How Dylan Thomas Found Inspiration In A House

I’ve long been curious about the lives of authors. Their writing routines, the writers that inspired them; their quirky habits and the places where they lived, worked and died.

So I thought I’d start a series of posts about the homes that provided shelter, solace possibly, inspiration for some of history’s greatest literary talents.

Let’s kick off with the most famous literary export from Wales – the poet and playwright Dylan Thomas.

From his “wordsplashed hut”, perched on a cliff, Dylan Thomas watched eagles and egrets wheel and cry above the river mouth, and composed what were to be his last poems.

Dylan Thomas Falls In Love

Dylan Thomas boathouse
View of The Boathouse from across the estuary

Thomas lived with his family in The Boathouse in the Welsh village of Laugharne for four years. He’d fallen in love with the place when he first saw it on a day’s outing with a friend. He became, he said one of these residents who arrived by bus and simply forgot to leave. And it wasn’t simply because the village had seven pubs! 

Rather, it was the “timeless, mild, beguiling” nature of Laugharne that appealed to Thomas. 

In one of the prose pieces published the collection Quite Early One Morning he described it as a place:

of herons, cormorants (known here as billy duckers), castle, churchyard, gulls, ghosts, geese, feuds, scares, scandals, cherry trees, mysteries, jackdaws in the chimneys, bats in the belfry, skeletons in the cupboards, pubs, mud, cockles, flatfish, curlews, rain, and human, often all too human, beings.

From The Boathouse (“My seashaken house / On a breakneck of rocks”) he could look across the  estuary of the Towy where it flowed into the vast Carmarthen Bay and beyond it to the cliffs of the Gower peninsula. 

Laugharne
View from Dylan Thomas home on the estuary at Laugharne,

The four years he lived in Laugharne coincided with  a creative surge for the poet. He used a shed a little further along the lane from the house as his study.

Dylan Thomas writing shed
Dylan Thomas’ writing shed at Laugharne

A Poet’s Inspiration

It was here that he wrote some of his most famous poems, including Do not go gentle into that good night, and Over St John’s Hill, which depicts hawks swooping over the river mouth in search of prey.  

The sounds and sights of the estuary were captured in another poem, written in 1944 to mark a walk he took on his thirtieth birthday to the shoulder of  Sir John’s Hill. 

Dylan Thomas lived in The Boathouse for four years from 1949. It was from Laugharne that he departed for his ill-fated trip to New York where he died suddenly in 1953.

Follow in Dylan Thomas’ Footsteps

Today visitors to Laugharne can experience both The Boathouse and Thomas’s Writing Shed. They are well worth a visit.

The house is now a museum which contains memorabilia from the family and some of the original furniture, including Dylan’s father’s desk.  The interior has been returned to its 1950s appearance, with a recording of Thomas’s voice playing in the background.

When you’ve finished in the house and enjoyed your cream tea, do take a moment to walk around the side of the building from which you get a fantastic view of the estuary. The way the light plays on the water is simply magical and hard to leave behind.

Dylan Thomas house
Dylan Thomas last house at Laugharne, Camarthanshire

You can’t go into the writing shed itself but you can get a good view just by peering through the window. It’s just one room that has been set as it looked when Dylan Thomas used it – even down to the scrumpled sweet wrappers on the floor amid discarded sheets of paper (early drafts perhaps?)

Dylan Thomas writing shed
Dylan Thomas’ writing shed at Laugharne,

Explore further

If a visit to both these places gives you an appetite for more Dylan Thomas connections, you are in luck.

You can re-tread the route Dylan Thomas took on his birthday (celebrated in the Birthday Walk poem). It skirts the castle ruins and runs along the estuary with information boards along the way.

Or you go into the town of Laugharne to visit Brown’s Hotel (one of his favoured watering holes).

You can listen to Thomas reading with almost too much gusto, via  this recording for the BBC).

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

26 thoughts on “How Dylan Thomas Found Inspiration In A House

  • September 1, 2019 at 5:19 pm
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    There is truly something to the inspiration a house can provide. I used to walk in one of my old neighborhoods and fantasize about living in a certain house, though that never came to pass. Good idea for a series!

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  • August 31, 2019 at 2:13 pm
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    My one ‘connection’ to Dylan Thomas is watching the Richard Burton Under Milkwood movie which I have on DVD. I looked for the (Australian writers) Clift/Johnston house on Hydra and of course also the Leonard Cohen house. Have I seen any others? I don’t think so though in Perth (WA) TAG Hungerford’s house is a cafe/bookshop and KS Prichard’s house is a writers’ retreat.

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    • September 1, 2019 at 9:58 pm
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      I havent been to as many as I’d like to either

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  • August 30, 2019 at 10:13 pm
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    So interesting – I have just come back from a holiday in Dylan country – apparently our cottage included the old hairdresser he went to! – so this is even more fascinating!

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    • August 31, 2019 at 12:50 pm
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      If the hairdresser is still around he/she must be getting quite old by now

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  • August 29, 2019 at 7:18 pm
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    Thanks for this wonderful post. A great idea fir a series.

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    • August 29, 2019 at 10:13 am
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      Thanks – I would love to just feature writers whose homes I’ve visited but since I haven’t been to many it would be a short series. So after a while I’ll just have to do more research. But its fun to do

      Reply
  • August 28, 2019 at 1:53 pm
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    Brilliant! I know he didn’t write Under Milk Wood in the boathouse but I will always love it. Also I think it’s wonderful that his granddaughter Hannah Ellis is upholding the family legacy.

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    • August 28, 2019 at 10:13 pm
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      There are still many people who like to believe he did write Under Milk Wood there. But why let facts get in the way of a good story eh?

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  • August 28, 2019 at 6:23 am
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    Like the idea and look forward to more. I’ve always wanted to visit Laugharne but more for Browns Hotel as always wanted to have a pint there! Must do it! Coincidentally was in Portsmouth last weekend for the music festival and while walking down to the site saw a blue plaque on a standard block of flats announcing it was on site of house in which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had lived for a few years. Came as completely unexpected but nice surprise!

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    • August 28, 2019 at 10:16 pm
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      I love those unexpected finds too. There was one I came across in Salisbury a few years ago – just around the corner from where we were staying was the school where William Golding was a teacher

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  • August 28, 2019 at 12:01 am
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    I visited Laugharne way back in 1991 and loved seeing this sight again through your eyes. At 23 I barely knew anything about Dylan Thomas, so some of the visit was wasted on me at the time, but I do remember the water, light and shade on the estuary.

    Love the series idea & I look forward to seeing who else pops up.
    Any chance I can commission an author? I’d love to see what you could do with Herman Melville. I know the house where he wrote Moby-Dick was very important to him from the bibs and bobs I’ve read so far. My Moby-Dick readalong runs for another 6 mnths and it would be a lovely addition to our check in posts? I’ll leave it up to you though as you may prefer to focus on UK authors 🙂

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    • August 28, 2019 at 10:19 pm
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      Now you really have got my interest. There’s nothing I like better than a little research project. So I shall definitely see what I can do for Mr Melville ….

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  • August 27, 2019 at 11:48 pm
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    My grandfather was born in 1895 in Laugharne, son of an Englishman living in Wales…

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    • August 28, 2019 at 10:20 pm
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      Wow, i wonder how he would have been ‘welcomed’

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    • August 28, 2019 at 10:21 pm
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      Not much chance of getting one on that stretch of the coast unfortunately, Lots of planning restrictions (good thing too)

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  • August 27, 2019 at 7:57 pm
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    Lovely! And a great idea for a series. I’ll look forward to more 🙂

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    • August 28, 2019 at 10:22 pm
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      Thanks for the support Sandra. It was good fun to write

      Reply
  • August 27, 2019 at 6:50 pm
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    Always thought his boathouse be such a great place to write

    Reply

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