Skip to primary navigation Skip to content Skip to footer
Back to New Quay Boat Trips Blog

Dylan Thomas

Dylan Thomas

Dylan and Caitlin Thomas lived in New Quay from September 4, 1944, until July 1945, renting a cliff-top bungalow called Majoda. There were several other families from Swansea living in New Quay, who had come after the bombing of Swansea in 1941. His childhood friend and distant cousin, Vera Killick, lived next to Majoda, whilst her sister, Evelyn Milton, lived further along the cliff-top.[21] Thomas also had an aunt and four cousins in New Quay,[22] as well as a more distant relative, the First World War fighter pilot ace, James Ira Thomas Jones, aka Ira Taffy Jones.[23]

Thomas had previously visited New Quay in the 1930s [24] and then again in 1942-43 when he and Caitlin had lived a few miles away at Plas Gelli, Talsarn.[25] His New Quay pub poem Sooner than you can water milk dates from this period,[26] as does his script for the filming of Cardigan Bay for the final part of Wales – Green Mountain, Black Mountain[27]

One of Thomas’ patrons was Thomas Scott-Ellis, 8th Baron Howard de Walden, whose summer residence was Plas Llanina, an historic manor house perched on the cliffs at Cei Bach, just a short walk away from Majoda. He encouraged Thomas to use the old apple house at the bottom of the manor’s walled garden as a quiet place in which to write.[28] It would have been an inspirational setting, and one Dylan Thomas scholar has suggested that the stories about Llanina’s drowned houses and cemetery are “the literal truth that inspired the imaginative and poetic truth” of Under Milk Wood.[29] Another important aspect of that literal truth was the sixty acres of cliff-top between Majoda and New Quay, including Maesgwyn farm (a name that appears in Under Milk Wood), that fell into the sea in the early 1940s.[30]

New Quay, said Caitlin, was exactly Thomas’s kind of place, “with the ocean in front of him…and a pub[31] where he felt at home in the evenings”[32] and he was happy there, as his letters reveal.[33] His ten months at Majoda were the most fertile period of his adult life, a second flowering said his first biographer, Constantine FitzGibbon, “with a great outpouring of poems.”[34] These Majoda poems, including making a start on Fern Hill, provided nearly half the poems of Deaths and Entrances, published in 1946. There were four film scripts as well,[35] and a radio script, Quite Early One Morning, about a walk around New Quay. This radio script has been described by Professor Walford Davies as “a veritable storehouse of phrases, rhythms and details later resurrected or modified for Under Milk Wood.”[36] Not since his late teenage years had Thomas written so much. His second biographer, Paul Ferris, concluded that “on the grounds of output, the bungalow deserves a plaque of its own.”[37] Thomas’s third biographer, George Tremlett, concurred, describing the time in New Quay as “one of the most creative periods of Thomas’s life.” [38]

New Quay is often cited as an inspiration for the village of Llareggub in Under Milk Wood.[39][40] Walford Davies, for example, has concluded that New Quay “was crucial in supplementing the gallery of characters Thomas had to hand for writing Under Milk Wood.”[41] FitzGibbon had come to a similar conclusion, noting that “Llareggub resembles New Quay more closely [than Laugharne] and many of the characters derive from that seaside village in Cardiganshire…”[42] Writing in January 1954, just days before the first BBC broadcast of the play, its producer, Douglas Cleverdon, noted that Thomas “wrote the first half within a few months; then his inspiration seemed to fail him when he left New Quay…”[43] And one of Thomas’s closest friends, Ivy Williams of Brown’s Hotel, Laugharne, has said “Of course, it wasn’t really written in Laugharne at all. It was written in New Quay, most of it.”[44] Jack Patrick Evans, landlord of the Black Lion in New Quay, has provided an account of Thomas working on the play in the pub.[45]

Thomas’s sketch of Llareggub is now online at the National Library of Wales.[46] The Dylan Thomas scholar, James Davies, has written that “Thomas’s drawing of Llareggub is…based on New Quay.”[47] There’s been very little disagreement, if any, with this view. A recent analysis[48] of the sketch has revealed that Thomas used the name of an actual New Quay resident, Cherry Jones, for one of the people living in Cockle Street.[49] There’s more on Cherry Jones, and other New Quay residents (including Mrs Ogmore Davies and Mrs Pritchard-Jones), online here:[50]

Llareggub’s occupational profile as a town of seafarers, fishermen, cocklers and farmers has been examined through an analysis of the 1939 War Register, comparing the returns for New Quay with those for Laugharne, Ferryside and Llansteffan. It shows that New Quay and Ferryside provide by far the best fit with Llareggub’s occupational profile.[51]

The writer and puppeteer, Walter Wilkinson, visited New Quay in 1947, and his essay on the town captures its character and atmosphere as Thomas would have found it two years earlier.[52] There is, too, an online 1959 ITV film of the town and its people during the summer holiday season.[53]

Much of the location filming for The Edge of Love, a 2008 film based around Thomas and Caitlin’s friendship with Vera Killick, was carried out in and around New Quay. It starred Sienna MillerKeira KnightleyMatthew Rhys and Cillian Murphy. The film, said the scriptwriter, Sharman Macdonald, was a work of fiction: it was “not true, it’s surmise on my part, it’s a fiction… I made it up.”[54] One incident in the film that Macdonald did not make up was the shooting at Majoda in March 1945, after which Vera’s husband, William Killick, was charged with attempted murder and later acquitted.[55]

The Dylan Thomas Trail runs through Ceredigion, in west Wales, with a published walking guide available.[56] It was officially opened by Dylan and Caitlin’s daughter, Aeronwy Thomas, in July 2003. The trail is marked by blue plaques, with information boards in New Quay, Lampeter and Aberaeron. Two photographic online guides to the New Quay section of the Trail are also available.[57][58] There are also a number of accessible day walks, including the Rev. Eli Jenkins’ Pub Walk, which follows the river Dewi to the sea, passing close to the farm of the Cilie poets.[59]

Thomas and his family left New Quay in July 1945. By September, he was writing to Caitlin about finding somewhere to live, telling her he would live in Majoda again.[60] He came back to New Quay at least twice in 1946, the first time in March, a visit he records in his radio broadcast, The Crumbs of One Man’s Year, in which he writes about the “gently swilling retired sea-captains” in the back bar of the Black Lion. Then, in early summer, he was seen in the Commercial pub (formerly the Sailor’s Home Arms[61]) with jazz pianist, Dill Jones, whose paternal family came from New Quay.[62] Thomas’s letter in August 1946 to his patron, Margaret Taylor, provides a vivid roll-call of some of the New Quay characters that he knew.[63]

Thomas also refers to New Quay in his 1949 broadcast, Living in Wales (“hoofed with seaweed, did a jig on the Llanina sands…”). He was still in touch in 1953 with at least one New Quay friend, Skipper Rymer, who had briefly run the Dolau pub in New Quay. [64]

info from Wikipedia


  • Posted in: