Monday 6 March 2017

100 Cwmdonkin Park

Picturesque park will be forever linked to city’s finest writer
100 Cwmdonkin Park - 6 May 2017 (photos: Vernon, Dylan, Cwmdonkin Park)
Throughout 2014, the centenary of the birth of Swansea’s most famous poet, Swansea’s refurbished Cwmdonkin Park in the Uplands, which contains a number of memorials to Dylan Thomas, attracted many visitors.
Near the centre of the 13-acre park, below the tennis court and bowling green, the Dylan Thomas memorial stone is visible within the water garden.  After Dylan’s death in New York on 9 November 1953, two American graduates Barbara Holdridge and Marianne Mantell, who had formed Caedman Records in New York in 1952, contacted his friend and fellow poet Vernon Watkins about a suitable monument to honour him in his home town.  The first recording on Caedman Records had been of Dylan reading his own poems, before similar recordings were made of other major poets like T.S. Eliot and W.H. Auden.  The two ladies contributed to the cost of a block of blue pennant sandstone from Cwmrhydyceirw Quarry, which was carved by local sculptor Ronald Cour and installed in Cwmdonkin Park as the Dylan Thomas Memorial Stone.  Vernon’s poem “At Cwmrhydyceirw Quarry” describes choosing the stone.  Along with composer Dr Daniel Jones, Ronald Cour was later instrumental in forming the Dylan Thomas Society. 
Vernon, who had written Dylan’s obituary in The Times,  chose the lines inscribed on the face of the stone, from Dylan's poem "Fern Hill":  
Oh, as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.
A fortnight before President Kennedy was assassinated, at the unveiling on 9 November 1963 on the tenth anniversary of Dylan’s death, Vernon read Dylan’s poem “The hunchback in the park”.  As rain began to fall some umbrellas were raised and people put on raincoats, but as James A. Davies comments, “superbly oblivious to the rain” Vernon continued steadily reading (or probably reciting) the poem that made Cwmdonkin Park known far beyond Swansea.  Both Vernon and Dylan had played in that park during their childhoods, for Vernon (eight years older) grew up in nearby Eaton Grove – now part of Eaton Crescent – while Dylan lived in Cwmdonkin Drive.  
The reservoir (where Dylan mentioned swans swimming) has been filled in to make a large children’s play area.  During the Second World War water from the reservoir was used to combat the fires when Swansea was bombed, and subsequently rubble from destroyed buildings was used to fill in the area.   The drinking fountain still stands, though the chained cup has been removed, presumably for hygienic reasons.  The old bandstand has gone, replaced by the Dylan Thomas Memorial Shelter, given by Oakleigh House School.
The southern entrance to the park is from The Grove, where in October 1949 at Ebeneser Newydd (Y Llannerch) Dylan and Vernon discussed “Swansea and the Arts” for a BBC radio programme on the Welsh Home Service along with composer Daniel Jones, artist Alfred Janes, and writer John Prichard.  Tapestri Arts Centre in Alexandra Road used to display Jeff Phillips’s painting of this recording, taken from the “Radio Times” cover photo.                                    
Cwmdonkin Park used to belong to James Walters (after whom Walters Road is named), who lived at Penlan House, now Oakleigh House School.  From the Terrace Road entrance to the park an archway is visible, which was a private entrance to his residence.  It is made of old stones from The Plas, the mansion which stood in the city centre, where Castle Square is now and where the Ben Evans store once was.
A bi-lingual blue plaque unveiled on a wall of the small pavilion/café in 2014 states “Cwmdonkin Park opened 1874, made famous by the Dylan Thomas poem The Hunchback in the Park.”  The Park features in other poems of Dylan’s, and in short stories such as ‘Patricia, Edith and Arnold’ in “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog”, and at the end of “Return Journey”.                                     

No comments:

Post a Comment