by Deric M John and David N Thomas published in Cambria autumn 2010.
When a leading film producer asked Dylan Thomas to write about the Rebecca riots, he soon realised that the poet was “passionately interested” in the subject. Dylan set his story in Pembrokeshire in 1843, presumably drawing on the destruction of several tollgates in the county that year.[i]
But there are passages in Rebecca’s Daughters which suggest that Dylan might also have drawn upon the far more significant events of 1843 in Hendy and Pontardulais (the Bont). Both settlements were hemmed in by tollgates and on September 6 Rebecca planned a simultaneous assault on two of the gates. Police were called to the Bont to defend the lower gate by the Llwchwr river. Soldiers were also sent to the Hendy but the attack there didn’t come for another three days.[ii]
The confrontation in the Bont was one of the most serious of Rebecca incidents, involving a pitched battle between the rioters and the civil forces. It was also the only time that police and troops had managed to get in position before a tollgate attack happened.[iii] Dylan’s script seems to reflect this. An assault is planned on what he calls the Rhos Goch gate. But, just like at the Hendy, the rioters fail to appear, and the soldiers sent there vent their frustration at not being at the nearby Carew gate, the flames from which are lighting up the sky.
Dylan also describes how a young woman, Rhiannon, falls in love with the leader of the Rebeccaites. Her love deepens as she and her maidservant watch from her carriage as he leads the action at a tollgate. Was this just the writer’s imagination at work, or did Dylan know about the romance behind the Pontardulais riots?
In July 1843, the Bolgoed gate at the top end of the Bont, near the Fountain Inn, had been destroyed.[iv] The leader was Daniel Lewis, a weaver and poet, said to be a man of “unusual culture” who fostered “the radical ideas of the time”. As he led the attack on the Bolgoed gate, his love Elizabeth Davies looked on with her maidservant, not from a carriage, but from an upstairs window of the Fountain. Betrayed by an informer, Daniel was arrested but eventually released. He and Elizabeth later married and had several children, the last being a girl they called Morfydd.[v]
If Dylan did draw on the Pontardulais riots, where did his information come from? One source could have been Morfydd’s son, Wynford Vaughan Thomas, a life-long friend of the poet, and a man who was proud of his grandfather’s part in destroying the Bolgoed gate. Wynford’s parents had lived in the Bont, and he had several cousins there. Thereafter, he came back to the Fountain throughout his life, the last time to open the new Rebecca lounge just before he died.[vi]
Dylan already knew the Bont well. St Teilo Street was the A48, the main road to Carmarthenshire and all points west. From an early age, he came through the town by car and bus on his way to visiting his many aunties who lived on the farms around Llangain. There were beach holidays in Llansteffan followed by extended stays at Fernhill. Later in his teens, he sought refuge from his father’s temper at Blaencwm, the family cottage just down the hill from Llangain.[vii]
And then there was the Swansea Little Theatre in which the young Dylan played an active part. It carted plays around the valleys, as he put it, to audiences that he suspected didn’t understand a word. He was on the road in 1933 and 1934, travelling by bus through the Bont, making two trips to Llandybie and another to Llandeilo.[viii]
He had very mixed feelings about the communities he passed through on his way west. Writing from damp and miserable Blaencwm, he conceded that at least the cottage was a lot better than the industrial small towns he had passed
“in the bus coming down here, each town a festering sore on the body of a dead country, half a mile of main street with its Prudential, its Co-op, its Star, its cinema and pub. On the pavements I saw nothing but hideously pretty young girls with cheap berets....thin youths with caps and stained fingers...little colliers, diseased in mind and body as only the Welsh can be, standing in groups outside the Welfare Hall.”[ix]
This was far from the poet Edward Thomas’ affectionate description of the Bont some thirty years earlier, but it is quintessentially the town of the 1930s and 1940s.[x] Its industries were coal and tinplate. St Teilo Street boasted not one but two Co-ops, the Star grocery shop, the Tivoli cinema and a handsome Mechanics’ Institute that put on political talks, improving lectures and even Displays of Dancing by Madame Parsley and her daughter.
The Bont was also a pub crawlers’ paradise, especially for someone like Dylan, who disliked spending too much time in just one pub. Amongst the things he loved doing, said a friend, “was going on the sort of boozing trip that you read about in The Outing.”[xi] Dylan could arrive from Swansea on the United Welsh doubledecker, and get off at the Fountain. Like scores of the town’s young men before and after him, he could then stumble his way down through the town, eight pubs in all.
This was no furtive affair. The pubs were all on the main road, making it a very public pub crawl indeed. The forces of law and order were close at hand: the police station and no fewer than seven chapels and churches also sat, watchfully, along the main road. This was a community that did its drinking and praying in the open, and took both seriously, just like its rugby and choirs.[xii]
It was a long walk from the Fountain to the next pub, the King Hotel, but Dylan could always stop at the police station, where the sergeant knew his relatives down in Ferryside. His daughter remembers several encounters in the Bont: Dylan playing a tune on the milk churns outside the police station; walking thoughtfully through St Teilo’s churchyard; and visiting Granny Williams, across the road from the station, to talk at length about the Rebecca riots.[xiii]
Granny was “old Bont”, born in the village, just like her father and his parents before him. She and Dylan would have got on well; she was a real local eccentric, toothless and unwashed, sharing her damp, tumbledown cottage with her chickens and pets, perhaps bringing back memories for Dylan of his holidays at dilapidated Fernhill. What’s more, she was family, related by marriage to one of Dylan’s Llangain cousins.[xiv]
Eccentric she may have been, but Granny Williams was nobody’s fool. She was well read, even scholarly, and some of her books and papers have survived. She contributed material to Lewis Evans’ book on the Bont, and she certainly knew her Rebecca history. At the time of the 1843 attacks, her grandfather was living near the lower tollgate by the Llwchwr. He was also a weaver, just like Daniel Lewis whom he undoubtedly would have known for much of his life.[xv] Sitting round the cauldron in her cottage, Granny Williams would have fired Dylan’s imagination with stories about turnpikes and tollgates, stagecoaches and rioters.
The King Hotel was the colliers’ pub. Whilst Dylan had sneered at them in his letter, he enjoyed their company and the pubs they used, as one of his teenage friends observed:
Like Dylan, I loved a damn good argument…I used to enjoy going out to these pubs…you take The Penllergaer Inn…The Castle in Pontlliw. Go on into the Hendy – well, you go in with the Welsh collier…I never enjoyed it more than when I could get in amongst a few Welsh colliers, a few Welsh farmers…Dylan enjoyed that sort of company.[xvi]
After the King, Prayer Alley started in earnest, four chapels and a church in the short stretch to the river. Passing Trinity, Dylan might have remembered from his own theatre days that it was the home of Cwmni Dan Matthews, one of the most successful drama groups in Wales. Both he and his company had won many awards. But Matthews, whose first production had ironically been Jack y Bachgen Drwg/the Naughty Boy, is also remembered as a man who “did the rounds”, using his work as an insurance agent to indulge his “liking for the ladies”.[xvii]
And on Christmas Day, 1918, Matthews was wandering hopefully along St Teilo Street. He called at Myrtle Hill, the home of painter Alf Williams, who was one of Dylan’s Llangain uncles. Alf and the children weren’t there, but Matthews had come to see Alf’s wife, Margaretta. They had it away, and again on Boxing Day, followed by a night of passion in a Builth Wells guesthouse.
But Alfred Hayden Williams was not a man to mess with. He was well-known in the Bont, not least as a secretary of the rugby club. He immediately started divorce proceedings and won custody of the three children, with costs. Matthews soon bounced back, winning at the 1921 Eisteddfod in Caernarvon, though it took him several more years to get elected to the committee of the rugby club.[xviii]
Dylan’s next stop would have been the Farmers Arms. It had been involved in the July attack on the Bolgoed gate, when a tollkeeper was taken there and chained in the pub’s stables. And it was also Wynford Vaughan Thomas territory. His mother, Morfydd, had kept the pub for ten years, and her brother before her. Was this where Wynford told Dylan about the Rebecca in his family?[xix]
A hungry drinker could now head for Domachi’s café for a steam pie, as Tommy Farr often did, and it kept him fighting fit.[xx] But Dylan had another option, that of calling in at his uncle Alf’s shop, just a few doors up from the Wheatsheaf pub. He had married again, this time to his Ferryside cousin, Mary Hannah, known for most of her life as Bal.[xxi] She was also an important auntie in her own right; she and Dylan’s mother, Florence, were first cousins with a half-sister in common, and they remained close all their lives.[xxii]
Bal, standing, with Florence, Dylan and Nancy
Bal and Alf had their own child, Allan, who was just Dylan’s type for a quick pint or two. He’d been in the tinplate works and down the mines. He was a gifted musician, playing the violin in the Swansea Philharmonic and saxophone in the Roy Allan Band; you could hear them for two bob most Saturday nights at the Luciana Ballroom in Gorseinon.[xxiii]
Sitting in the Wheatsheaf, did Allan and Dylan ever talk about the other big family secret that had been kept hidden from the poet’s biographers? Allan’s grandmother had been raped by Dylan’s grandfather, George. In 1860, he had married Hannah Williams of Llangain. Five years and three children later, he raped Hannah’s younger sister, Amy. The scandal sent George and Hannah packing to Swansea, where he eventually made good, becoming a railway inspector and a chapel deacon, all the while fathering six more children, the last being Dylan’s mother, Florence.[xxiv]
Amy, did just as well. She gave birth to George’s daughter, and then went on to marry the pilot of the Ferryside lifeboat. They had four children, one of whom ended up in the Bont selling wallpaper and paint.[xxv]
After the Wheatsheaf, Dylan could move on to the Dulais Glen, where the tinplaters drank, and enjoyed themselves in the high-class Function Room, with its boxing, concerts and ballroom dancing. It was then just a short walk over the level crossing to the Gwyn Hotel. No doubt Dylan took the railways for granted but without them he could not have earned a living as a poet. And trains were in his blood; both his grandfathers and an uncle had been railway men, as had Florence’s cousin, William Proper Williams, a platform foreman at the Bont station, who made sure that people, cattle and tinplate were kept on the move.[xxvi]
The end was now in sight. The Red Lion and the Black Horse, both of which had seen action in the attack on the tollgates, stood at the bottom of the Fforest hill, the road out of the Bont to Carmarthen. A little way up lived the painter Vera Bassett.[xxvii] Then came the home of Catherine Williams. She had married into Granny Williams’ family and was Dylan’s third cousin, related three times over, once by blood and twice by marriage.[xxviii]
At the very top of the Fforest lived another aunt, Minnie Olive. She had spent part of her childhood with Dylan’s paternal grandparents. She later married D J Bowen, whose twenty years as headmaster at Hendy school have been described as “inconspicuous”, marked by his use of the whip, as well as his indifference to both the Welsh language and the local community.[xxix]
Dylan’s journey through the Bont from fountain to river can be seen as a rite de passage, and not just as an opportunity for a few drinks. The Bont was a border settlement, the main river crossing between sooty Glamorgan and sheepy Sir Gâr. For the young Dylan, it was also the crossing point from his nuclear to his extended family, from his mother’s apron strings to the looser reins of the aunts to whom he was farmed out. This estuarine line of aunties stretched from the Bont through to Ferryside and Llandyfaelog. It was at its most intense in the square mile around Llansteffan and Llangain, where the farms were mostly occupied by his various relatives. Such was their impact on his life that one of his girlfriends later observed that Dylan grew up with “a thing about aunties”, but that is another story.
And the film script that had been helped on its way by a toothless old lady from the Bont? It finally appeared in 1992, starring Peter O’Toole, Joely Richardson and our very own Ray Gravell.
*(ph) indicates a photo – please go to Bont Photos on this website and follow the link.
*The Llangain farms mentioned in the article and in the following Notes can be seen on the map on the page “Dylan’s Llangain farms” on this website.
[i] He was asked by Gainsborough Films in November 1948. Gainsborough had bought the rights from Rank, for whom Dylan had previously worked. Gainsborough sent him a copy of the first draft of the script, which Dylan himself might have written whilst he was working for Rank. Gainsborough also sent him reading material about the riots (letter from Jan Read to Dylan November 16 1948). Dylan was probably sent newspaper cuttings. In 1948, the only book on the riots dated from 1910, and consisted largely of extracts from newspapers. Welsh newspapers had carried reports of the riots, as had The Times from June 1843. The Carmarthen Antiquary, I, 1943-44 also carried articles on the riots, as well as listing the handful of other articles that had been written up to that date. It also listed a small number of works of fiction about the riots. It's possible that Dylan might also have consulted Killay author Amy Dillwyn's fictional The Rebecca Rioter, published in 1880, which refers to the riot in Pontardulais. Passionate interest: Sidney Box of Gainsborough in his Foreword to the published script, in which he also described it as an original story. Pembroke: elements of his script that are consistent with the Pembrokeshire riots include the participation of some local gentry on the side of the rioters, as well as their betrayal by an informer. See Williams 1986 and Pugh 2002.
[ii] Hemmed in by tollgates: Hendy tollgate and house at the junction of the Llannon road; Fforest gatehouse at the junction of the Llanedi road; Gwili Bridge (Pont Abram) tollgate on the Carmarthen road; Pontardulais tollgate near the Llwchwr river on what is now the A48 (ph); Bolgoed tollgate opposite the Fountain Inn (ph) and the Gopa bar at the junction of Gopa road and the turnpike road, which is the A48 today. (The Hendy gate was near the junction of today’s A4138 and the B4306 road to Llanon, close to the river Gwili where it joins the Llwchwr on the estuary (ph). Dylan locates his Rhos Goch gate on a river estuary.) The attack on the Hendy gate on September 9th resulted in the death of the tollgate keeper, Sarah Williams.
[iii] Serious incident: second in importance only to the storming of the Carmarthen workhouse, according to Williams (1986). The Times carried a lengthy report of the incidents at the Bont (September 9 1843). First time troops/police in position: such was the general ineffectiveness of the civil forces that the Home Secretary wrote to the Prime Minister to point out that the officer in charge in Wales had more than enough troops to conquer the country, “let alone keep it in order…if a crime is committed he instantly sends soldiers to the place the following day.” Quoted in Williams, 1986, p266.
[iv] See Williams 1986 and Griffiths, 1997, on the Bolgoed, Pontardulais and Hendy attacks. The Bolgoed gate was near the Bolgoed quarry; access to quarries was amongst the grievances of the rioters, as Dylan noted in his script (p64, Sphere, 1968).
[v] Daniel Lewis: Lewis was not just a weaver and poet (with the bardic name ‘Petrys Bach’) but also an auctioneer and budding entrepreneur. A history of the Gopa chapel noted that Lewis, unlike his father, “was not one of the godly of this earth but he was, despite that, a man of unusual culture. He immersed himself in the traditions of the Druids, and he fostered the radical ideas of the time.” (Hopkin 1973) According to a report in the Cambrian, “he was known as a writer in the Welsh periodicals” (July 29 1843). Lewis was also a leading Ivorite in Pontardulais. The Ivorites was a friendly society that prospered in the mid-19C; it was “uniquely Welsh in many of its aims and attitudes, including its promotion of the Welsh language.” In 1841, Lewis was recognised, in a ceremony at the Fountain Inn (ph), as ‘Ovid’ of the Iorwerth Mystic Lodge of True Ivorites, and in 1866 at the Fountain, he was awarded a Druidic silver medal for the work he had carried out for the Lodge (the Cambrian 27.11.1841 and 8.6.1866 respectively). Indeed, Lewis had helped to put the Lodge on such a sound footing that the Cambrian reporter was moved to write: “Who is the Parliamentary semi-lunatic who will say that the working man is not to be entrusted with the franchise!”
[vi] Daniel Lewis (1815-1886) and Elizabeth Davies (1824-1907, of Ystomenlle farm, Hendy) were married in December 1847. They had eight children. The eldest was Taliesin and the youngest was Morfydd (ph). By 1891, she was living at home with her mother, working as an assistant teacher but then followed Taliesin as the licensee of the Farmers Arms (ph) from 1893 to 1903. Morfydd married David Vaughan Thomas (ph) on October 12 1906.
Their son, Wynford Vaughan Thomas (ph), was born in 1908 in Swansea. He had several relatives from the Bont, including his auntie Bess (ph) whom he writes about in Trust to Talk. His paternal uncle, Jenkyn Thomas b.1868, lived near the Farmers Arms. In 1901, he was working in the wash house of the tinplate works. By 1911, he was running the newsagent and book shop at Caxton House on St Teilo Street. Jenkyn is also remembered as a fine organist at Hermon. He had married Martha Catherine Parry of Brymbo, Denbigh, in 1896. One of their sons was the conductor, T. Haydn Thomas, who married Gwyneth, the sister of Rhidwyn Davies, Manchester House, St Teilo Street. Besides Haydn, Wynford’s other Bont cousins through Jenkyn and Martha were Hywel Parri Thomas who took over the running of Caxton House; Eluned Parri Thomas who ran the Woolshop on St Teilo Street, near the corner with Cambrian Place; and Jenkyn Parri Thomas. Some of Wynford’s visits to the Bont are noted in the Llwchwr Gazette; for example, he came to give a talk in February 1946 at the Mechanics Institute on his experiences as a war correspondent (February 8 edition).
[vii] See Thomas 2003 chapter 6.
[viii] See Thomas 2003, chapter 7.
[ix] Letter to Pamela Hansford Johnson, late October 1933.
[x] Edward Thomas on the Bont: in Beautiful Wales, 1905, and quoted in a helpful National Library article at http://www.users.ic24.net/~terrynorm/edward thomas.htm. Edward Thomas frequently stayed in and around the Bont, where his relatives lived at 17, Woodville Street. His close friendship with the distinguished theologian and poet John Jenkins (Gwili) of the Hendy also brought him to the area. For more on Edward Thomas and the Bont, see R. G. Thomas (1987).
[xi] Boozing trip: Mably Owen in Thomas 2004, p41. Other examples of Dylan’s “boozing trips” are in Thomas 2004 e.g Carreg Cennen and Glanaman p184, Kidwelly p183, Ferryside p188. Brinnin (1965 pp86-90) also describes a trip round some Pembrokeshire pubs.
[xii] Seven chapels and churches on the main road: from the Llwchwr up, they were St Michael’s, Hope, Hermon, Trinity, Presby, St Teilo’s and Y Babell. There were two others just off the main road: Siloh and Gopa. Please see Bont photos on this site.
[xiii] Encounters with Dylan: Hughes, 1998. Hughes, the police sergeant’s daughter, reports that Dylan talked “at length” with Granny Williams about the riots (p61).
Hughes provides no biographical information on Granny Williams so what follows comes from Pontardulais residents, parish registers and the census: Granny Williams was Sarah Ann Williams, b. August 2 1875 in the Bont, and known to many as Saran. She lived at The Whit cottage on Banc y Whit, opposite the police station – Banc y Whit ran from the King Hotel to the corner of the little lane that ran to St Teilo’s church, and Whit cottage was exactly on that corner. Whit cottage had once been the Whistle Inn, a coaching pub. Granny Williams lived in the cottage with her parents, Griffith (ph) b.1842 in the Bont (PR baptisms and census), a stone mason but formerly a quarryman (1861), who had lived on the Whit since at least 1851, and Elizabeth b.1844 in Loughor. Griffith’s parents were William and Mary Williams; he is given as a weaver on the baptism record and they had several other children, including David, on whom see the next Note. In the 1881 census, Griffith and family were at 3, Trinity Row, near the Farmers Arms. In the 1891 census Sarah Ann is listed as a “day school teacher”, and is shown in that census and in 1901 as living at the Whistling, i.e. Whit Cottage, on Banc y Whit. In the 1911 census, Sarah Ann is listed as living at The Whit. (Whit cottage is plot 1058 on the map on p145 of John 2008. Also see John 2008 pp141-43 on the etymology of Whit etc.).
After the deaths of her parents in 1921 and 1931 respectively, Sarah Ann stayed on at The Whit until her own death there on December 2 1960. Besides books and papers, her cauldron (ph) also survives. She never married. She sometimes took in lodgers, including Tommy and Betty Taylor, Deric John’s uncle and aunt. Both she and her parents are noted as bilingual on the census returns. She is acknowledged in Hanes Pontarddulais by Lewis Evans, 1949: “Miss S. A. Williams of “The Whit” cleared up many mysteries regarding the last century.”
[xiv] Granny was family: Living next door to Granny Williams were Samuel Vaughan Williams b. May 1st 1881 and his wife Margaret (d.1934) and then his second wife Annie. Samuel had been born on the Whit (birth cert.), the son of David Williams b.1844 in the Bont (a labourer then stamper in the tinplate works) and Elizabeth, nee Anthony, b.1845 in Llanedi. Samuel and Granny Williams were first cousins; their grandparents, William and Mary Williams, were the parents of both Samuel’s father, David, and Granny’s father, Griffith (PR baptism records and 1851 census). Samuel’s son David Handel Williams married Dylan’s third cousin, Catherine Mary (nee Williams) in 1933 – see Note 28 below – and it was this marriage that turned Granny Williams into one of Dylan’s relations.
William Williams (weaver)>>>>>>>>Mary
Sarah Ann (Granny) Samuel Vaughan Williams
David Handel >>>>Catherine Mary
>>>>>> = marriage ............... = siblings
Samuel and Annie were still living next door to Granny Williams in 1949 (electoral register). After a short period living with Samuel and Annie, Handel and Catherine moved to the Fforest at the other end of the village – see Note 28 below.
[xv] Knew each other: the probability of William Williams, Granny’s grandfather, and Daniel Lewis/Petrys Bach (1816-1886) knowing each other is extremely high. They were both weavers, and Lewis was a well-known figure, not just as a Rebecca hero and a poet but also through his wider position and status – see Note 5 above. By 1851, they were living within 400 yards of each other in what was then a small hamlet: William Williams (1804-1879) lived on the Whit (Black Cock) and Daniel Lewis in Dai Phill’s house (on the corner of what would much later (1880s) become the present-day Glynllwchwr Road and St Teilo Street – the plot of land that would later become Tass Harris/Aldo’s Café). William Williams probably worked as a weaver in the Lower Factory with Lewis, most likely in the 1850s when Lewis managed, and probably owned, the Lower Factory. Furthermore, William Williams’ son-in-law, William Parcell (see below), was living on the Gopa, just a few doors away from Daniel Lewis’ sister, Anne. William Parcell’s son, William b.1866, lived at Whit Cottage with his grandparents, William and Mary Williams, from about 1870 (census). His half-sister, Mary Parcell b.1871, was working as a servant for Daniel Lewis’ widow in 1891.
William Williams, weaver, could also have witnessed the 1843 tollgate riots in the Bont for himself, or even taken part in them. In 1841, he was living near Y Felin Isha/the Lower Mill within a few hundred yards of the lower Pontardulais tollgate; he was still there when his son, David, was baptised in 1846. By 1851, William Williams had moved to the Whit (Black Cock), just a few hundred yards from the site of the former Bolgoed gate. Granny was too young to have heard about the riots from her grandfather William (he died just after she was born) but the stories would have come down through her father, Griffith, who lived with Granny at the Whit until his death in 1921, and who himself would have known Daniel Lewis for much of his adult life. Indeed, Griffith might even have been in the same Ivorite lodge as Lewis: there is a report in the Cambrian July 1873 of a scuffle between Lewis and a Griffith Williams during a Iorwerth lodge meeting in the Fountain (Lewis, as chairman, refused to let Williams speak). We cannot be certain that this was Granny’s father, but we have not been able as yet to find any other Griffith Williams living in or near the Bont, Hendy or Fforest at or around this time.
William Parcell: the back story: Parcell, from Pembrokeshire, married Rachel, daughter of William (the weaver) and Mary Williams of Whit cottage on January 2 1865 (parish registers). Their son William was born later that year (Swansea, September quarter 11a 536). Rachel died in 1867 age 28.
In 1870, William Parcell remarried and lived in Gopa St (1871 and 1881 census) with his new wife Ann and had several children, including Mary, who later became a servant at Daniel Lewis’ home. When William Parcell remarried in 1870, his son William went to live with his grandparents at Whit cottage. He was still living with his grandmother Mary at the cottage in 1881, working as a “Raiser of Tinplates out of Pickle”. He married Cath Emily in 1890 and lived in St Teilo Street, working as a labourer on the railway.
[xvi] Colliers’ company: see the interview with Gwen Bevan Courtney by Colin Edwards, National Library of Wales. Also reproduced in part in Thomas 2003. See many others on this theme e.g. R.M. Glyn Thomas in Thomas 2003 p83.
[xvii] Dan Matthews: Daniel Matthews (ph) was the founder of Cwmni Drama Pontardulais, whose first production was in 1901 – see Evans 1949 and Owain 1948 (The D. R. Davies Collection at the National Library of Wales contains Davies’ book of cuttings on Dan Matthews, 1924-1985). Denver Evans has written of Matthews and his company: "Culturally, local inhabitants were well catered for. The Dan Mathews (sic) Drama Company, after winning the National Eisteddfod in 1921, were famous throughout Wales and were in great demand everywhere. It is doubtful whether any drama company ever achieved the fame that was so worthily earned by Mr Dan Mathews and his band of accomplished actors. Dan Mathews himself, was to reign supreme in the world of Welsh Drama over the next two decades and he became the doyen of the Welsh acting fraternity and was a master of elocution." (D. Evans, 1980, p189)
Matthews was born in October 1876; in his book, Lewis Evans says that the birth was in Grovesend, a few miles from the Bont. In the 1901 census return, Dan himself states that he had been born in the Bont. Certainly, in 1871, his mother Charlotte Davies, 23, was living with her parents in the Bont and working as a washerwoman in the tinworks. She also married in the Bont in 1874, to a John Matthews, the son of William Matthews (PR records). By 1881, Charlotte, had been widowed and she was working in the tinplate works as a Plate Opener. She, Daniel, aged 4, and his sister Hannah were living in a multi-occupied house in Factory Road (Dulais Road today) with Charlotte’s parents, David and Harriett Davies, as well as three of Charlotte’s siblings and their children. By 1901, aged 24, Dan was living in Parlas Cottages, a few hundred yards along the road from Glanyrafon at the junction of Alltiago and Glynhir roads. He was working as a labourer in the tinworks, recently married (Swansea December quarter 1899 11a 1567) to Sarah Ann Roblin (ph), a tinplate duster (1891) who had lived next to the Farmers Arms.
By 1911, Dan and Sarah were living at Grove Place, Glanyrafon Road, with their three children, Harriett, 9, Ceinwen, 6, and Goronwy,1 (a second son, Meredydd, was born later). Dan had pulled himself up in the world and was now an insurance agent. His drama company was also thriving, and he had won the recitation contest at the National Eisteddfod in Carmarthen in 1911. By 1919, he was an insurance superindentent and an elocution teacher, in his early 40s, with a reputation, that is remembered today amongst some in the Bont, for “liking the ladies”. Insurance agents went from house-to-house each week to collect premiums, a task that provided Dan Matthews with excellent cover. In 1919, he was named as co-respondent in a divorce case involving Alf and Margaretta Williams – see the next Note.
Outside the family home, Llys Myfyr, Pontardulais
L to R. Goronwy Matthews, Meredydd Matthews (sons); Sarah Ann (Roblin) Matthews (mam); Annie (Matthews) Griffiths (daughter); Dan Matthews (Dad) is probably the photographer.
[xviii] Alf Williams: he was the second cousin of Dylan’s mother, Florence – see the end of Note 28 for the family tree. Alfred Hayden Williams b.1880 was the son of Mary Douglas Hayden (b. 1847 in St Brides Major, Bridgend) and William Proper Williams. William Proper worked at Bont railway station but had been born and brought up in Llangain; he was the nephew of Dylan’s maternal great-grandfather, Thomas Williams of Waunfwlchan farm, Llangain (see Note 28). Alf was a painter and decorator. On September 30 1905, aged 25, he married Margaretta Barraby, aged 19 (Llanelli, Sept quarter 11a 1739; Margaretta’s birth June quarter 1887 Llanelli 11a 891). She was the daughter of Charles Barraby, a millman in the copper works, of Swansea Road, Llanelli. At the 1911 census, Alf and Margaretta were living in Glanyrafon Road, Pontardulais, with their two children, Phyllis b.1906 and Ron b.1908. In 1913, their third child, Kenneth, was born and sometime after they moved to Myrtle Hill, Hope Street (later St. Teilo Street), Pontardulais.
In April 1919, Alf petitioned for divorce from Margaretta on the grounds of her adultery with Daniel Matthews of Llys Myfyr, Grove Place, Glanyrafon Road, Pontardulais, an “insurance superindentent and elocutionist”. The court was told that the adultery had taken place in Alf and Margaretta’s home, Myrtle Hill, on December 25 and 26 1918, at the Bridge Restaurant, Builth Wells on January 11 and 12 1919 and at Daniel’s home, Llys Myfyr, on February 8 1919. The divorce was granted in November 1919. Custody of the three children was given to Alf, and costs awarded against Daniel (Divorce papers, National Archives). At the time of the divorce, Margaretta was living in Reading, and nothing is known about what happened to her afterwards. Alf went on to marry Mary Hannah Jones (Bal) on June 1 1921 – see Note 21 below. The divorce papers are at:
Alf’s community activities: he was very involved with the rugby club, and was elected Club Secretary in 1906. In 1922 at a public meeting in the Mechanics’ Institute, he seconded the motion that 'That a memorial be erected in memory of those from this place who have made the supreme sacrifice.' Dan Matthews was elected to the rugby club committee at the 1927 AGM (D. Evans 1980)
As for the children from Alf and Margaretta’s marriage, Kenneth married Elizabeth Mary Thomas and had a son Colin who lives in Swansea today, 2010.
[xix] Tollkeeper in stable: see John 2008, pp93-94 – it was the keeper of the Pontardulais Gate. Morfydd at the Farmers: from 1893 to 1903. See John 2008, pp96-97, and the 1901 census which shows the daughters of her dead brother Taliesin, a former licensee, living at the Farmers with her. Taliesin took over the pub sometime after 1875 and is shown there on the 1881 census. He died in February 1888, aged 35.
[xx] Farr: John 2008, p116.
[xxi] Mary Hannah Jones: Bal’s parents were Capt. David Jones and Amy Williams (daughter of Waunfwlchan farm, Llangain), b.1854 and 1847 respectively. The half-sister that Bal and Florence had in common was Anne, Amy’s daughter by Florence’s father, George (see Note 24). David Jones is described as “pilot” on various census returns. They were married on May 7 1882 and lived at Alpha House in Eva Terrace, Ferryside. They had four children: Elizabeth Ann (Bess), Sarah Jane (Sal), David Thomas (Tom) and Mary Hannah (Bal), born in 1884. Bal is a dressmaker on the 1911 census (Florence was a seamstress). On June 1 1921, Bal (ph) married a cousin, Alfred Hayden Williams, on whom see Note 18 above. Alf and Bal’s son, Allan (ph), was born in c1924 and died in 1998 (and see Note 23). Alf died in February 1947, and Bal in October 1955. Bal’s siblings, Tom and Sal, remained in Ferryside throughout much of Dylan’s life, and help to explain his visits there. On Bal, see Thomas 2003 p184 and Thomas 2004 p25. Bal and Alf’s wallpaper and decorating shop was at 56, St Teilo Street, just opposite the Mechanics Institute, and a few doors up from the Wheatsheaf. (Information on Bal came from Colin Williams, David Williams and Richard Thomas of the Bont and from a family memoir by Rowan Stanford-ffoulkes.)
[xxii] Close all their lives: They had been apprenticed to the same dressmaker in Carmarthen, during which time Alpha House in Ferryside became Florence’s home-from-home. It is Bal who is the unknown woman in the charming picture (ph) in Paul Ferris’ book of the young, angelic Dylan sitting between his mother and sister. The photo, taken in the studio of a Swansea photographer, confirms Bal’s importance within the Thomas family, as does Dylan’s use of the names of his own aunts in A Child’s Christmas in Wales: Dosie, Bessie and Hannah. Dosie was Theodosia, Bessie was Elizabeth (also known as Polly) and Hannah was undoubtedly Bal (Mary Hannah).
[xxiii] Information on Allan Williams came from his wife Jean and nephew Colin, from Roy Gubb, David Williams and Richard Thomas of the Bont, and a Gorseinon history website. The Roy Allan Band were the Wales winners in successive Melody Maker competitions post-1945. Two bob = ten pence. Allan played for the Bont rugby team and, like his father Alf before him, became Hon. Secretary of the Club (in the 1960s). Allan spent a lot of time in Ferryside - he was "very close" to his first cousin who lived there, Raymond Jones, who was also Dylan's second cousin (interview, 2010 with Lynn Jones, Raymond's son: "Allan was very close to my father."). Dylan and Allan’s drinking in the Bont and in the White Lion in Ferryside is described in Stanford-ffoulkes 2004. For more on Dylan and the White Lion, see Hughes 1998 (who misses the Alpha House connection) and, in a 1960s interview, Billy Williams of Laugharne – an edited version of the interview is in Thomas 2004 p188.
[xxiv] The scandal: Hannah and Amy were the daughters of Thomas and Anne Williams of Waunfwlchan farm, Llangain – see the family tree at the end of Note 28. On the scandal, see Thomas 2003 p10, p185 and Note 52, and Thomas 2004 p25. Stanford-ffoulkes’ family memoir also has a report of the scandal. This seems to be independent of Thomas 2003 because it has some details he does not have. George and Amy’s child was born in January 1866, a girl named Anne, who married, first, John Gwyn of Plas Ucha, Llanybri and, sceond, her cousin, Robert Williams of Waunffort, which was just down the road from Waunfwlchan and opposite Blaencwm. For more on Anne and her first marriage into local gentry, see Thomas 2003 p185 with more in Thomas 2004 pp21-23.
Anne and Robert had a daughter, Doris. In a 1960s taped interview with Colin Edwards, Doris said "Dylan was my cousin, mother and Dylan's mother Auntie Florrie being sisters." Off tape, she told Edwards that George Williams, Florence's father, was also the father of her mother, Anne. Edwards recorded this information in one of his notebooks that are in his archive in the National Library of Wales. In his 2003 biography of Dylan, Andrew Lycett indicates (p45) that he is aware of the story, as he puts it, that George Williams had fathered a love child, Anne, by his wife's sister, Amy. But in his family tree he has a David Jones as Anne's father. Lycett writes that Amy and David had been having an affair and that they did not marry at the time of Anne's birth because David was already married. This is wrong on two counts. David Jones was only 12 at the time of Anne's birth; and when he married Amy in 1882 at the age of 28 he was a bachelor, as the wedding certificate shows.
[xxvi] Railways: Dylan could not drive, so he relied on the train to take him around Britain for poetry readings and talks, and for travelling back and forth to the BBC studios in Swansea, Cardiff and London. The uncle was his paternal uncle Arthur, who worked in Port Talbot. See Note 28 on William Proper Williams. He was a Platform Foreman at Pontardulais railway station from sometime in the 1890s to his death c1910. In 1867 a new line had arrived from Swansea, and Pontardulais became an important railway junction (ph): “A magnificent Victorian station was erected with four platforms, joined by two staircases and a covered overhead walkway. Wagon sheds for repairs and unloading goods were added, as were cattle pens and a coal unloading yard. Prior to the First World War there were some 150 movements a day at this station.” The station was demolished in 1965, and only a small platform and shelter remain today.
(see Gwyn Griffiths, http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/southwest/sites/pontarddulais/pages/history_2.shtml)
[xxvii] Vera Bassett held her first one-woman exhibition in the Hendy Urdd Centre in 1943, followed by others at the Mechanics Institute in the Bont in 1948 and the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea, in 1949. She was born on the Fforest, Pontardulais, in 1912, and lived in Glenview and, after 1946, at 7, Fforest Road. Her parents were William John Bassett, a furniture salesman, and Mary Sarah Lloyd – they married in 1907 (FreeBMD). They had six children, of whom Vera was the youngest. She married William Owen Reynolds in 1956 and they moved to Burry Port in 1969. Vera died in 1997. In 1938 her sister, Edna, married Gethin Morgan, who later ran the Spot newsagent’s shop on St Teilo Street. His father, J. Rhys Morgan, had established the Spot newspaper about 1920. It ran to 1938.
[xxviii] Catherine Williams: of the Fforest, Pontardulais, b.1907. Her great-grandfather, Daniel Williams (b.1812) of Waunffort farm, Llangain, was the half-brother of Thomas Williams (b.1816) of Waunfwlchan farm, Llangain, who was Dylan’s great-grandfather – see the family tree at the end of this Note. Put another way, Catherine and Dylan were third cousins i.e. Catherine’s father, Edward Daniel Williams, and Dylan’s mother Florence, were second cousins. The blood relationship was augmented by two marriages. First, in 1921, Catherine’s uncle, Alf Hayden Williams, married Mary Hannah Jones (Bal), Florence’s first cousin – see Note 21 above. Second, in 1895 Edward Daniel’s cousin, Robert Williams (b.1867) of Waunffort (grandson of the above Daniel), had married another cousin, Anne, who was also Florence’s half-sister, by virtue of being the daughter of Amy Williams and George Williams (see Note 24 above). (In census returns, Robert Williams is listed as Daniel’s grandson, but on Robert and Anne’s marriage certificate Daniel is given as Robert’s father. Robert’s real father is unknown. His mother was Eleanor, Daniel’s daughter). Florence and family, including Dylan, took holidays with Anne and Robert in Llansteffan until Anne’s death in 1922. After her death, Anne and Robert’s daughter, Doris, came to live in Cwmdonkin Drive until her marriage to Randolph Fulleylove.)
Catherine Mary’s father, Edward Daniel Williams b.1873, was the son of Mary Hayden (b. 1847 in St Brides Major, Bridgend, the daughter of school teachers) and William Proper Williams - they were married in June 1872. William Proper was born on April 6 1850 at Pencelli Uchaf, Llangynog, the son of Daniel Williams (see above para, and below) and Harriet Proper. Daniel and Harriet formerly lived at Pencelli Isaf and later at Penlanfach, Llansteffan and then at Waunffort. William Proper is shown at Waunffort with his parents in the 1851 and 1861 census returns. At the time of his marriage to Mary in 1872, he was a grocer in Aberkenfig, Bridgend.
By 1881, William Proper was living in Dulais Terrace, Pontardulais, working on the railway as a porter At the 1891 census, he is a railway checker; he and Mary were at Rachal House, Forest Road, Llanedi with the following children: Edward Daniel b.1873, Robert Henry b.1875, Emily H. b.1877, Alfred Hayden b. 1880, John R. b.1884, William David b.1887 and Mary Ellen b.1891. By 1901, William Proper was a railway foreman, living with his family at 12, Forest Road. He had died by the 1911 census, probably in 1910 (FreeBMD), and his wife carried on at 12, Forest Road, taking in lodgers to make ends meet.
¯ ¯ ¯ ¯ ¯ ¯
Edward Daniel....Alfred Hayden.....Robert Henry...Emily H.....John R.....William D......Mary Ellen
Of William and Mary’s seven children, we know that:
Robert Henry was born at his grandparents’ farm, Waunffort, on May 7 1874. He married Letitia James (September quarter 1895 11a 1491 Llandeilo Fawr) and, at 1901, had two small children, Albert Haydn and Edith Muriel. He was a relief signalman, and they lived at Mill Terrace, Llanedi. By 1911, he was an Inspector, living at 25, Penvillia Road, Brynhyfryd, Swansea.
William David married Mary Hannah Charles in 1907, b.1883 in Pembrey. They had Mary C. b.1908 and William J. D. b. 1910. William David worked as a labourer, and they lived with his mother at 12, Forest Road (1911 census).
Alfred Hayden made two marriages and had four children; see Note 18 above.
Emily Harriet married Timothy Daly in 1897 (September quarter 1897, Llanelli), and in 1911 they were living in 17, Roslyn Road, Tottenham with a daughter. She attended the funeral in 1927 of her Ferryside relation, David Jones, coxwain of the lifeboat, as did other Pontardulais relatives, including the young Allan Williams (Carmarthen Journal December 16 1927).
Mary Ellen was a seamstress in 1911, visiting her sister Emily in Tottenham.
Edward Daniel married Hannah Powell, b.1872 in Pontardawe. The 1901 census shows him living at 13, Forest Road (‘Rosebank’) on the Fforest, working as a Doubler in the tinplate works, with Hannah and two small children, John D. and Clarice. At the 1911 census, they are at 13, Forest Road and Edward is now a weigher in the tinplate works. Hannah and Edward had three sons and six daughters - John Douglas, William Edward, Hayden Powell, Catherine Mary, Clarice, Evelyn, Elinor Myra , Emily Corona Maud and Eileen.
In 1933, Edward’s daughter Catherine Mary Williams married David Handel Williams b.1906 and they lived on the Fforest – see Note 14 above. Handel was the son of Samuel Vaughan Williams and his wife Margaret. Handel was brought up next door to Granny Williams of Whit Cottage, and his father and step-mother, Annie, were still there (on the electoral register) in 1949.
Catherine and Handel had a son, David ‘Dai’ Williams b.1937, a collier, who lives in the Hendy today (2010) and is a well-known breeder of canaries. He married Marian and had a daughter, Llinos, who married Chris Davies. (Information from David and Marian, Llinos and Chris, census returns and birth and marriage certificates, including William Proper Williams’ birth and marriage certificates.)
(2) John Williams<<<<<<<Anna>>>>>>>>>>>(1) William Williams
Anne Thomas<<<Thomas Williams........//..........Daniel Williams>>>>>Harriet Proper
¯ ¯ ¯ ¯
Amy...........................Hannah William Proper Williams.....................Eleanor
¯ ¯ ¯ ¯ ¯ ¯
Bal...//.....Anne....//.......Florence Ed. Daniel....Alfred Hayden>>Margaretta Robert Williams
¯ ¯ ¯ ¯
Allan Doris Dylan Catherine>>>>>>David Handel Williams
David ‘Dai’>>>Marian Samuel
Llinos m. Chris Davies
who run Y Pleser bridal shop in Pontardulais
<<<<< >>>>> = marriage ................ = siblings ........//....... = half-siblings.
Yellow highlight = married to each other and had Doris.
Green highlight = married to each other and had Allan, after Alf’s divorce from Margaretta in 1919.
Purple highlight = married to each other and had Phyllis, Ron and Ken, before their divorce.
For the marriages and children on Thomas Williams’ side, see Thomas 2003, pp180-185.
Confirmation of Daniel Williams’ parents was from the Ebenezer Baptist Chapel, Llangynog, birth records, which have been filmed by the PRO - ref RG4 3944. These include the births of Anna Williams' children:
(thanks to Susan Deacon for this information.)
John and Anna left Lambstone to live at Pen-y-coed farm. Further data on this family are given in Note 44 on p288 of Thomas 2003.
Daniel married Harriet Proper on February 27 1837; she died in November 1871. They had John b.1838, Elinor (Eleanor) b.1840, Anna b.1848, Hosulah b.1848, William Proper b.1850 and Thomas b.1853. At the 1871 census, they also had their granddaughter Sarah b.1862 and grandson Robert b.1867 living with them.
On the 1881 census, Daniel is now married to Jane. This second marriage was in 1878/79 - on FreeBMD there is a Daniel Williams and Jane Jenkins both with the same marriage reference, Carmarthen 11a 1038 in Dec quarter 1878. (thanks to Susan Deacon for this information.)
[xxix] Minnie (b.1890) was the daughter of Alderman William Greville JP, who ran a grocer’s shop in Llanon, just up the road from the Hendy. See Thomas 2003, p188 for the family tree. She lived with Dylan’s paternal grandparents in Johnstown, Carmarthen (1895 Johnstown school records, in Hughes 1998, p71). Dylan’s grandparents were, of course, her grandparents as well. She later trained and/or worked as a teacher in Tredegar (1911 census return for The Poplars, Charles Street, Tredegar) and was later Head of Penygraig Infant School in the Rhondda. She married D J Bowen in 1939. DJ Bowen: it’s thought that Bowen had shell shock from WW1, and suffered from ‘the shakes’ in school. He would stand in the school yard in the mornings with his whip to chastise latecomers. He spoke no Welsh. (Emails, 2010, from former pupils. Also, Glyn Hopkin, Notes on Hendy Schools.)
J. M Brinnin (1965) Dylan Thomas in America, Dent
E. A. Dillwyn (1880) The Rebecca Rioter, Macmillan (also Honno, 2004)
D. Evans (1980) Bont: The Story of a Village and its Rugby Club, Bont RFC
E. L. Evans (1949) Braslun o hanes Pontardulais a'r cylch, Gomer
H. T. Evans (1910) Rebecca and her Daughters, Cardiff and at
P. Ferris (1977) Dylan Thomas, Dent
I. Griffiths (1997) Rebecca in Pontarddulais, at http://www.pontarddulaistowncouncil.gov.uk/Core/Pontarddulais-Tc/Pages/Local_History_1.aspx
G. Hopkin (1973) Hanes Eglwys y Gopa, Pontarddulais 1773-1973, Gwasg John Penry
G. Hopkin (197?) Notes on Hendy Schools, mimeo
B. Hughes (1998) The Cat’s Whiskers, Hughes
D. John et. al. (2008) Historical and Hysterical Tales of Pontardulais Public Houses, Llygad Gwalch
O. L. Owain (1948) Hanes y Ddrama yng Nghymru 1850-1943, Gwasg y Brython
S. Pugh (2002) Roads, Riots and Rebecca: The History of the Rebecca Riots in Pembrokeshire, Bro Beca Project, and at http://www.brobeca.co.uk/Images/Bro Beca English.pdf
R. Stanford-ffoulkes (2004) Before the Funeral (a family memoir), mimeo.
R. G. Thomas (1987) Edward Thomas: A Portrait, Oxford
D. M. Thomas (1968) Rebecca’s Daughters, Sphere
D. N. Thomas (2003) Dylan Remembered 1914-34, vol 1, Seren
(2004) Dylan Remembered 1935-53, vol 2, Seren
W. Vaughan Thomas (1980) Trust to Talk, Hutchinson
David Williams (1986) The Rebecca Riots, University of Wales Press
Derek Williams (2001) The Roberts and David Dynasties, family memoir (see also http://www.welshleigh.org/genealogy/biographies/davidleigh/davidleigh.htm)
Acknowledgements. We are grateful to all those who have encouraged and helped us: Margaret Barton, Sadie Clayfield, Llinos and Chris Davies, Susan Deacon, Philip Gill, Leighton Griffiths, Gwyn Griffiths, Roy Gubb, Stevie Krayer, Gail and Lynn Jones, Dan and Indeg Matthews, Spencer Morgan, Susan Owen, Gwen Price, Alun Rees, Hywel Raw Rees, Wyndham Taylor, Dianne Thomas, Richard Thomas, Susan Owen Thomas, Don Treharne, John Walters, Alan Williams, Colin Williams, David Williams, David and Marian Williams, Derek Williams, Jean Williams, Selwyn Williams,,Wynn Williams, Gwilym Games of Swansea Library, Sarah Loud of Pontardulais Library, Ellie Dawkins of the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, staff at the National Library of Wales, Gorseinon History Archive, and Dawn Riley of Bookworm, Aberaeron. Images: Thanks to John Miles, John Harry, Sadie Clayfield, Dan Matthews, Dianne Thomas, Les Hayes, Wyndham Taylor, Denver Evans, Ralph Thomas, John Ball, Paul Jenkins, Reflective Images, Pontardulais Library and Hutchinson Press. The photo of Bal came from Paul Ferris' biography of Dylan, where she is referred to as an "unknown friend".