5 Cwmdonkin Drive is an historically listed house. When we took the lease, there was a plaque on the wall which read 'Dylan Thomas; POET; was born in this house' the plaque was donated by TWW, a television company in which Wynford Vaughan Thomas was connected. When the company later became HTV (Harlech Television), Richard Burton (who was a Dylan Thomas fan) and Elizabeth Taylor became directors. The old plaque now lives in the washroom in the back garden. We had a new plaque made for Dylan. The glaze colour is 'London Blue' which is apt because Dylan never settled in London and frequently came home to Swansea. We describe him as 'a man of words' as we believe that the word poet restricts acknowledgement of his talent as a wordsmith.
The 10ft high ceiling and full- length bay window add an extra feeling of space to this large room. The deep green wall colour together with stripped floor boards and William Morris curtains compliment the original features of the ceiling, fireplace and door. Apart from a chaise longue, the only seating is a three piece suite which is far more ergonomically friendly and comfortable than its modern equivalent. If you want sounds other than the grandfather clock ticking, the wind up phonogram is in the corner waiting to entertain you. The 10ft high ceiling and full length bay window add an extra feeling of space to this large room.
This room was DJ Thomas's domain - a very male room which would now be called his 'personal space'. DJ was a Welsh speaker, an academic, a piano player, a smoker, a drinker and an anglophile. He surrounded himself with the classics and kept up to date with contemporary books from the Boots lending library. To pay due respect to DJ, his study is the only room in the house where smoking is allowed.
This was part of Florrie's world where the family met to eat and converse. The Thomas's called the front room downstairs the lounge (but we think they would have called it the front room when on their own!) The lounge was only used on high days, holidays and if someone was visiting the house. It was a room which had the best furniture and would have been kept clean and tidy, just in case (just in case anyone should look through the window or visit!). Leading directly off the kitchen, the living room was exactly what the name suggests. It was the family's main room, a place to eat and gather. To maintain image, though, it was called the dining or breakfast room. For in this room all the best crockery was kept in the built in china cupboard. The every day crockery, of course, was kept in the scullery, where no 'outsider' would have trod. Two large windows prevented this room from being dark and dismal in those gas lit days. Heavy, well made curtains would have adorned them to 'keep up appearances' and keep out the cold.
Florrie cooked twice a day with the help of a daily maid and a Monday maid to help with the washing. Off the kitchen is the pantry or larder where food was kept cool and the scullery with its deep sink and storage for every day crockery and the pots and pans. To romanticise the kitchen as the heart of 5 Cwmdonkin Drive would not be fair to Florrie Thomas. The coal fired range would be kept alight 24 hours a day and all cooking was done on it, above it would have been an 'aunt sally' to dry clothes. This room was where Florrie worked hard to make cakes, nourishing meals, preserve or pickle fruit and vegetables on a very tight budget. The scullery and pantry are like built in cupboards in the kitchen. The scullery has a large, deep sink and is lined with shelves for daily crockery, pots and pans. The pantry is also lined with shelves to store food and the 20th century equivalent of a refrigerator was a large stone slab for storing dairy produce and perishables.
For most of the twenty three years that the Thomas family lived at 5 Cwmdonkin Drive the front bedroom was kept for 'best'. It was the show room of the first floor with views out to Cwmdonkin Park and it was where young Dylan first drew breath. Dylan was born in this room which overlooked Cwmdonkin Park. Although it was not his parent's bedroom it was the 'best' room upstairs and was therefore the only room suitable for someone outside of the family to see. When 21st century eyes look at this large room they will see an orderly, clutter free but elegant bedroom in which the double bed takes centre stage. For many visitors it conjures up images from childhood, a memory of a parent or grandparent's bedroom where 'everything had a place and there was a place for everything'. People remember that it was in this orderly room that the warmest and cosiest bed seemed to be and into which they were sometimes allowed to climb. When early 20th century eyes looked at this room they were not looking for 'warmest or cosiest', they would have looked for appropriate decor, furnishings and bed linen.
…the memories of childhood have no order and no end…
Dylan's sister was eight years old when he was born and later she was described as an attractive. outgoing young lady who had ambitions as an actress. Situated directly over DJ Thomas' study, Nancy's bedroom was the only bedroom with a built in wardrobe. The wardrobe is typically Edwardian, it is shallow and has clothes hooks instead of a clothes rail - modern for 1914 when people didn't have many clothes but not the most convenient in the 21st century. Nancy has got twin beds in her room now and a dressing table with triple mirrors. The print of Welsh actress Sarah Siddons over the mantelpiece indicates Nancy's interest in what she saw as 'glamour'.
An inside toilet was almost unheard of in Victorian times - the Thomas family even moved from a house in Sketty because there was no drainage - so having a separate inside WC must have been considered very 'posh' for the upwardly mobile family. In the separate bathroom Dylan watched his cigarette ash float on the steamy water.
In the Welsh language this is often called the 'ty bach' which translates as the 'little house' - the term would have been used when lavatories were sheds at the bottom of the garden! 'I shall probably turn shy and hide myself in the lavatory all day (up the stairs, first to the right).' As an up to the minute desirable residence, 5 Cwmdonkin Drive boasted an inside lavatory separate to the plumbed in bathroom.
Typical of the Edwardian's need for sanitation, the bathroom is simply a room to bathe in. With the pedestal wash hand basin and wonderfully deep cast iron bath standing on ball and claw legs, the bathroom is filled with an invitation to soak away the pressures of every day life.
…I am lying in the bath…the click, click of the geyser sounds like the distant champing of a lady tenor…
It might beggar belief that the man who wrote words of such huge international impact slept in the tiniest of bedrooms. This 'box room' has the only working gas lamp in the house, a single bed, a desk and a small chair but it also has a snugness that envelops you.
…My own room is a tiny renovated bedroom… hardly any light, book-knife. No red cushion. No cushion at all. Hard chair. Smelly. Painful. Hot water pipes very near. Gurgle all the time. Nearly go mad. Nice view of wall through window. Pretty park nearby. Sea half a mile off. Lunatic asylum mile off…
The back bedroom was where Dylan's parents slept except when they had taken in a lodger. The back of the house was the warmest part and the bedroom was over the kitchen where the range was kept burning most of the time. The back bedroom is the place where Dylan's description of an "…ugly, lovely town…crawling, sprawling by a long and splendid curving shore" makes sense. This is the only room in the house that has an uninterrupted view of the beautiful Swansea Bay with the north Devon coastline on its horizon. Located directly over the kitchen, this bedroom had the benefit of 24 hour warmth from the coal fired kitchen range below - this counted for a lot in pre central heating days. It wasn't the view that coaxed the couple to use the back bedroom it was quite simply the warmth.
The Monday maid used to boil the water here and transfer it to the scullery where the washing was done - with no tumble drier clothes were dried on the clothesline of from the Aunt Sally above the range in the kitchen before being transferred to the airing cupboard. Side by side in the small back garden are the wash house and coal shed. It was in the wash house that the Thomas' Monday maid would light the coal fired 'copper' to boil water to do the weekly wash (household washing was always done weekly on a Monday). The water would be carried into the scullery and the washing done by hand. The mangle - the turn of the 20th century equivalent to a spin drier - was also kept there with possibly an indoor clothes line for days when it rained.
…space at back sufficiently large for wash-house, clothes line, deck-chair, and three sparrows…
Coal was used for heating the kitchen range as well as the fires in other rooms. To keep the fires going was the job of the maid. Later some rooms had gas fires - the was gas and electricity in the house when it was built. Everything was coal fired in the early 20th century and coal would be delivered in 1cwt (112lbs) sacks by the coalman each week. One of the maid's tasks would be to fill the coal scuttles for each room from the coal shed. The coal shed also held a fascination for a very young Dylan Thomas.
…He backed the Flying Welshman from the washhouse to the open door of the coal-hole…