Last October a bi-lingual blue plaque was unveiled outside the former Lloyds Bank premises (now William Hill’s) at the corner of
St Helens’ Road and Beach Street, in
memory of Pennard poet Vernon Watkins.
Present on that occasion were his widow Gwen, whom he met while both
worked at during the Second
World War, and members of their family. Bletchley
Park had worked at that
branch, which initially was located further along St Helen’s Road, for 38
years, until he retired aged 60 in 1966.
But other Vernon
branches of Lloyd’s bank have significance for him too. Swansea
For much of the 20th century the principal
branch of Lloyd’s occupied nos. Swansea 24
to 26 Wind Street, now the premises of the
Revolution Bar. Vernon
grew up in
because his father, William Watkins, came to manage that branch just before the
outbreak of the First World War. Vernon
had been born in Maesteg in 1906, but his father’s managerial ability saw the
Watkins family move to Bridgend, then to Llanelli, and finally to Swansea,
where William Watkins worked until he retired.
The family – Swansea
had one older and one younger sister – lived throughout the First World War in
the Uplands, in Eaton Grove - now part of Vernon Eaton Crescent. Subsequently they moved to ‘Redcliffe’ (now
demolished) in Caswell, and later to ‘Heatherslade’ in Pennard, now the
Heatherslade Residential Home.
In those pre-television days Vernon from the age of nine or ten used on Saturday afternoons to attend the Uplands Cinema, popular with many youngsters. It occupied the site where the Uplands branch of Lloyds Bank now stands.
wrote of the excitement as a crowd of
children waited behind the brass railing for the doors to open at 2
o’clock. He was particularly enthralled
with the serials starring Pearl White, where each episode ended with a
cliff-hanger that left the heroine in mortal peril, as the words ‘To be
continued next week’ flashed across the screen.
Years later in 1938 he saw a newspaper headline ‘Pearl White is dead’,
for she died aged 49 at the American hospital in Vernon , her health affected by injuries while
doing her own stunts. He was prompted to
write Elegy on the heroine of childhood
(in memory of Paris Pearl White), which begins:
‘Four words catch hold. Dead exile, you would excite
In the red darkness, through the filtered light,
Our round, terrified eyes, when some
Demon of the rocks would come
And lock you in the house with moving walls:
You taught us first how loudly a pin falls.’
The Uplands Cinema was later frequented by a young Dylan Thomas, eight years younger than
, who by then was living in Caswell. Vernon
But the branch most associated with
the one in St Helen’s Road. When his
parents moved to Pennard he would travel in on the Swan bus, and later the
United Welsh bus, to Vernon Hospital
What is now Home Gower was then the Swansea Infirmary, opened in
1869. Old photographs show it almost
camouflaged by trees, with a police box outside, and the unexpected felling of
two chestnut trees in the 1960s inspired ’s
poem ‘Trees in a town’. This begins: Vernon
‘Why must they fell two chestnuts on the road?
I did not see the lorry and its load
Before a wall had grown where they had stood.
I wish I thought that sphinx-like block was good
Builders have raised, to brood upon the loss
Of those two chestnuts, where the two roads cross.’During his lifetime