What does it feel like to spend time in the family home of a great writer? Emma Gregg soaks up the Edwardian atmosphere of 5 Cwmdonkin Drive in The Uplands, Swansea. The childhood home of Dylan Thomas.
I visited the house where Dylan Thomas was born on a chilly December day, with Christmas around the corner. Matt Hughes, who helps look after the place, welcomed us into the front parlour. In the fireplace, flanked by two white china dogs, a warm blaze flickered merrily. Plonking myself down, I immediately felt right at home, and as comfortable as an uncle in A Child’s Christmas in Wales.
“That’s exactly what we’d like you to feel,” says Matt. “We don’t want the house to feel like a museum. We’d like you to imagine the family have just nipped out, and will be back in a while.”
Stepping back in time
5 Cwmdonkin Drive, SwanseaWith this in mind, Geoff Haden and his former wife Anne, the present owners of 5 Cwmdonkin Drive, have carefully restored the house to the way it might have looked in Dylan’s early years, complete with carefully chosen Edwardian-style furniture, books and personal objects. In the parlour, there’s a gramophone, a stack of vintage records and a sideboard stuffed with neatly ironed linen napkins and antimacassars.
Dylan, who was born upstairs, would only have been allowed into the parlour, the very best room in the house, on special occasions. It’s modest in size, but the ceiling is high and the windows, draped with heavy-looking curtains, are huge. Definitely a room to impress.
David John Thomas and his wife Florrie bought this four-bedroom terraced house in Swansea’s well-to-do suburb of The Uplands in 1914, shortly before war broke out and Dylan was born. It was brand new. They paid £500 for it, a sizeable sum for a grammar school teacher. But DJ Thomas was an ambitious man. Keen for his son to excel in literature, he insisted on speaking English at home rather than Welsh, and read Shakespeare to Dylan from the age of four.
Where it all started
The main bedroom at 5 Cwmdonkin Drive, Swansea by 5 Cwmdonkin DriveWe climbed the stairs to the sunny first floor and entered the best bedroom, where Dylan drew his first breath, and I tried to imagine the scene, with midwives busying themselves around the bed. Today, it’s a peaceful room. The view has changed, but the bedroom window still gazes in the general direction of Cwmdonkin Park, where, as soon as he was old enough, Dylan would scamper about with other Uplands boys.
Beyond Dylan’s sister’s room are the inside bathroom and lavatory – thoroughly modern facilities for the 1910s, when many Swansea residents made do with an outhouse. As a young man, Dylan would lie in the bath, smoking Woodbines.
Dylan Thomas' bedroom at 5 Cwmdonkin Drive, Swansea by 5 Cwmdonkin DriveWedged beside the bathroom, at the mercy of the “swearing” pipes, is Dylan’s tiny bedroom, and at the back of the house is DJ and Florrie’s room, with its windows overlooking the “long and splendid curving shore” of Swansea Bay where “ships sailed along the rooftops” and the view of Devon came and went.
Downstairs is the warm hub of the house – the kitchen and sitting room, where meals were eaten and the day’s events discussed. Perhaps the most evocative room of all is Dylan’s father’s study, with its piano, books and typewriter. DJ would lock Dylan in here after school, and not release him until he had done his homework.
Oppressive though this regime may seem, it did nothing to stifle Dylan’s creativity. By the time his parents sold the house, when he was still only 23, he had already produced much of his most significant work.
Have supper at the Thomas'
The study at 5 Cwmdonkin Drive, Swansea by 5 Cwmdonkin Drive5 Cwmdonkin Drive is a crucial piece in the jigsaw of Dylan Thomas’ story. It also offers a fascinating insight into everyday family life in the early 20th century.
But what makes it particularly remarkable is that it hosts suppers, reading and musical events – and you can stay here, too. After a cosy evening in the living room, study and parlour, you can pop out for a post-prandial pint in a local pub, then head back to sleep soundly in one of the bedrooms. I can’t imagine a more magical way to feel in tune with a great man of words.
More information on Dylan Thomas