‘I sit at the open window, observing
The salty scene and my Playered gob curving
Down the wild umbrella’d and french-lettered
Beach, hearing rise slimy from the Welsh lechered
Caves the cries of the parchs and their flocks……’
from his verse letter ‘New Quay‘ sent to Tommy Earp in 1944.
As you enter New Quay, there is ample parking at the top of the town on your right.
Dylan Thomas spent just under a year here from September of 1944 through to the early summer of the next year. Dylan, Caitlin and baby Aeronwy rented a small wooden bungalow, Majoda, situated just to the north of the town. The house name was made up from the names of the landlord’s children – Dylan suggested in a letter that he would re-name the place CATLLEWDYLER!
The house had magnificent sea views and inspired Thomas to produce some of his most memorable work, including his radio piece ‘Quite Early One Morning‘, which is regarded as a prototype for ‘Under Milk Wood‘. New Quay is one of many coastal towns and villages that Dylan visited or lived in, which all contribute something to Dylan’s imaginary Llareggub.
His favourite pub in town was the ‘Black Lion Hotel’, described in ‘Quite Early One Morning‘, as a:
‘Pink washed pub…..waiting for Saturday night as an over-jolly girl waits for sailors.’
It is still serving, and now has a themed restaurant with a good display of photographs.
And it was in ‘The Black Lion’ that one of the truly sensational incidents in Dylan’s life began.
Dylan’s neighbour at Majoda was a friend from his Swansea days, Vera Killick. She lived nearby with her baby daughter, alone most of the time, as her husband William, was a Captain in the Commandos and often away on active service. Caitlin and Vera became good friends and spent much time together with their young children, which was enough to drive Dylan out. He would describe his domestic situation in a letter…….
‘the rooms are tiny, the wall bumpaper-thin, and a friend arrived with another baby with a voice like Caruso’s. Now however, I have taken a room in a near by house: a very quiet house where I can work till I bleed.’
And work he did, producing film and radio scripts, but more importantly producing many of his great poems, such as ‘The Conversation of Prayers‘, ‘A Refusal to Mourn the Death of a Child…….‘, and the poem addressed to his son Llewelyn, ‘This Side of the Truth‘.
However one night this creative spell was dramatically interrupted by a burst of machine gun fire.
Captain Killick had returned home from a mission behind enemy lines in Greece. He was stressed, strained and fatigued, and not well pleased with his wife’s close friendship with her bohemian, non-serving, proto hippie neighbours. He may well have been jealous, perhaps suspecting a cosy menage a trois and he must have felt totally excluded from their world. It all came to a head on the night of March 6th.
During the day Dylan was meeting with two London film colleagues, John Eldrige and Fanya Fisher, who were staying at ‘The Black Lion’. They went to a few pubs and in ‘The Commercial’ they encountered Killick. A rather unpleasant and hostile exchange of views on the war occurred, in which Killick verbally attacked Dylan and his friends. When they encountered each other once more later in the evening, in ‘The Black Lion’, they clashed again and a more physical exchange occurred. Fanya Fisher was a Jew and she perceived an element of anti-Semitism in Killick’s behaviour. Killick slapped Miss Fisher, she scratched his face, Dylan piled in and a fistfight ensued. It was broken up and Dylan and his party went back to Majoda. Killick, however, was not finished. He went home, armed himself with his service weapons, including a machine gun and grenade, and proceeded to attack Majoda.
It resulted in Killick being tried for attempted murder. Here is Dylan’s courtroom account of the incident:
‘….a noise came from the back of the house of glass being smashed and the rattle of a machine gun. Bullets were heard flying through the living room, we crouched down as near to the floor as possible…..
Then Killick came in with the gun…….he fired the machine gun into the ceiling and said ‘you are nothing but a load of egoists.’
Killick was acquitted – his exemplary military record was cited, as was his state of mind after his dangerous mission. The case was reported in local papers and in the ‘News of the World’. But the whole incident shook Dylan up quite considerably and he wrote to Vernon Watkins that since then, ‘Caitlin and I go to bed under the bed’.
The Swansea Dylan Thomas Collection has two interesting original letters about the incident by William Killick himself and some of the contemporary newspaper accounts of the event.
In addition, a very good multi-lingual leaflet is available which details a full Dylan tour of New Quay and local author David Thomas has published two very detailed books about Dylan in Cardiganshire.
The incident was dramatised and made into the film ‘The Edge of Love’, which starred Keira Knightley, Sienna Miller, Matthew Rhys and Cillian Murphy.
Leave New Quay going south on the A486, and after approx. four miles turn right onto the A487, through Cardigan and down to Fishguard. From there take the A40 through Haverfordwest to Narberth. This is a pretty little town and worth a look, but our route stays on the A40 until a roundabout where you will take the right turn to the A478 which drops down to Tenby.