Our journey towards the coast at Newquay takes us through rural Carmarthenshire and Cardiganshire and into the area where Dylan’s literary ancestor, namesake and great uncle Gwilym Marles lived, preached, taught and wrote.
He is described in a famous encyclopaedia of great Welshman thus:
‘Schoolmaster, political reformer, and poet of the imaginative type in whom flamed the spirit of true poetry’
William Thomas – Gwilym Marles was his bardic name – was born in 1834 (100 years before Dylan’s first book, ‘18 Poems‘, was published) near Brechfa. After college in Carmarthen he went up to Glasgow University in 1856. He came back with an M.A. and settled in Llandysul as the Unitarian minister of two small churches at Llwynrhydowen and Bwlchyfadfa.
He opened a Grammar school in a building which he had built specifically for the purpose and taught there until his early and untimely death in 1879. He wrote and published poetry and short moralistic stories mainly in his native Welsh. In 1855 he wrote a serialised novel in the popular periodical Seren Gomer, and in 1859 his book of poems ‘Prydyddiaeth‘ appeared.
In many respects he can be regarded as the founder of modern Unitarianism in Wales, but he was also a fierce radical and champion of the people again landlordism. His liberal views, which he proclaimed from the pulpit and through the press, antagonised local landlords and this culminated in a famous confrontation in 1876 when he and his congregation were evicted from their chapel in Llwynrhydowen. Many see Dylan’s portrayal of the Rev. Eli Jenkins in ‘Under Milk Wood‘ as a gentle homage to his ancestor.
Swansea’s Dylan Thomas Centre Collection has an interesting letter from a daughter of Gwilym Marles about her father along with some fascinating pictures and books about him.
Llandysul is also the birthplace of the writer Caradoc Evans whose collection of short stores about the peasantry in Wales, ‘My People‘, was published in 1915. The stories caused great controversy throughout Wales and opinions about him and his work became deeply polarised – in Swansea an Art Exhibition which included a portrait of Caradoc was closed down by the Gallery Committee! As you would imagine, Dylan admired Evan’s work and went to visit him in Aberystwyth on two occasions.
On one of these journeys, the writer Glyn Jones told Dylan the story of the eccentric Dr Price of Llantrisant who fought for the right to cremate his dead son. Dylan would later use some of this material in his short story ‘The Burning Baby‘.
Leave on the A486 north which will take you all the way to New Quay and the coast.