Llangynog. His father's family had settled in Johnstown at the top end of the peninsula. Down in its heartland, in the fields between Maesgwyn and Fernhill, Dylan had spent his childhood holidays, as had his mother in her younger days. This was where his maternal grandmother had been born and brought up, and her parents and grandparents before her. Four of his mother's siblings had been born here. Three others had retired here in the 1930s, whilst Dylan's parents lived here for the best part of the 1940s. It was his bolt-hole when, as a teenager, he was "expelled" from home, and his refuge when, in married life, he was homeless. It was, too, the last resting place for Florence's parents, and for most of her brothers and sisters as well.
It would have been all the more important to Dylan because it was a background that he shared with good friends such as Glyn Jones, Vernon Watkins and Vera Phillips. The history of the friendship between Dylan and Vera, so dramatically portrayed in the film The Edge of Love, is to be found here on the peninsula in a couple of farms not far from Llansteffan. [vi]
The land of his aunties: the Llangain family farms.
Click to enlarge.
No matter what Caitlin, or Dylan, thought of them, his four maternal aunts were an interesting group of women. With one exception, they did well for themselves, either through marriage or inheritance. All four spoke Welsh and they were all without children when Dylan stayed with them:
Anne Williams, Florence’s half-sister. She married into local gentry. After the early death of her husband, she re-married and settled, with property, in Llansteffan. Dylan and his parents holidayed with her when he was a young boy at a time when Anne’s only surviving child was in her late teens.[vii]
Annie Fernhill left what might possibly have been an incestuous relationship with a Llangain uncle, but only to marry an incompetent farmer, Jim Jones. She lived in poverty for the rest of her life. Their only child, Idris, was in his twenties when Dylan stayed at the farm. “She loved me quite inordinately,” wrote Dylan, “…petted, patted & spoiled me.”.[viii]
Polly was a music teacher, and did well from inheriting property. She never married, and was another responsible for a good deal of the spoiling of Dylan, both in Swansea and at her cottage, Blaencwm, outside Llangain.[ix]
Theodosia married the scholarly Minister of Paraclete chapel in Newton, a country village just outside Swansea. They moved to the second Blaencwm cottage in 1933. They had no children.[x]
The most striking characteristic of these aunts is their age: the oldest, Annie Fernhill, was in her sixties, and the youngest, Theodosia, in her fifties, when Dylan, a schoolboy, went to stay with them. When, as a teenager, he stayed with Polly at Blaencwm she, too, was in her sixties. To the young Dylan, his aunts must have seemed more like grandmothers. Even his first cousins would have seemed “old”, for they were already in their twenties and thirties when he was a boy, whilst his parents were in their forties. This greying family profile might help explain why he was so absorbed, as a teenager, with decay and mortality.[xi]
His absorption was also fed by family events. Having aunties as old as grannies meant that deaths were a recurring element of Dylan’s growing up. One of the first was his great-aunt Amy in 1917, whose first grandson had died of TB the previous year and whose second then drowned on the very day of her funeral. The young man, barely out of his teens, was dragged from the waves, and his body identified by Amy’s daughter, Bess. Eighteen months later, Bess, who was Florence’s eldest Ferryside cousin, was also dead. At the time, these deaths could hardly have made any impact on the young Dylan, though his mother, who had attended Amy’s funeral, would have been a “ready tap of recollections”, as he put it, fuelling the young poet’s imagination about life, death and the cruel sea. [xii]
But death and all its trappings would soon get personal. Some three years later, when Dylan was seven, another of Amy’s daughters died. This was Anne, his mother’s half-sister. Not only were the seaside holidays in Llansteffan now over, but Anne’s twenty-year old daughter, Doris, moved into Cwmdonkin Drive – Dylan had lost an aunt but gained yet another mother. After her marriage in 1928, Doris moved to Abergavenny and soon joined the circle of aunts and cousins with whom Dylan would stay.[xiii]
As further deaths followed in the 1920s, other kinds of endings were also happening: his aunts were moving out of Swansea, and out of Fernhill as well. At just sixteen, he was reflecting in his letters on what it was like to be soaked in morbidity and restlessness. He described the fragility of life, and the cancer that lay hidden within even the happiest third-former. Is anything worth anything, he asked?[xiv]
In December 1932, Dylan went to the funeral of a teacher from his school, and wondered what his own burial would be like. Two months later his favourite aunt, Annie Fernhill, died. He feigned lack of interest but there was a surge of death poetry for the rest of the year. Then his father was diagnosed with cancer of the tongue; a few months later, a baby cousin died in Ferryside.[xv]
Tragedy also pressed in from outside. In March 1934, two sisters killed themselves in the Tywi. They were found in the river still in an embrace, each with an arm around the other’s neck, their bodies tied together at the waist. A few days later, Dylan was writing Where once the waters of your face. That October he reached his twentieth birthday, singing like the sea but feeling the weight of his mortal chains.[xvi]
As he wandered around the graveyard at Capel Newydd, Llanybri, the poetic stimulus would also have come from the family headstones: Robert, six months; Sarah Anne, eight months; Sarah Jane, seven years; Gladys, eight years; David, seventeen years; David George, eighteen years. The graves in the Llangain churchyard told the same story. Here they had buried his auntie Anne Llansteffan; alongside her were her first husband and two sons, all three of whom had been struck down in their twenties. The message would have been very clear to a young poet: birth can be a doublecross, that green fuse could blow at any time. [xvii]
Dylan’s preoccupation with mortality was rooted in family experience. But so was his equally intense concern with fertility and birth. His mother’s side was in crisis, at risk of failing to renew itself. Florence’s nine siblings had only a handful of children between them. Just as worrying would have been the birth rate in the Llangain family farms. Fifteen of her near relatives lived there. But between 1870 and 1902, they produced just thirteen children, and only three of these went on to have children of their own.[xviii]
The families then experienced an extended period of zero childbirth. No children were born to any of Florence's Llangain relations between 1903 and 1933. In February that year as mourners gathered at Annie Fernhill’s funeral, the future of the Williamses in Llangain would have seemed bleak. There were now only three Williams farms remaining and only one of them, Llwyngwyn, had any prospect of producing children. The future there rested on Florence’s first cousin, Thomas Williams, and his wife Mary Ann. But the signs weren’t good. They’d been married for three years, there still weren’t any children and Thomas was nearing middle-age. But as the fretting mourners left the graveside, fearing they were present at the passing of both a family and an individual, little did they know that Mary Ann would soon have good news for them. [xix]
In September 1933, Dylan was staying with Polly at Blaencwm. He worked on a group of five poems about birth and death, at a moment of great happiness in the family. In Llwyngwyn farm just up the road, Mary Ann was three months into her pregnancy, and things were going well. “Here a mild baby speaks his first word/ In the Bethlehem under the skin./Under the ribs sail the moon and the sun;” wrote Dylan at the cottage. The following March, the sun broke free of its cage, the first child for over thirty years, and they named her Heulwen (“sunshine”). In his poem, Dylan had called the baby a saviour, and she proved to be just that.[xx]
The long drought was broken, and the family tree now had a chance of renewal. But if he shared his relatives’ happiness, Dylan might also have remembered how the baby-shortage had once affected his days at Fernhill. When he had stayed there in the 1920s, the family farms had been empty of children of his own age. To make matters worse, most of the other farms around Fernhill were also without children. It had been, he said, a very lonely place and in his poem Fern Hill he tells us exactly why, describing it as a “childless land”. It is a lyrical poem about childhood but the worm at its core is the poet’s painful memory of being alone. [xxi]
Images of loneliness flood the pages of The Peaches, a story about a stay at Fernhill. It begins with Dylan waiting in the dark outside a pub whilst his uncle has a pint. It ends with the desolation of his friend Jack’s return to Swansea. Dylan waves goodbye with his handkerchief, signalling both his own sadness and his surrender to the child-empty world around Fernhill.
It’s not difficult to imagine what it was like for Dylan to be on his own as a young boy at Fernhill, a ramshackle house said to be haunted by a hangman. It was a "dark and dismal" place, so shaded by pine-trees that the sun rarely struck the house. The gloomy, musty rooms were lit by oil lamps and candles, and life there, as in all the family farms, was simple: there was an outside earth closet, with water brought into the house from a dipping well two hundred yards away. Washing oneself was done in the kitchen, cooking was on an open fire, and the plain food, usually a broth or cawl, was served in wooden bowls. The house, noted one official survey, suffered from extreme rising dampness and smelt, wrote Dylan in The Peaches, "of rotten wood and damp and animals". [xxii]
Yet “the farm was home”, as he puts it in Fern Hill, with over eight hundred acres of surrounding family land to romp in. Dylan often went there, without his parents or sister. He visited for the whole of each summer holiday from about 1922 to 1929. There were also other stays at other times, as well as with aunt Polly at Blaencwm, probably prompted by his mother’s concerns about his lungs or by his father’s rages.[xxiii]
A few fields away lived his auntie Rachel at Pentrewyman farm (Auntie Rach in The Peaches). She, too, was childless in the sense that her only son was in his twenties. Dylan would help with the harvest, walk across the fields with Fan the sheepdog and ride bareback on Prince, his auntie's farmhorse. He would often spend the night here, sharing a bed with the young servant girl, an intimacy that must have cradled his adult need for sleeping with women, not so much for sex, but for warmth and a protective cuddle. [xxiv]
Newton itself “was a very, very quiet village, very quiet, and there weren’t all that number of children here…there weren’t very many youngsters at that time.”[xxv]
And then, finally, in this child-empty circle of aunts who looked after Dylan, there was Florence’s first cousin, Sal, who lived in Ferryside. Another aunt kept the Dorothy Café there. These were holidays of cockles for supper and scary stories at bedtime about the local hatchet men, and he enjoyed it enough to keep on returning to the village whenever he had the chance.[xxvi]
Knowing Dylan’s Ferryside background helps us understand why the sea and its victims were such recurring elements of his teenage poetry. Sal’s father, David Jones, was a local celebrity. He had been the coxswain of the lifeboat for almost forty years. Just three days after Dylan’s eleventh birthday, Jones saved the crew, the cook and the captain’s canary from the SV Paul. Imagine how the young poet would have relished the idea that his great-uncle had spent his life rescuing sailors from his namesake’s locker. Not surprisingly, the wreck of the Paul was a story that Dylan continued to embellish for the rest of his life.[xxvii]
It’s interesting to speculate how Dylan was affected by being shared out amongst his aunts. It helps us understand the scale of the spoiling he enjoyed and why he developed into an adult who could do virtually nothing for himself. Staying with his aunties would certainly have given him an early taste of Welsh Wales, opening his mind to a different way of living, a different culture and language. It was through his aunts that the young Dylan gained his entry to the worlds of the chapel and nonconformity, with services in English in Newton and in Welsh at Llangain.
Time spent with his aunts ensured that Dylan, as a child, came close to communities that, in terms of class and occupation, was more varied than the settlement around Cwmdonkin Drive. His uncles included priests, but also farmers, shopkeepers, railway workers, sailors and dockworkers. He saw rural hardship, as well as the sweat and grime of the industrial towns that he passed through on his way from Swansea to Carmarthenshire.
I believe Dylan’s time with his aunts also gave him a certain robustness and flexibility. Caitlin herself has drawn attention to his singular gift, as she called it, for adapting himself to every kind of different person and place. He seems to have had an extraordinary capacity both for change and for roughing it, neither seeming to have much effect on his creative output. His experiences with his aunts seem also to have been an excellent preparation for the rigours of creative life. It is certainly reasonable to ask whether the origins of his self-sufficiency and self-discipline as a writer can be found in the child-empty quarters of his boyhood. Again, Caitlin saw clearly the link between Dylan's writing and the land of his aunties: "He worked a fanatically narrow groove - the groove of direct hereditary descent in the land of his birth, which he never in thought and hardly in body moved out of."
Dylan’s decision to live by his writing also meant a nomadic life, as he and the family moved constantly from place to place in search of cheap accommodation. Between 1940 and his death in 1953, they lived in twelve different places, as well as at several addresses in London. Here again, the adaptability that Dylan had learnt in his own farmed-out childhood stood him in good stead. Linked to Dylan’s adult nomadism was a dislike of being at home. Mervyn Levy has perceptively commented on Dylan’s restlessness, noting that “the most curious thing about Dylan was that he was always adrift, he never really wanted to be settled anywhere. He didn’t like being at home, wherever the home was, unless he was asleep.”[xxviii]
We might also consider how the solitude he experienced when living with his aunts led to his compulsion in later life for socialising. This need for company might have been a response to a powerful fear of being left on his own that stemmed from his childhood days. We can only wonder about such matters but they should at least bring us to a more sympathetic approach to his later behaviour and lifestyle.
Dylan was back in Blaencwm for the summer of 1945, and there he completed Fern Hill. It is a nephew’s poem, one that celebrates the Llangain family farms, and the aunts who helped in the poet’s upbringing. But the spectre of death that haunts the poem also haunted the cottage. Dylan’s aunt Dosie had died in Blaencwm a few years earlier, and his sickly parents were living there now. Next door, Polly, his last surviving aunt, was in slow decline and she died a month after the poem was published. The great spoiling days were now finally over but the nephew would not have another chance to grow up. [xxix]
In his last years, Dylan returned frequently to the Llansteffan peninsula. A month before he left on his final journey to New York, he and his mother toured the family graves at Capel Newydd, before calling in at Llwyngwyn. Here they met Heulwen, now aged nineteen, and soon to be married. She inherited the farm, and Maesgwyn next door as well. With over three hundred acres to her name, and with eight children to come, the future was all sunshine. Not so at Fernhill, where Florence and Dylan also called: there were no children here, and nor would there ever be, even to the present day. The house that inspired a wonderful poem about childhood has still not seen the birth of a child since the days of Queen Victoria. [xxx]
Dylan and Florence had toured the family graves in September 1953 with John Brinnin, his American agent. At Llwyngwyn, they met Thomas and Mary Ann Williams, as well as their daughter Heulwen. He was also introduced to Heulwen's eighty-two year old aunt, Sarah Evans Maesgwyn, who had moved out of her home to spend her last years in Llwyngwyn. They toured the farm, and then went to visit Blaencwm. Brinnin returned to America and, a month later, Dylan himself set off for New York, where he died on November 9 1953. Sarah Maesgwyn, Florence's eldest first cousin, died just a few months afterwards.
Dylan's coffin at St Martin's church, Laugharne.
Two years later, in 1955, Heulwen married Phillip Emrys Morris and they had eight children: Janet Rosemary, Philip John, Sara Rowena, William Thomas and, just to make sure the family line was really safe, Audrey Anne, Eirios Lynwen, Olwen Eireen and Ifan Dylan as well. Heulwen and her family still farm Llwyngwyn and Maesgwyn today (2011).
Pen-y-coed could be regarded as the founding Williams farm. It has been in almost continuous Williams occupation, or that of their relatives, from about 1820 to the present, and it was a farm the Williamses often married into. Roger Davies, who is Heulwen's first cousin, lives there today. [xxxi]
Heulwen with her father, Thomas Williams, and her cousin Glanmor Davies from Pen-y-coed, August 11 1951 at Llwyngwyn; and, right, her mother, Mary Ann.
[i] much of his published poetry: “published” = his four volumes of poetry. He published three volumes before his twenty-fifth birthday in 1939: 18 Poems, Twenty-five Poems and The Map of Love; almost two-thirds of their poems were written in his teens. He then published Deaths and Entrances in 1946, three of which were teenage poems.
written in his teens: some were later revised and/or extended when he was in his early twenties.
infantilism, difficulties with drink and women: see Stephen Knight, The Independent on Sunday, October 26 2003.
[ii] born: October 27 1914.
first boy to be born to Florence’s close family: this analysis is confined to births in the sixteen years 1898 and 1914 to Florence’s nine siblings, her six Llangain first cousins (all children of Evan Williams of Llwyngwyn farm, see Thomas 2003 p182) and three of her four Ferryside first cousins (children of Amy and David Jones – see the family tree at end of these notes). The last boys born to these siblings and cousins before 1898 were Idris Jones of Fernhill b.1897; Thomas Gwyn b.1892 and William Williams b.1897, the sons of Florence’s half-sister Anne. There was one other boy born in this period 1898-1914 - Oswald Hall (1907), son of Florence’s Ferryside first cousin, Elizabeth Ann; but she left Ferryside in 1906 to marry and live in Southsea (1911 census), where Oswald was born and brought up and where she died in 1919, so I have not included her as close family. Oswald was also well outside the spoiling range of the Williams clan. I have no information on the births to Florence’s first cousins (see Thomas 2003 pp184-85) who lived in Llandyfaelog and Croesyceilog. Contact between the Williamses and their Llandyfaelog relations seems to have been very limited - see His Llandyfaelog aunties on this site.
boys just as rare in his father’s immediate family: by his “immediate family” I refer to D J Thomas’ four siblings, Jane Anne, Lizzie, William and Arthur. Only Jane Anne Greville had children, four girls born between 1888 and 1895. Of these four, three married, all after Dylan was born. Of the three, only one had a child, a boy, b.1917 (see Thomas 2033 pp187-188 and the page Paternal aunts and cousins on this site).
[iii] doting older sister: Nancy was born September 1906. Dylan’s nurse, Addie Drew, commented that Nancy “was very motherly…very motherly to him.” (CE/NLW). Nancy’s close friend Rose Waters Roberts told Colin Edwards: “…she was very fond of him, in an indulgent way.” There are similar comments in other interviews done by Edwards. For example, the following exchange takes place between Edwards and Hedley Auckland: “CE: Were she and Dylan very close to each other? HA: Oh yes. Oh yes. She tended to mother him a bit. CE: So he had two mothers - two mothering mothers! HA: That's true, yes. She would spoil Dylan if she could.”
all but one of first cousins were girls: first cousins = the children of his parents’ siblings. Dylan had nine first cousins. There were five on his maternal side; three were boys but two died before Dylan was three so he grew up with just one boy first cousin, Idris of Fernhill. The two girls were Theodosia b.1904, daughter of Florence’s brother, John and his wife Elizabeth Ann, of St Thomas, Swansea and Doris b.1902, daughter of his mother’s half-sister Anne Williams (on whom, see Note 7 below). Dylan’s paternal first cousins were four girls, the Greville sisters – see Note 2 above. These six girl first cousins were all much older than Dylan, and would have seemed much more like aunties.
everybody mothered Dylan: Nancy Treacher nee Auckland, the granddaughter of a first cousin of Dylan’s father called Annie Righton, who lived a few streets away, and whose three daughters and two granddaughters (Molly and Nancy, see below) were in and out of the Cwmdonkin house when Dylan was a young boy. Annie lived in Burman Street, just off Walter Road in Swansea, and just a five minute walk from Cwmdonkin Drive. See Thomas 2003 pp189-190 on Annie and p38 for an interview with Nancy Treacher describing visits to Cwmdonkin Drive. I can now update the information on pp189-190 from the 1901 and 1911 census returns: Annie’s husband, William Righton, came from Trowbridge; he and Annie lived in Swansea. They had William b.1893, Clarice (Clarrie) b.March 12 1894, Muriel (Dolly) b.1897, Jessie b.1899 and Percy b.1901. They moved to Burman Street sometime after 1911. Clarrie married Alford Auckland in 1912 and they had Molly M. b. 1913 and Nancy Barbara b. September 1914. Alford was a boot and shoe merchant, one of four sons who entered his father’s shoe business in Swansea (1881). Another son, Leonard, married Elba Gooding in 1913 and had a son, Hedley, who was one of Dylan’s Swansea friends – see the interview with him in CE/NLW and Thomas 2003.
child deaths in the family: for these, see Thomas 2003 p196. Ferris mentions that Florence’s over-indulgence might have been brought about by the loss of a baby, possibly a boy, soon after her marriage in 1903 (1999 pp21-24).
brought up dearly and closely: Gwilym Price, who knew Dylan at Cwmdonkin Drive and Fernhill. His mother and Florence were good friends, and Price was also a pupil of DJ Thomas (CE/NLW).
hopelessly mollycoddled: Vera Phillips (later Killick) in a letter to her niece, Jane Gibson. Vera was just 18 months younger than Dylan; they grew up together, living in neighbouring streets.
There were also other women in Dylan’s life when he was a boy, including Mrs Hole of the dame school and Gwen Watkins his elocution teacher.
[iv] Pamela Glendower: Paul Ferris, The Observer, August 17 2003 and in a phone conversation between Glendower and the author.
[v] first cousins: = children of her mother’s siblings. Florence had ten female first cousins: the three daughters of Evan Williams of Llwyngwyn farm, Llangain (Evan had four daughters but one died before Dylan was born); the three daughters of Amy Jones of Ferryside (this does not include Annie Llansteffan who I count as a half-sister); the two daughters of Mary Rees of Llandyfaelog; and the two daughters of Theodosia Williams of Llandyfaelog. I have no information on Florence’s contact with her Llandyfaelog first cousins. See pages 180-185 of Thomas 2003. Contact between the Williamses and their Llandyfaelog relations seems to have been very limited - see His Llandyfaelog aunties on this site.
[vi] Caitlin on aunts: see Caitlin Thomas 1986, p50.
maternal grandmother etc: she was Anna aka Hannah Williams of Waunfwlchan farm, mother of Dylan's mother, Florence. Hannah's mother, Anne, was the daughter of Evan and Anne Harry of Plas Isaf, Llanybri, but she had been born at Maesgwyn, her grandmother's house. Hannah's father, Thomas, had been born at Lambstone farm, Llangynog, where his parents, John and Hannah Williams, farmed before moving to Pen-y-coed in the 1820s.
four siblings born here: Thomas, Annie Fernhill, John and Florence's half-sister Anne Llansteffan.
three siblings retired here: Polly, Theodosia and Bob.
buried here: Florence's parents were taken from Swansea to be buried at Capel Newydd, Llanybri. Her siblings buried here were Annie Fernhill, Polly, Sarah Jane, David George and Bob in Capel Newydd, Theodosia in Smyrna chapel, Llangain and Anne Llansteffan in Llangain church yard.
parents came to live: DJ and Florence Thomas lived in 2, Blaencwm from 1941 to 1948.
Dylan's times at Blaencwm: see Thomas 2003 chapter 6.
Llansteffan peninsula: This peninsula is the triangular piece of land that lies south of the A40 and between the estuaries of the Taf and the Tywi, encompassing the villages, and surrounding farms, of Llangain, Llangynog, Llanybri and Llansteffan. Glyn Jones' family roots were in Cwm Celyn farm, near Llanybri. Dylan's excursions with Jones around the peninsula are described in Thomas 2003 chapter 6. Vernon Watkins' grandparents, James and Esther Phillips, farmed 145 acres at Cowin Grove, Llangynog, the parish that borders Llangain; Watkins' mother, Sallie, was born at Cowin Grove in 1878. She attended The Girls' Collegiate School in Carmarthen, run by Mary Williams, the widow of Dylan's great-uncle, Gwilym Marles (for more on Watkins’ and Jones’ roots in the area, see Davies 2002). Vera Killick's father was born in the village of Llansteffan (birth cert.), whilst her grandfather had been born on a nearby farm. For more on Vera's friendship with Dylan, which ended with the Majoda shooting in New Quay in 1945, see chapter one of Thomas 2000. It is also portrayed in the film The Edge of Love.
[vii] Anne Williams 1866-1922, the daughter of Amy Williams of Waunfwlchan farm, Llangain. Anne’s father was Dylan’s maternal grandfather, George - see Ferryside aunts aunts and uncles on this site, and so Anne was Florence’s half-sister. After her mother, Amy, moved to Llandyfaelog c1869 and then to Ferryside, Anne seems to have lived with her grandparents at Waunfwlchan, because she is shown there on the 1871, 1881 and 1891 census returns. Anne had a daughter, Gladys, father unknown, in 1885. Anne’s first marriage in 1891 was to local gentry, John Gwyn of Plas Cwrthir, Llangain, and they had a son, Thomas Gwyn, on whom see Thomas 2004 pp21-23. They lived at Plas Uchaf, Llanybri. After Gladys' death in 1893 at Plas Uchaf, followed by John Gwyn’s three months later, Anne married her cousin, Robert Williams of Waunffort, Llangain, and they had William and Doris, b1902. Anne’s two sons, Thomas Gwyn and William Williams, died before Dylan was three. On Dylan’s holidays with Anne at Rose Cottage, Llansteffan, see Ocky Owen, p41 and Doris Fulleylove p42 in Thomas 2003. After Ann’s death in May 1922, Doris lived in 5, Cwmdonkin Drive until her marriage in 1928 to Randy Fulleylove.
The story in Stanford-ffoulkes 2004 that the teenage Anne had first been betrothed to, and made pregnant by, John Gwyn’s father, described by Stanford-ffoulkes as a widower in his fifties, seems most unlikely, not least because he was never a widower but pre-deceased his wife by several years. For more on Anne see Thomas 2003 pp184-185 and Thomas 2004 pp21-23, 25.
[viii] Annie Williams, Fernhill, 1862-1933. Married Jim Jones in 1893 and had Idris b.1897 at Tirbach farm. Lived at Fernhill from about 1909 to about 1929. For more on Annie, see His favourite aunt: Annie Fernhill on this site.
[ix] Polly 1867-1946. She lived most of her adult life with her brother, Bob, in St Thomas, Swansea, and then from around 1928 at Blaencwm, Llangain. Details on her finances are given in Thomas 2003 p222. She was an avid reader of London fashion magazines, an inquisitive chatterbox who had pretensions of living the life of a country lady of independent means. We know virtually nothing of Dylan’s stays with her in St Thomas, but it seems very likely that he did. His close friend Alban Leyshon, whose family was from St Thomas, noted that: "Dylan, through having a fantastic memory, seemed to know as much about St Thomas as I ever did...he was able, with exquisite politeness, to talk to my mother endlessly about old ladies she knew. He could even describe the wallpaper from their living rooms and say how many pictures were in the passageways of their small houses." (CE/NLW) For his stays with Polly in Llangain, see Note 22 below and Thomas 2003 chapter 6. Her brother, Bob, was a coal trimmer on the docks, though by 1911 he was a foreman.
[x] Theodosia1869-1941. She was known for her “charitable disposition and good deeds”, and for being jovial, energetic, “nicely spoken” and “always a perfect lady”, though Caitlin found her “superior”, with airs of being “refined”. According to Harry Leyshon, a friend of the family from St Thomas, it was through Theodosia’s husband, the Rev David Rees, that the young Dylan discovered the Gower, and built up his knowledge of its flora and fauna – Rees was an enthusiastic amateur botanist and archeologist. They married in 1897, and moved to Blaencwm about 1933. See Thomas 2003 pp211-219.
There is more on Florence’s siblings in Thomas 2003 pp211-219 and further information on their financial affairs on pp220-226.
[xi] more like grandmothers: Florence’s sister-in-laws also had the same profile: Emma, wife of Florence’s brother Thomas, was 53 at Dylan’s birth and Elizabeth Ann, wife of Florence’s brother John, was 48. There is more on Emma in the last paragraph of this note and in Thomas 2003 pp183, 211 and on Elizabeth Ann on pp183 and 215 with an extended description in Thomas 2002 p106-115. Dylan’s two real grandmothers had died before he was three.
Even his other relations in Carmarthenshire would have seemed old: the average age in 1922 of the head of household in the four family farms around Fernhill was 56 (Pentrewyman, Llwyngwyn, Maesgwyn and Pencelli Uchaf).
first cousins seemed old: all his first cousins were a good deal older than him - of the four girls on his father's side, the youngest, Florence, was already nineteen when Dylan was born. Of his three surviving maternal first cousins, Idris Jones of Fernhill was seventeen years older than Dylan; Doris Williams was twelve years older than him; and Theodosia Williams (see Note 3 above) was ten years older. The age differences became more significant as Dylan grew older. For example, when aged five he started to go on holidays to Anne Williams in Llansteffan, cousin Doris was seventeen. See Thomas 2003 pp179-192.
Emma Williams: she married Florence’s brother, Thomas Olney Williams, in 1897. He was a Congregational Minister. They lived in Mottram, Lancashire (1901) and Bryn Cottage, Penmaen, Swansea (1911). In 1931, Emma bought Ynysnewydd Cottage, Clyne Valley. See Thomas 2003 p211 for their time at Nicholaston Hall on the Gower.
[xii] deaths: the great-aunt was Amy Jones, wife of David Jones, the Ferryside lifeboat coxwain (about whom see Ferryside aunts and uncles on this site). She died on July 30 1917. Her first grandson who died in April 1916 was Thomas Gwyn and the second was William Williams, who died on August 3 1917, both in their twenties. They were the sons from the two marriages of Amy’s daughter, Anne, to John Gwyn and then Robert Williams (see Notes 7 and 17). The story of William’s death on the day of his grandmother’s funeral is told in the Carmarthen Journal of August 3 and 10 1917, which reports Bess' identification and Florence being present at the funeral. There is a story (Stanford-ffoulkes 2004) that Amy died whilst saving a child from the sea. I’ve found no evidence for this, whilst the Carmarthen Journal reports that she had been “ailing for some time”. For more on Bess, who was on holiday from Southsea at the time, see the paper His Ferryside aunts and uncles on this site.
recollections on tap: Dylan to Percy Smart, c. December 12 1932. As a young boy, Dylan may not have been totally enthralled by the details of his family history but his mother, an able raconteur, would have been able to weave colourful stories from it – radio journalist, Colin Edwards, has said that he found Florence “tremendously interesting, because she was full of the lore of Carmarthenshire. She had all sorts of information.” (CE/NLW, interview with Gwyneth Edwards). John Brinnin was likewise impressed with Florence's grasp of local and family history, on a tour with Florence around the Llansteffan peninsula. See Brinnin 1955, chapter 7, with an extract in Llwyngwyn:the American and the woman who was as old as her mother on this site.
[xiii] aunt Anne Llansteffan died: May 1922, aged 56. She was Amy’s daughter. Anne’s daughter, Doris, was Dylan's first cousin, and lived in Cwmdonkin Drive, from 1922 to 1928 when she married Randolph Fulleylove – see Note 7 and Ferryside aunts aunts and uncles on this site. The Fulleyloves lived in Abergavenny from 1929 to 1931; they have described Dylan's stay with them in the winter of 1929 - see the interview with the Fulleyloves at CE/NLW. They then moved to Llanelli in 1932 and remained there until at least 1940. From 1949 until 1969, they lived near Birmingham.
[xiv] other deaths in Ferryside: David Jones in 1927.
other deaths in Llangain: Florence’s aunt Anne Williams of Llwyngwyn, 1924, followed by her daughter Anna (Florence’s first cousin) in 1925.
aunts moving: Polly moved to Blaencwm cottage, Llangain, in 1928. Theodosia moved there in 1933. Elizabeth Ann (Florence’s sister-in-law) moved from St Thomas to New Quay c1929. Anne and Jim Jones moved out of Fernhill c1929. Dylan’s cousin, Doris, also moved out of the Cwmdonkin Drive house in 1928 to marry.
fragility of life: Dylan to Percy Smart, December 1930: “Even that third-former, who is running along the corridor, has probably an inherent cancer, or a mind full of lechery. The child grows from the cradle, soaked in a morbidity and restlessness he cannot understand, does a little painful loving, fails to make money, builds his life on sand, and is struck down before he can accomplish anything.”
[xv] funeral of teacher: Dylan to Percy Smart, c. December 12 1932.
feigned indifference: letter to Trevor Hughes, February 8 1933.
baby cousin: David Howell, son of John and Irene Howell, died March quarter 1934 (see the Ferryside family tree at His Ferryside aunts and uncles on this site). It is said that Dylan and Florence attended the funeral (Stanford-ffoulkes 2004) but I have no confirmation of this.
[xvi] two sisters: Evening Post, March 5 1934 with a fuller report in the Carmarthen Journal, March 9. Dylan had been in London but returned to Swansea on March 5. The poem was dated March 18 in his 1934 notebook. Water, and particularly the sea, were essential elements of Dylan’s teenage death poems. Drownings in both Swansea and Carmarthen Bays, and in the rivers that flowed into them, were regularly reported in the local papers.
[xvii] graveyards: the maternal family graves are largely at Capel Newydd, Llanybri. The young deaths in the Williams family taken from the Llanybri headstones, and ennumerated in the text, are found in Thomas 2003 pp184-185. Dylan’s aunt Anne (Florence’s half-sister) died in May 1922, aged 56, and was laid with the Gwyns of Cwrthir in Llangain churchyard. With her was her first husband John Gwyn who died 1893 aged 25, their son Thomas Gwynne who died from TB in 1916 aged 24, and Anne’s son from her second marriage, William Williams, who died from drowning, aged 20, in 1917 (see Thomas 2004 pp22-23).
[xviii] Florence had nine siblings: these included her half-sister Anne Williams. They produced only five children between them, two of whom were dead by the time Dylan was three years old. The three surviving, and much older, cousins that Dylan grew up with were Idris Jones, Doris Williams and Theodosia Williams. See Notes above and Thomas 2003 pp183-184
fifteen near relatives: two sisters - Anne Fernhill and Anne the half-sister of Llansteffan; one sister-in-law - Rachel Jones of Pentrewyman farm; six aunts and uncles - her mother’s siblings, children of Anne and Thomas Williams of Waunfwlchan farm: John, Evan of Llwyngwyn farm, Thomas Harris, Daniel Harry, William and David; six first cousins - all Evan’s children. For further details on all these families see Thomas 2003 pp179-186.
the thirteen children: in the 1870s: Sarah, William b.1873, and Anne of Llwyngwyn (p182). 1880s: Anna d. 1925, Jane d.1913 and Thomas of Llwyngwyn (p182) and Gladys d.1893 (p185). 1890s: Idris Jones Fernhill (p183), Albert Jones Pentrewyman (pp53, 204 and 1911 census), William Williams d.1917 (p185), Thomas Gwyn d.1916 (Thomas 2004 p22), Sarah Anne of Maesgwyn d.1897 (p182). 1900s: Doris Williams daughter of Florence’s half-sister Anne (p185). The page numbers are from Thomas 2003. The three who had children of their own are shaded green. Sarah’s only child, Sarah Anne, died at eight months; Doris moved away from the Llangain area in 1922, married in 1928 and never returned to live there. The future therefore rested entirely on Thomas of Llwyngwyn – for more on this, see Note 20 below. For further details on these families, see Thomas 2003 p182.
[xix] no children born to any of Florence’s Llangain relations between 1903 and 1933: the relations are as in Note 18 who lived in Fernhill, Llwyngwyn, Maesgwyn, Pencelli Uchaf, Pentrewyman, as well as Florence’s sister Anne who lived in Llansteffan. It was Anne’s daughter, Doris, who was the last child to be born (January 1902). Evan and Sarah Davies, who had replaced Florence’s uncles at Pen-y-Coed, had a boy three years older than Dylan but they did not become part of the family until 1929 when their daughter Mary Ann married Thomas Williams of Llwyngwyn – see Thomas 2003 p202. One of the closest family farms to Fernhill was Dolaumeinion; it was occupied from 1919 to at least 1925 by Jim Jones’ half-brother, David, who had married Lettice Maud Evans in the December quarter of that year, so there were no children here of Dylan’s age. There were also relatives at Llettyrneuadd with a boy three years younger than Dylan but the mother says that she only saw Dylan when he was a baby in Swansea and not again until he was in Blaencwm when he was “grown-up” (CE/NLW). This suggests that Dylan had no contact with the family when he was staying at Fernhill. The only other child in the family that it’s known that Dylan knew as a boy was Les Davies b.1914 of Pwntan-bach, Johnstown, a distant cousin-in-law – see Thomas 2003 p209.
future would have seemed bleak: the future of the Williamses would have seemed assured by the 1860s. Dylan's great-grandparents, Thomas and Anne Williams of Waunfwlchan, had produced eleven children. Their four daughters had large families but all four had moved away to the east, settling in Swansea, and around Llandyfaelog and Ferryside. The six sons who survived to adulthood had remained on farms around Waunfwlchan but only one of them, Evan of Llwyngwyn, had married. Of his six children, none had as yet, at the time of the funeral, had any children of their own, except his daughter Sarah whose only child had died in 1897, aged eight months.
three Williams farms remaining: By Williams farms, I mean farms run by the direct descendents of John and Hannah Williams of Pen-y-coed, Dylan's maternal great-great grandparents, who married in 1814 and had Thomas (Waunfwlchan) and Sarah (Pen-y-coed). There were, of course, other Williams farms (eg Pentowyn, Mwche, Down) if "Williams farms" is defined more widely to include the Harries farms ie those descended from Thomas Waunfwlchan's wife, Anne, the daughter of Evan and Anne Harry, Dylan's other set of maternal great-great grandparents. The three remaining Williams farms were Llwyngwyn owned by Evan's eldest son William, and Maesgwyn and Pencelli Uchaf, run by William’s sisters, Sarah and Anne, aged 61 and 53 respectively. There were no children at the latter two, nor would there have seemed much prospect of any. As for Llwyngwyn, William was in his sixties at the time of the funeral and still unmarried. So William’s younger brother Thomas, 44, and his wife Mary Anne Davies of Pen-y-coed farm, would have been the only hope of the Williamses surviving in Llangain. And see Note 18 above.
the saviour: Heulwen was born on March 5 1934 (birth certificate). She was Thomas and Mary Ann’s only surviving child and she went on to have eight children, who still farm Llwyngwyn and Maesgwyn today.
[xx] five poems: these are found in his August 1933 Notebook, numbers Ten, Eleven, Twelve, Thirteen and Fifteen. Dylan notes they were written at Llangain between September 15 and 18 1933. See Maud 1989 pp190-194. Poem Twelve is an extended observation on pregnancy, labour and birth and the lines quoted are from this poem, written at Blaencwm on September 16 1933 – see Maud 1989 p192. Mary Anne Williams was three months pregnant at this time.
[xxi] very lonely at Fernhill: Dylan’s ms notes on Fernhill quoted in Ferris 1999 p340.
empty of children of his own age: see Notes 18 and 19 above.
other farms around Fernhill: in addition to the childless family farms noted above in Notes 18 and 19, there were no children in the 1920s at Rhydlydan, next door to Fernhill, nor at Glogddu, Meini, Llwyndu, Shop Newydd, the Glyn, Dyffryn Factory, Brook Forge, Pencelli Isaf, Waunfwlchan (to at least 1925), Waunffort or Tirbach. (Information from Llangain relatives and residents, as well as other sources).
You can locate these farms on the maps on the Llangain maps page of this site.
Two locals, Rees Davies of Criegiau-bach and May Bowen, both confirmed the absence of other children. Bowen, who worked for Dylan’s auntie Rach at Pentrewyman, said “No, there was nobody…There wasn’t any boys around there…” She made the same point on two occasions in the interview (CE/NLW). It was only at Sunday school at Symrna chapel, Llangain, and for part of the summer holidays when two friends from Swansea came to a neighbouring property (The Factory, just to the right of Pentrewyman on the map) that Dylan usually had other children of his age with whom he could play (for interviews with the two Swansea friends, see Thomas 2003 pp48-53).
The low numbers of children in the farms around Fernhill when Dylan stayed there in the 1920s is reflected in the rolls of pupils in Llangain Primary School. The numbers fell from 95 in 1896 to just over 40 in 1939. For most of the 1920s, it stayed around the mid-thirties mark. (The school catchment area was the entire parish, as well as Llangain postal addresses over the parish boundary in all directions; for example, Llwyngwyn and Waunfwlchan were within the catchment area.) The fall in the school roll over this period corresponds to a large drop in the Llangain population between 1900 and 1925, largely due to outward migration to find jobs in industry to the east (see H. Williams 2007 and further data in correspondence in 2011). But other factors would also have been at work in reducing the numbers of children, including low marriage rates and high infant mortality.
[xxii] dark and dismal place: Tudor Price in Thomas 2003, p51. The description of the house’s amenities comes from the 1945 Rural Housing Inspection Report. According to the report, Fernhill had a kitchen, living room and four bedrooms.
[xxiii] whole of each summer: interviews with May Bowen, William Phillips and Tudor Price (CE/NLW and Thomas 2003).
over 800 acres to romp in: Fernhill, Pencelli Uchaf, Llwyngwyn and Maesgwyn farmed by the Williamses, Pentrewyman, and Dolaumeinion farmed by their in-laws, and Pen-y-coed farmed by the Williamses from the 1820s to at least 1902, as well as married into in 1871 and 1929. See Thomas 2003 chapter 2 for details on these farms, including acreage. In fact, the Williams network of farms was more extensive even than this if we were to take into account cousins such as those living at Lacques Newydd, Pentowyn, Down, Llettyrneuadd, Mwche and Meini.
stays with aunts: "When he [Dylan’s father] put his foot down, they went to stay with aunts...they would disappear to stay with auntie Polly in Carmarthen. And return when all was well...and, of course, Dylan used to disappear every holidays...I don't know about the parents staying, but I think the uncles would come up and collect them, and take them down. I don't think Mr and Mrs Thomas went down there to stay very much...auntie Polly was very kind, very good to them...I always heard a lot about her." (Rose Waters Roberts, CE/NLW). Levi Evans also describes the young Dylan being left at Llangain whilst his mother returned to Swansea (a written note in CE/NLW).
[xxiv] auntie Rachel: Rachel Jones b.1874, sister of Jim Jones who was married to Annie Fernhill. See Thomas 2003, pp204, 289. Rachel and her son Albert b.1897 took over the farm about 1919. Rachel is mentioned in The Peaches as aunt Rach Morgan. For Dylan's time at Pentrewyman, see the interviews with May Bowen, William Phillips and Tudor Price in Thomas 2003, and that with Watt Davies, the farmworker at Pentrewyman, in CE/NLW.
servant girl: the teenage May Bowen (nee Edwards), who was just a couple of years younger than Dylan’s sister, Nancy (b. 1906). She first went to work at Pentrewyman was she was about 14. See the interview with her at CE/NLW. An edited version in Thomas 2003 also refers to the sleeping arrangements.
comforting cuddle: for example, see Burgess 1998, p289 and Glendower as in Note [iv] above, who refers to Dylan's fear of being alone at night.
[xxv] the Manse: see Note 10 above and interviews with two parishioners in Thomas 2004 pp20-21, with the full interviews at CE/NLW. The parishoners were Avril Fisher and Gwyneth Bell, formerly of St Thomas before moving to Newton. They were friends of Florence, Polly and the family; they also had cousins in Laugharne, Fred and Elizabeth Phillips, who kept the general store in Clifton Street at the time of Dylan's residence in the town. They date the start of Dylan’s stays to about four or five years old. Dylan’s sister, Nancy, had also stayed at the Manse from a young age: she was there aged four, without her parents, at the 1911 census.
The live-in servant was Maggie Jones, 28, from Llansteffan. Before her, a 13 year old Mumbles girl (1911,1901)
During the interview, Fisher and Bell talk of Theodosia Rees’ friendship with Mrs Theophilus: AF: I tell you who was a big friend of Mrs Rees, Mrs Theophilus. Do you ever remember the Theophilus’ shop in Swansea? It was a very high-class…a very high-class place, and they lived in a glorious place in Langland called St Austell…And Mrs Theophilus often visited her, and they visited Mrs Theophilus. GB: And Sidney Heath’s. AF: Yes. GB: And Richard Lewis. AF: Oh – yes, there was Richard Lewis. They were all big business, Swansea people, you know, business.
Sidney Heath, Civil & Military Tailor, outfitter, hosier, hatter, ladies and children’s outfitters.
7-9 & 20 College Street , 25-26 Goat Street
Richard Lewis JP, Draper 8-9 High Street
“Mrs Theophilus” was probably the wife of Theophilus Evans, a ladies outfitter of 284-286 Oxford Street and 11 Goat Street, Swansea. (1926 Kelly’s Directory)
Theodosia’s husband, Rev David Rees, was a long-time member of the Langland Bay Golf Club.
[xxvi] aunt Sal: daughter of Capt. David Jones and Amy Williams – see the Ferryside family tree at His Ferryside aunts and uncles on this site. Although Sarah Jane, always known as Sal, had no children, holidaying in Ferryside might have been a better experience for Dylan compared to the child-empty farms of Llangain – a family memoir records that Ferryside was “a place that he loved for there were a great many children in the village of his age.” (see Stanford-ffoulkes 2004) Sal, who died in 1947, and her brother Tom (who ran a café and newsagent’s called the Dorothy Café with his wife Beatrice) remained in Ferryside throughout much of Dylan’s life, and help to explain his visits there. The Dorothy Café was next to the Ship Inn and across the street from the White Lion. Dylan’s drinking in the White Lion is described in Stanford-ffoulkes 2004. For more on Dylan and the White Lion and his friendship with its owner Dick Bright, see Hughes 1998 (who misses the Alpha House connection). In a 1960s interview, Billy Williams of Laugharne also talks of Dylan’s visits to Ferryside – CE/NLW, with an edited version of the interview in Thomas 2004 p188. In a 1939 letter to Vernon Watkins, Dylan writes of making "a party to go over to Ferryside and get silly." (written in Laugharne, September 29 1939)
Stanford-ffoulkes 2004 states that Beatrice, Tom’s wife, was a prison warder and that she was present at the hanging of Edith Thompson in 1922. This is almost certainly incorrect. It was Beatrice’s sister, Martha Morton, who was in the prison service. She entered in 1927 as a nurse, not warder, so could not have been present at the 1922 hanging. A descendent states that Martha was present at the hanging of Ruth Ellis in 1955. Martha worked in both Cardiff and Holloway prisons (Lynn Jones, Beatrice’s grandson and Martha’s great-nephew, interview 2010 and see http://www.edinburgh-gazette.co.uk/issues/14364/pages/941/page.pdf. ) See the Ferryside family tree at His Ferryside aunts and uncles on this site.
The hatchetmen were known as "Gwyr-y-Bwelli Bach" or "The Men of Little Hatchets". They were named after the locally made tool, a hatchet incorporating a claw for ripping open cargo. It’s said that they hacked off the fingers of drowned sailors to steal their rings.
[xxvii] SV Paul: South Wales Daily Post October 30 1925, Carmarthen Journal November 6 1925. Aeronwy Thomas, Dylan’s daughter, describes in her 2009 book (pp35-36) how Dylan would entertain visitors to the Boat House with stories of the rescue. As as young boy, “He could see the remains of the four-masted white schooner wedged in the sand from the train on his way to Ferryside and Johnstown with his father.”
[xxviii] nomadism: the Levy interview is in Thomas 2004. Caitlin has also observed that Dylan disliked being entertained in other people’s homes, as much as he disliked entertaining in his own. She has also described how Dylan spent every evening of their married life outside the home (p58). She has written, too, of his time at Cwmdonkin Drive as a young man that “he didn’t spend much time at home at all.” (Caitlin Thomas 1986)
[xxix] back in Blaencwm: he was there for August and September. His parents now lived there, having moved into Theodosia’s cottage in 1941 after her death.
spectre of death: Theodosia died April 15 1941 and Polly on March 13 1946. D J and Florence Thomas lived at Blaencwm from 1941 to1948. Deaths and Entrances, in which Fern Hill appeared, was published on February 7 1946.
[xxx] Heulwen: for more on Heulwen see Thomas 2003 pp11-14, 182, 204-206. Brinnin (1955, chapter 8) describes the visit to Llwyngwyn. Maesgwyn was owned by Heulwen’s aunt Sarah who was a first cousin of Florence. Dylan’s visits from Laugharne 1949-1953 to the Llangain square mile are described in Thomas 2003 chapter 6.
childless Fernhill: the last child known to be born at Fernhill was 124 years ago. He was Louis Anderson in 1887 – see Thomas 2003 p300, note 111. He was the son of Robert Ricketts Evans, the so-called hangman. Ricketts Evans died in August 1901. Annie and Jim Jones moved into Fernhill sometime after 1905 and before 1909. Their only child Idris had been born in 1897 at Tirbach farm (birth certificate), not Fernhill. A relative Tom Williams succeeded them at Fernhill in 1929; he married Doris Lewis of neighbouring Meini farm in 1937 but there were no children. He was succeeded c1972 by Ken and Maureen Davies, who had no children. After the Davies’ deaths post-2003, the house went to Mr and Mrs Dilwyn Evans of nearby Rhydychen, who are also connected to neighbouring Glog farm, but it has remained empty to the present day i.e. May 2011.
[xxxi] Pen-y-coed founding farm: John and Hannah (aka Anna) Williams came from Lambstone farm, Llangynog, and settled in Pen-y-coed c1820. Hannah was the daughter of Thomas and Mary George of Cefn-y-coed farm, Llandyfaelog. John and Hannah's son, Thomas, married Anne Harry/Thomas of Plas Isaf, Llanybri, in 1835 and they lived, first, at Pencelli Isaf until 1840 and then at Waunfwlchan - they were Dylan's great-grandparents. Thomas and Anne's children expanded the Pen-y-coed influence through marriage: their daughters founded the Llandyfaelog and Ferryside settlements. Their son, Evan, married his cousin, Anne Thomas, of Pen-y-coed in 1871 and they settled in Tirbach, and then Llwyngwyn. Evan and Anne's children then brought more acreage into the family: their daughter, Sarah, married in 1895 and moved into Maesgwyn; her sister, Anne, married in 1910 and went to live in Pencelli Uchaf. Evan and Anne's youngest son, Thomas, married Mary Ann Davies of Pen-y-coed in 1929 and they lived in Llwyngwyn.
For more on the history of the occupation of Pen-y-coed, see Family trees at https://sites.google.com/site/dylanthomasandtheedgeoflove/ , as well as Thomas 2003 chapter 2. In brief, after John and Hannah Williams died (1846 and 1860 respectively), Pen-y-coed was farmed by their daughter, Sarah (who was the sister of Thomas Williams of Waunfwlchan) and her husband William Thomas aka William Harry, until c1886, and then by Sarah and Williams's daughter, Hannah and her husband Joseph Thomas, who were there in 1891. Then Hannah's cousin, John Williams of Waunfwlchan (d.1918), farmed Pen-y-coed from the early 1890s until at least 1911, when he and his brother, Daniel Harry (d.1913), were still there. Some time later, the farm went out of the Williams family to Sarah and Evan Davies (they are there in 1918 in The Register of Electors); it came back within the ambit of the Williamses when Sarah and Evan's daughter, Mary Ann, married Thomas Williams of Llwyngwyn in 1929. Evan and Sarah's son, Russell Davies and his wife Annie, took over Pen-y-coed c1939, followed in turn by their son Roger Davies and his wife Una, who are still on the farm today.
But there is even more to Pen-y-coed's founding role. Before marrying John Williams in 1814, Hannah had been married to William Williams. They had two children, Mary and Daniel. Mary married the minister of Ebenezer chapel in Llangynog and they settled in Lambstone farm. Daniel, who was born in 1812, married Harriet Proper of Llanstephan. They lived in Pencelli Isaf (1841), following his half-brother, Thomas of Waunfwlchan, who had moved out the previous year. Daniel and Harriet then farmed Penlan Fach (1851,1861) and, by 1871, Waunffort, just down the lane from his half-brother in Waunfwlchan. Daniel was at Waunffort, a farm of 31 acres, for the rest of his life, but by 1881 Harriet had died, and he'd taken a second wife, Jane Jenkins.
Daniel had married Harriet on February 27 1837. They had John b.1838, Elinor (Eleanor) b.1840, Anna/Annah b.1844, Hosulah b.1848, William Proper b.1850 and Thomas (1853?,1858?). Some of these children headed east into the industrial heartlands. For example, their son, William Proper, settled in Pontardulais (see John and Thomas 2010, and especially Note [xxviii]), whilst Hosulah married a builder from Bettws, Glanamman, called William Hughes.
Nothing is known of Eleanor, but she gave birth to a son, Robert, in 1867 (the father is not named on the birth certificate). In 1871 and 1881, Robert is shown living at Waunffort with his grandparents, Daniel and Harriet, as well as another grandchild, Sarah, who had been born in 1862. In 1895, Robert, married a cousin, Anne Gwyn (nee Williams), the daughter of Amy Williams of Waunfwlchan and Ferryside. They lived in Rose Cottage, Llansteffan, and owned other property as well.
Hannah married (1) William Williams in 1809 Hannah married (2) John Williams in 1814
¯ ¯ ¯ ¯
Mary Daniel (Waunffort) Sarah (Pen-y-coed) Thomas (Waunfwlchan)
¯ ¯ ¯ ¯ ¯ ¯ ¯ ¯
William Eleanor Hannah Anne m. Evan John, Daniel Harry, Amy
¯ ¯ ¯
Robert Williams Sarah Maesgwyn Anne
Anne Pencelli Uchaf
married each other married each other
(I am grateful to Susan Deacon for much of this information.)
The Llangain family tree
Dylan liked to describe his Llangain relatives as poor peasants. In truth, many of them lived in comparative prosperity, as a result of hard work and strategic marriage.
Dylan’s maternal great-grandparents were Anne and Thomas Williams who farmed 120 acres at Waunfwlchan, Llangain.
Anne and Thomas had eleven children. Six were unmarried: John b. 1836 who was the eldest, Thomas Harries, Daniel Harry, William, David and Robert b. 1859, the youngest. The five who married were Evan, Hannah, Amy, Mary and Theodosia:
Evan Hannah Amy
m. Anne Thomas m. George Williams
¯ ¯ ¯
Sarah Thomas* Anne
William* Anne ¯
Anne* John Gladys*
Anna* Polly* Thomas Gwyn*
Jane* Theodosia* William Williams*
Thomas Sarah Jane* Doris Williams
m.Mary David George Ann William Robert*
Davies Florence m. D J Thomas and had Nancy b.1906 and Dylan b.1914
* = no children half-sisters
For further details on the Llangain family tree see Thomas 2003 pp179-186.
Amy of Waunfwlchan was the aunt of Florence, Dylan’s mother. Amy’s second marriage was to David Jones of Ferryside and they had four children:
¯ ¯ ¯ ¯
Eliz. Ann (Bess) Mary Hannah (Bal) Sarah Jane (Sal) David Thomas (Tom)
m. Henry Hall m. Alf Williams m. Harry Williams m. Beatrice Morton
¯ ¯ ¯ ¯
Oswald Irene Allan Raymond
m. John Howell m. Jean m. Iris Griffiths
¯ ¯ ¯ ¯ ¯
Joy, David, Stephen Patricia, Lynn m Gail
Rowan who married a Stanford-ffoulkes
David Jones (1854-1927) was a pilot, master mariner and coxswain of the Ferryside lifeboat. Amy is said to have had the gift of second sight and was known locally as a healer. For more on Amy and David and their children, see His Ferryside aunts and uncles on this site.
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A. Burgess (1988) Little Wilson and Big God, Penguin
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E. M. Davies (1953) The Story of Llandefeiliog Parish, Spurell
P. Ferris (1999) Dylan Thomas, Dent
B. Hughes (1998) The Cat’s Whiskers, Hughes
D. John and D. N. Thomas (2010) From Fountain to River: Dylan Thomas and the Bont, in Cambria, autumn issue. It’s also at https://sites.google.com/site/dylanthomaspontardulais/home/dylan-and-the-bont
D. Gerald Jones (1978) Introducing Ferryside, Gomer
R. Maud (1989) Dylan Thomas: The Notebook Poems 1930-1934, Dent
R. Stanford-ffoulkes (2004) Dylan – the Cousin
A. Thomas (2009) My Father’s Places, Constable
C. Thomas (1986) My Life with Dylan Thomas, Secker and Warburg
D. N. Thomas (2000) Dylan Thomas: A Farm, Two Mansions and a Bungalow, Seren
(2002) The Dylan Thomas Trail, Y Lolfa
(2003) Dylan Remembered 1914-1934 vol 1, Seren
(2004) Dylan Remembered 1935-1953 vol 2, Seren
H. Williams ( 2007) The Book of Llangain: From Farming Community to Residential Village, Halsgrove
I am especially grateful to Haydn Williams of Llangain for the generosity of his help and advice and, for the same reason, to Susan Deacon, whose knowledge of the Llangynog/Pen-y-coed founding families is unrivalled. Thanks as well to Phil Edwards, Paul Ferris, Pamela Glendower, Paul Henry, Deric John, Gail and Lynn Jones, Stevie Krayer, Heulwen Morris, Samantha Wynne Rhydderch, Maggie Seddon, Dawn Riley of Bookworm, Aberaeron, Gwilym Games of Swansea library, staff at the Carmarthen reference library and Nicola Harvey and her colleagues at the Register Office in Carmarthen. And, as ever, staff at the National Library of Wales. Images: Humphrey Bolton, Peter Davies, Susan Deacon, Phil Edwards, Gail and Lynn Jones, Beryl Hughes, Heulwen Morris, Sara Morris, Paul Ferris, Jeff Towns and the National Library of Wales.
A very early version of this paper was given as a talk to the Dylan Thomas Society at the Dylan Thomas Centre on October 30 2005