Dylan Thomas - Mumbles and Gower Trail
Paraclete Congregational Church, Newton
Retrace your way back towards Swansea, and at Oystermouth Square turn left at ‘The White Rose’ pub, up Newton Road. The heart of this busy shopping area is the arcade on the right which now houses many shops and a nightclub, but in Dylan’s day it was the Regal Cinema. In his short story ‘Old Garbo’, Dylan describes a visit there as a cub reporter to see a risque movie ‘White Lies’. He later describes it to his pals and mentions the scene where the leading lady wallows in a bubble bath, to which one of his pals observes wryly ‘Too much foam for me, old boy’.
On your right you will see the partially ruined, spectacular sight of Oystermouth Castle.
Dylan’s aunt Dosie had married a minister, the Rev. David Rees, who became the preacher at Paraclete Congregational Church (known locally as ‘the chapel’) in Newton. They moved into the adjoining Manse, and Florrie Thomas, Dylan’s mother, would often visit her sister on weekends. The children, Dylan and his sister Nancy, were forced to attend services throughout the Sabbath – Morning Service, Sunday school and sometimes again in the evening.
It was from these services and sermons that Dylan gained the Biblical knowledge that infuse his poetry. His uncle’s method of preaching – laced with fire and brimstone and delivered with that unique Welsh ‘Hwyl’ – effected Dylan’s own declamatory style which later would boom out from radios and lecterns, and is captured on numerous recordings. However, Dylan’s own reactions are somewhat ambivalent. He was later to confess that his Sunday school attendance certificate caused him deep embarrassment.
In the last article that Dylan wrote for his local paper was a full-page account of his uncle’s retirement from the church. Under a bold headline ‘The End of a Great Ministry’, the long article is infused with filial respect, and dutifully celebrates his uncle’s long career. Elsewhere though, we get a different picture. In one of his early poetry notebooks is a poem entitled ‘The Reverend Crap’ which, as the title suggests, is a less than sympathetic picture of the clerical calling, and in his original notebook Dylan has written his uncle’s name under the title. Dylan also quoted another poem about his Rev. uncle to his friend Vernon Watkins, who later recalled the vitriolic first line ‘I hate you from you dandruff to your corns!’ For his part, Rev. Rees told Vernon that his nephew belonged ‘in a madhouse!’
Daniel Jones (Dylan's life-long friend)
The back door of the Manse, just up the tiny (unmarked) Summerland Lane to the right of the chapel, has a plaque commemorating Dylan’s visits to Newton.
This was also the village where Dylan’s life-long friend, the celebrated musician Daniel Jones, came to live. His house is a few hundred yards to the left of the chapel, at 53 Southward Lane, and it too has a commemorative plaque on the front wall. Dan’s local was the Newton Inn, the pub back at the top of the hill, and a painting of their famous patron is proudly displayed in the bar.
One of Swansea’s other major literary figures, Kingsley Amis, uses it as the central pub in his 1986 novel, ‘The Old Devils’ (also brilliantly televised a few year later). In the novel – a ‘roman a clef’ – Amis renames the pub ‘Bible and Crown’, and one of his characters, Brydan, is a wickedly satirical depiction of a ‘Dylanesque’ poet.
If you feel energetic enough for a beach walk, just down Brynfield Road, along from Dan’s house, or right down Caswell Road, are the neighbouring beaches of Caswell and Langland. A photo shows Dylan on Caswell beach with Pamela Hansford Johnson. Also, his good friend and political mentor Bert Trick had a chalet at Caswell that Dylan visited. It was there, in the early thirties, that Dylan told Bert of his plans to write a Welsh version of Joyces’s ‘Ulysses’, the project that eventually became ‘Under Milk Wood’.
Follow the road, another few miles to the village of Bishopston...........