At Home With Roald Dahl

Wales loves to claim the children’s author Roald Dahl as one of our own.

He was indeed born in our capital city of Cardiff and spent his early years in the city. But from the age of 13, most of his life was lived outside of Wales, first at school in England and then Mombasa, Kenya, and Dar-es-Salaam, Tanganyika (now part of Tanzania) working for an oil company.

That doesn’t stop the city fathers celebrating the association with an author whose books have sold in the millions.

There is no Roald Dahl museum (for that you have to visit Great Missenden in Buckinghamshire, the village where he is buried.

Instead, in Cardiff you can sit in Roald Dahl Plass, a public plaza in the heart of the restored docks that is used as amphitheatre for open-air concerts. Or you can visit the nearby Norwegian Church where the Dahl family worshipped.

More unusually, if you take a short car or bus journey to the suburb of Llandaff you’ll find a building marked with a blue plaque in Dahl’s honour.

It’s not the usual blue marker that indicates an author lived at the property. Instead it’s where he bought his sweets on his way home from the Cathedral School just around the corner. That has to be a first!

Plague showing birth and death dates for Roald Dahl

Mrs Pratchett’s sweet shop is thought to have inspired two of Roald Dahl’s books: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Twits.

Dahl remembered the store owner as

In his autobiography Boy: Tales of Childhood , he described the magnetism of the shop:

We always stopped. We lingered outside its rather small window gazing in at the big glass jars full of Bull’s-eyes and Old Fashioned Humbugs and Strawberry Bonbons and Glacier Mints and Acid Drops and Pear Drops and Lemon Drops and all the rest of them.
Each of us received sixpence a week for pocket-money, and whenever there was any money in our pockets, we would all troop in together to buy a pennyworth of this or that. My own favourites were Sherbet Suckers and Liquorice Bootlaces. …

He and his school friends hated Mrs Pratchett. She was a mean woman, “a small skinny old hag with a moustache on her upper lip, little piggy eyes and a mouth as sour as green gooseberry.” In revenge they played a trick on her one day, putting a dead mouse in a gobstopper jar. When she found the mouse she dropped the jar, which smashed all over the shop floor.

Roald Dahl Homes In Cardiff

The following morning the shop was closed and in Dahl’s over-active imagination the sweet shop owner had died of a heart attack and he had killed her. Dahl and his fellow pupils were later punished by the school’s head for their indiscretion.

At the time the Dahl was living at Cumberland Lodge, a small house in Llandaff. It was their third property in the city.

Roald Dahl and mother Sofie

Their first home was Villa Marie , a substantial arts and crafts style family home, surrounded by landscaped gardens in  Llandaff. It was built in 1907 to the specifications of Roald’s father, who apparently also crafted an oak beam above the dining room window.

This is where Roald was born on September 13, 1916 although there is no plaque to indicate his connection with the property.

The house was on the market a few years ago for £1.45m.

Villa Marie, birthplace of Roald Dahl

Two years later the Dahl family moved further afield to Ty Mynydd, an imposing country mansion in the suburb of Radyr (since demolished).

Ty Mynydd, second home in Cardiff of Dahl family

They had not been there when first his seven-year-old sister Astri died from appendicitis and then, a few weeks later his father Harald succumbed to pneumonia.

Dahl’s mother was left with a young family and expecting another baby. Instead of returning to her native Norway, she decided to keep her family in Cardiff and, following her husband’s wishes, ensure that their children had an English education.

The first school year after the mouse and the sweet shop prank, Roald Dahl was sent to boarding school, marking the beginning of the end of his ties to Wales.

About BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

Posted on May 29, 2020, in Book Reviews and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. The blue plaque outside the sweet shop is a hoot! I well remember that episide in Boy! His mother sounds like a remarkable woman in her own right; I vaguely recall Dahl was very close to her? As for the house where he was born, it looks beautiful! If I only had £1.45 million…

    • They were indeed close. Dahl apparently wrote to her every day when he was living abroad but it was only on her death that he discovered she had kept every one of those letters

  2. I knew about the Welsh connection because I had an obsession with absolutely anything related to Roald Dahl and his books in middle school. But then, as you might expect, I learned that he cheated on his wife and said some anti-Semitic/ pro-imperialist stuff. It absolutely shattered me. I have read everything he’s ever written, except for his erotica. I will always love his books but I always make sure to acknowledge his problematic side.

  3. It was weird to have seen the Llandaff sweetshop with its plaque not long after having read Boy, and to hear and see the students exiting the Cathedral School which he once attended.

  4. This was great, I had no idea he had a Welsh connection…

  5. What an interesting post. Not having had children I haven’t read much R. Dahl outside of The Giant Peach . The autobiography sounds wonderful. The story of the shop lady reminds me of an event in 5th grade. At recess several of us collected the big grasshoppers Michigan has and smuggled them into the classroom. Once settled into silent reading time when the teacher disappeared for a moment (comfort break?) , we put the grass hoppers into her desk drawers. Later when she opened the drawers they jumped out. To her credit she completely ignored them. We were very disappointed. In hindsight I remember her as one the best teachers I ever had and I continue to think of her still.

  6. Thanks for sharing this.

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