Dylan Thomas Birthplace

As one arrives outside 5 Cwmdonkin Drive on a steep street on the west side of Swansea, two blue plaques, one in English and one in Welsh, announce that this semi-detached property is the birthplace home of the legendary poet and writer Dylan Thomas. It was a newly built house when his parents, D. J. (David John) Thomas and Florence Thomas, bought it. The Thomases, with their eight year-old daughter Nancy, moved in during the summer of 1914. The First World War had started in Europe and the lives of so many young men in Swansea, like those in other parts of Britain, would change dramatically. Dylan was born on October 27th, 1914. Twenty years of his life were spent here.

The plaques on the outside wall
PHOTOGRAPH BY Peter Thabit Jones

After years of private ownership, at one point a place of accommodation for students, and also used by the Department of Adult Continuing Education, Swansea University, for literature courses (I taught poetry courses there), the property was renovated inside, by Geoff Haden and his then wife Anne, to represent the style and period when the Thomas family lived there. The renovation took over five years. They relied on Dylan’s works and letters and the recollections of ninety year-old Emily, who served as a maid for the Thomases for five years in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Entering the main entrance, which is at the side of the bouse, and standing in the small porch, which I have done many times, I am always amazed that where I am about to enter is where three quarters of his poetic output was written. In an astonishing creative period from 1930 to 1934, the young Dylan, writing in school exercise books, forged many of the now very famous poems, such as ‘The force that through the green fuse drives the flower’. The best of these poems would eventually establish him as a strikingly original poet, a highly individual poetic voice among the likes of W. H. Auden and Cecil Day-Lewis. 18 Poems, his first book published in November 1934, startled and electrified the literary world in London, via his remarkable lyrical talents, with a subtle suggestion of surrealism. It was in this home where he read aloud some of his poems to fellow Swansea poet Vernon Watkins. The wonderful and popular A Child’s Christmas in Wales is one of his prose works about his childhood in Number 5.

In the white-painted porch there is a small table with various brochures, with a framed kind of psychedelic portrait print of Dylan above it. A door, with a small stained-glass window, leads into the long dark-red passageway and the stairs to one’s left.

I walk into the ‘best’ front room, which was usually occupied on Sundays, Christmas time, and for special visitors such as Florence’s better-off relatives. The dark green-painted walls, topped by a white-painted finish, rise to a high white ceiling. The dark-stained floorboards instantly add to the feel of a long ago period. There is so much to take in, each item conjuring up one’s thoughts and feelings. A settee claims the place in front of the fireplace. A red chaise lounge occupies the area of the bay window. It has several useful information sheets laid out on it. A grandfather clock stands like a sentry in one corner. An old gramophone makes one think of those Christmas parties held by the Thomases in the room. A clothed table with a tea set and silver cake stand adds to the sense of being in a middle-class home.

There is a tall wooden-surrounded fireplace, with red tiles and a mirror above the unlit coal fire, plus the obligatory pair of china dogs sitting on its base. One can imagine the live-in maid lighting it for those special occasions. Either side of the fireplace is two comfortable armchairs. A rectangular-shaped mirror, above an ornate cupboard, dominates one of the walls. The visual aspects of this first room alone makes one eager to explore the other rooms.

Opposite the foot of the stairs, the middle room was D.J.’s study, the domain of an educated and literature-loving senior schoolmaster, who taught at the Swansea Grammar School. He had an impressive library of books, and these are replicated in the walled shelves full of books. He was a member of the then Boots Lending Library, which meant access to American as well as British literature. He had books on Shakespeare, Chaucer, Henry James, encyclopedias and books of reference. It was here where Dylan first felt inside his lifelong love for words and sensed their ‘colour of saying’ in his father’s readings of excerpts of Shakespeare to Dylan the boy. An impressive piano, with some appropriate musical sheets, takes up most of the space next to the shelves.

Typical of such an intellectual and teacher, there is a desk with a very old typewriter, and more books are shelved above the desk. A sculpture of Dylan’s head, with 1914-1953 on its base, is alongside the typewriter. One can imagine D. J. marking pupils’ homework, maybe occasionally shouting to Florence to keep the young Dylan and Nancy quiet. A rather battered dark-brown briefcase has been placed on the floor. There are various photographs on the walls. A bureau with glass doors displays some of Dylan’s published books. On one wall there is a painting of President Jimmy Carter. An admirer of Dylan’s works, he was at the forefront of the request for Dylan having a place in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. It is another quiet room, with wooden floorboards.

The desk in Dylan's father's study
PHOTOGRAPH BY Peter Thabit Jones

One gets a real sense of this room assisting the fathering of the future poet. Around the age of eight or nine, Dylan started to write poems. Florence would give him a paper and pen and he would be occupied with the serious game of rhymes. When he was old enough, D. J. allowed Dylan to have access to his precious collection of books.

The next room downstairs is the living room or breakfast room. Florence spent a lot of her time here. She loved to hear about the latest local gossip, either from female neighbours or from the young live-in maid, Addie, the first of a number of domestic helpers employed by the Thomases. A brown Welsh dresser is next to the door leading into the kitchen. It is stocked with various Dylan-related books (including one of mine) and prints for sale. An old-fashioned wireless is on a stand next to the kitchen table and chairs. An original copy of the ‘Radio Times’, with its front page featuring a photo of Welsh actor Donald Houston, who was in the 1957 production of Dylan’s Under Milk Wood (A Play for Voices), has been placed on its top. Florence, who was a seamstress at a local drapery store on leaving school, obviously liked sewing, and a Singer sewing machine on a stand, with a sample cloth and a large jar of various buttons, is on a table by the window. I sit on the armchair to make some notes, and I look at the various landscape paintings on the walls, the cupboard with vases and silverware, and the framed copies of D.J.’s and Florence’s and Dylan’s and Caitlin’s individual marriage certificates on the table.

A white door, with a small window, leads you into the kitchen. Here the young Dylan would have smelt the baking of homemade bread and probably tasted the jams that his mother bottled to save on money when shopping.

A wooden ironing board, with a very small iron, the size of a child’s toy iron, stands in front of the old stove, which is black-coloured and complete with a kettle and various utensils representing the period. There is also a modern stove, with a working kettle and various utensils, which is used for providing teas, coffees and snacks at the very popular literary events in the Birthplace. The scullery and pantry are at the rear of the kitchen and have the relevant equipment to take one’s thoughts back in time.

The garden, which I can see through the window, is small and when the Thomases lived in number 5, the outbuilding was a washhouse used by Florence and the various live-in maids. There was also a ‘coal hole’ there.

D.J. and Florence, both Welsh speakers, would have no doubt had some occasional, if brief, personal exchanges in Welsh over meals, even though the language was not passed on to their two children. As I climb the stairs to the bedrooms, I wonder what the future poet would have thought of, for him, the unusual words, sentences and sounds.

As one makes one’s way to the front bedroom, just outside the door on the left and below a large mirror, is a small round table. On the table is a superb sculpture of Dylan’s head by Ceri J. Hopkin. It is Dylan in later life and it captures the facial despair that one can see in the famous Rollie McKenna photograph of Dylan entwined in a tree.

A section of the staircase
PHOTOGRAPH BY Peter Thabit Jones

As I step into the bedroom, where Dylan was born, I see on my left a blue-coloured iron cot, tidy with blankets and with an upright doll, and a tall wardrobe with a mirror next to it. This room was regarded as the ‘best’ bedroom and, in fact, would have been mainly used by relatives visiting the Thomases. The walls are a pale green with a white surround up to the white ceiling. There is a large double bed, with a wooden trunk at placed in front of it. Useful information sheets about the room have been laid out on its top.

The room has two dressers with mirrors, with such things as a vase and bowl, hand mirrors, brush and comb. One occupies the area of the large bay window, with a wooden cupboard with drawers to its left side, and the other one is to its right. I note two bedside cabinets and two short and stout chairs. There is also a chair with a fox stole draped over it. Some framed pictures of an animated version of his Under Milk Wood (A Play for Voices) have been hung above the bed. A bunch of bright flowers ‘flame’ in the black-coloured fireplace. Only an occasional car is heard going up or down the road outside.

The cot in the front bedroom
PHOTOGRAPH BY Peter Thabit Jones

The middle bedroom, painted in what I would describe as a pale-yellow, was Nancy’s and as one enters there is a dresser with a large oval mirror, with various things placed on it, including a small jug and bowl. Another dresser with a mirror stands in front of the window, home to two hand mirrors, a hair brush and some dainty containers. I notice a leaflet, which is an advertisement for Electra, the Greek tragedy by Sophocles.

An outgoing person, Nancy was a member of Swansea Little Theatre, then based in Mumbles, and acted in Electra in 1933. Dylan, encouraged by her acting roles, was also with the theatre for a while.

There are framed photos of Nancy on the mantelpiece of the black-coloured fireplace. A child’s wooden doll’s house is on the floor and a school satchel hangs on a chair. There are two single beds and a bedside cabinet. A Singer sewing machine, Nancy presumably would have been taught by her mother to sew, is on an ornate table with drawers. An information sheet has been put on the top of a short stool. What strikes one, as with the previous rooms so far, is the sheer conscientious effort to present the ‘realism’ of when the family lived in number 5.

As I head for the Boxroom/Dylan’s room, I pass the very narrow and small, white-tiled toilet and the small white-tiled bathroom. Both make a contribution to the overall impression of the period. It was Addie the maid’s bedroom and eventually Dylan’s. He referred to it as ‘the bedroom by the boiler’ and complained about the constant and watery gurgling noise. It is a very small room, but one that conveys more than the other rooms Dylan as a young man and a working poet. There is so such to absorb and treasure.

Sample trilbies, coats and waistcoats are hung to the left of the door, with a bookshelf of books alongside it. There is is a very untidy table jammed in against the wall and below the window. On the wall there are copies of portraits of such writers as Shakespeare, W. B. Yeats and James Joyce. The table is littered with papers, books, and a copy of the Swansea Grammar School magazine. Dylan attended the school, where his father was a senior English master, and he eventually edited the magazine. An ashtray of used matches and fag ends confirms him as a lifelong smoker. There is a lampshade that has seen better days. There are some sweets and a piece of a (fake) chocolate bar. Dylan was a lover of sweets and chocolates all his life. And there is the expected empty bottle of beer, in this case Hancocks Mild Ale . The lack of order signifies the young Dylan’s general lack of concern for such things, especially when labouring at his poems.

The table in Dylan's room
PHOTOGRAPH BY Peter Thabit Jones

At the foot of the single bed, a mirror on the wall reflects the pictures of birds on another wall, and a box of matches and unlit matches are on a narrow shelf at the foot of the bed. Next to the matches one can see a copy of a photo of Dylan as a young schoolboy after winning a school race. The photo was published in the local newspaper and Dylan kept a copy in his wallet up to his death. On the floor, there is an old heater, with papers and a Swansea Grammar School exercise book on it. There are framed paintings of birds on the wall above the length of the bed and one on the wall above the head of the bed. An information sheet about a 1934 photo of Dylan the poet, which includes the photo, is placed on the bed. It and other photos of him were taken in London when he stopped with his then girlfriend, Pamela Hansford Johnson, the novelist. She arranged the taking of the photos at a department store.

I stand for a while in this room, captivated by the literary history of it and thinking of some of the magical and enduring poems he wrote here.

The last room I visit in the house is the back bedroom, which was D. J.’s and Florence’s room. A double bed takes up a lot of the space. To the left of it, there is a black-coloured fireplace and a wardrobe with a mirror. A dresser stands in front of the bay window. On the dresser, there is a photo of Florence, Nancy as a young girl, toddler Dylan, and Mary Hannah, Florence’s cousin, and such things as brushes, a lady’s gloves, and an information sheet etc. A lampshade on a stand and a tiled dresser, with a vase and basin, complete the room’s main furniture. Via the window beyond the tiled dresser, over the rooftops of houses there is a view of a part of Mumbles and, to the left, Swansea Bay stretches out towards the Eastside of Swansea, where Florence was born.

It is another quiet room and I gather in so many thoughts and images. The house exudes a real sense of the period and the atmosphere of when the Thomas family lived here. One is struck by the careful details, be they large or small, to achieve such authenticity. Geoff Haden described the renovation as ‘a labour of love’ and the evidence of his comment is throughout the whole property. Famous visitors to the Birthplace include Johnny Depp, Kate Burton, the actress daughter of Richard Burton, writer Will Self, King (then Prince) Charles, the comedian Arthur Smith, singer and writer Cerys Matthews, and the politicians Michael Portillo and Lord David Owen.

If you are a lover of Dylan Thomas’s wonderful works, indeed a lover of poets and poetry, be it in the UK, Europe, or America where his highly successful reading tours, the premiere of his Under Milk Wood (A Play for Voices), and the tragedy of his death at the age of thirty-nine in New York, ensured his international and iconic status, a visit to his birthplace home is a must. You can be assured of a warm Welsh welcome from Geoff Haden and Alun Gibbard, whose guiding and friendly expertise will reveal the length, breadth and depth of Dylan’s life at the house with fascinating and instructive information.

Alun Gibbard and Geoff Haden of the birthplace
PHOTOGRAPH BY Peter Thabit Jones

Tours offered, entry fees, times open, accessibility etc.

Firstly, it should be noted that the Birthplace survives via donations and by the money from offering visits to the home: a Self-Guided Tour (with an introduction) and a Guided Tour, plus overnight stays or extended stays. A Johnny Depp Tour of the house, where visitors will see photos of him and be told about his recent visit in the various rooms and his comments, is also now available.

Information from the Birthplace website

Self-Guided Tour

Our Self-Guided Tours are a fantastic way to explore Dylan’s Birthplace.

You will be welcomed and given a short introduction. Then you are free to explore the rooms and find further information on the family, the house and Dylan’s incredible works.

There is information to read in each room. You will be able to absorb the ambience within this beautifully restored house at your own pace.

Self-Guided Tour Price: £8 per person

Running Wednesdays & Sundays at:





Guided Tour

You will be greeted by your house guide and enjoy a fascinating talk about Dylan, the history and renovation of the Birthplace, and his work including the pieces he wrote in the house. There will be opportunities to ask questions and delve deep into any aspect of Dylan or the Birthplace that fascinates you.

After the talk you are then free to explore the whole house by yourself, and take in the ambience of each room. Within each room, you will find further information to absorb.

Standard Guided Tour Price: £12 per person

Running Wednesdays & Sundays at:





All tour slots are for 1hr 15 mins, and are priced per person.

Important: Bookings need to be made in advance. If you arrive without a booking the Birthplace cannot guarantee you will be able to tour the house. Please book to avoid disappointment.

Online bookings coming soon. In the meantime please call or email:

+44 (0)1792 472555 info@dylanthomasbirthplace.com

I would also suggest you phone or email with regard to full information about the overnight or extended stays and the Johnny Depp Tour.

Accessibility: There is a way that wheelchair users can see the downstairs rooms of the Birthplace and then see the upstairs rooms on a screen. It should be noted that there are several steps up to the side entrance and into the porch. Cwmdonkin Drive is a very steep road and that should be taken into consideration. You can get further information and advice by phoning or emailing the Birthplace.

The full address of the Birthplace is 5 Cwmdonkin Drive, Uplands, Swansea SA2 0RA, Wales, and directions to the house can be obtained by phoning or emailing the Birthplace, or online. Visit www.dylanthomasbirthplace.com

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Peter Thabit Jones

Peter Thabit Jones has authored sixteen books, including the Dylan Thomas Walking Tour of Greenwich Village, New York, with Dylan’s daughter Aeronwy Thomas. He has participated in festivals and conferences in America and Europe and is an annual writer-in-residence in Big Sur, California. A recipient of many awards, including the Eric Gregory Award for Poetry (The Society of Authors, London) and the Homer: European Medal of Poetry and Art, two of his dramas for the stage have premiered in America. His opera libretti for Luxembourg composer Albena Petrovic Vratchanska have premiered at the Philarmonie Luxembourg, the National Opera House Stara Zagora, Bulgaria, Theatre National Du Luxembourg, and the Sofia Opera and Ballet Theatre, Bulgaria. Further information: www.peterthabitjones.com