Saturday, 4 November 2017

132 Dylan Thomas's Swansea

132 Dylan Thomas’s Swansea
Dylan Thomas is hardly “Hidden History” now, although 30 or 40 years ago people might have linked him with Laugharne or Newquay rather than with Swansea.  Once Jeff Towns, dealer in second-hand and antiquarian books, had established Dylan’s Bookshop in Salubrious Passage, he galvanized the city into appreciating what an asset it had as the cradle of this major poet.  When Swansea hosted the Year of Literature in 1995, the Old Guildhall in Somerset Place was transformed into first Tŷ Llen and then into the Dylan Thomas Centre, where Jeff’s extensive collection of Dylan Thomas memorabilia formed the basis for what was intended to be a permanent exhibition.  Subsequently Dylan’s birthplace in Cwmdonkin Drive has been opened to visitors, John Doubleday’s bronze statue stands in the Marina, with a statue of Captain Cat nearby, the Eli Jenkins pub in Oxford Street, the Dylan Thomas Theatre in the Maritime Quarter, a refurbished Cwmdonkin Park, and much else display Swansea’s connections with Dylan.
Of course over sixty years after his death much of Dylan’s Swansea has gone, like the reservoir in Cwmdonkin Park.  Near the High Street terminus of what used to be the Great Western Railway, at 60 Alexandra Road stood the second-hand bookshop run by Ralph Wishart (“Ralph the books”), in a row of buildings long demolished to make way for the open-air car park.  On Mount Pleasant Hill much of Swansea Grammar School, which Dylan attended and where his father taught, was destroyed during the war: what remains is now part of University of Wales Trinity St David’s.  Walter Road Congregational Church, to whose Sunday School Mrs Florrie Thomas would take her young son, stood at the junction with Humphrey Street, where the Brunel Court flats now stand. 
During his brief employment in 1931/32 as a junior reporter with the Evening Post and the Herald of Wales, the newspaper offices stood on the green in front of the Castle ruins, convenient for the Three Lamps Hotel in Temple Street, which following bombardment was rebuilt on the opposite side and re-named The Office.  Adjacent in Castle Street was the Kardomah Café, formerly Castle Street Congregational Church where Dylan’s parents were married in 1903.  In what had been the chapel’s gallery, Dylan presided over a group of Swansea’s gifted young men in the 1930s – at various times including composer Dan Jones, artists Alfred Janes and Mervyn Levy, writer Charles Fisher and poet Vernon Watkins.  In High Street opposite the King’s Arms was the Bush Hotel, which might yet re-emerge from behind hoardings.  Dylan drank there in October 1953 with Dan Jones, Vernon Watkins and others before catching the London train for his final visit to New York. 
In Mumbles, across the car park behind All Saints Church, are the church rooms, formerly the church hall - where Swansea Little Theatre rehearsed when Dylan was involved with the company.  Of the nearby pubs visited unofficially during rehearsals, the Antelope at the corner of Village Lane is no more, while the Mermaid has been extensively rebuilt following fire damage.  
In pre-television days, when cinemas were prominent centres of entertainment, a young Dylan in the 1920s enjoyed Saturday afternoon matinees which serialised the silent-film adventures of Pearl White, at the Uplands Cinema, where until recently a branch of Lloyds Bank stood.  That “flea-pit” had been frequented a few years earlier by a young Vernon Watkins.  The large Oceana building has been demolished in what is now the Kingsway, having stood on the site of the Plaza cinema in Northampton Lane, opened in 1931 as the largest cinema in Wales.  Though not a political animal, Dylan accompanied Bert Trick to a political rally there on 1st July 1934, when Rev. Leon Atkin upstaged the right-wing anti-semitic rhetoric of Sir Oswald Moseley, causing the meeting to end in uproar.            
The city of culture for 2021 may be Coventry - but Swansea has Dylan Thomas!

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