First World War
Second World War
Some extraordinary people have made their mark on South Leigh over the years.
Dylan Thomas, one of the greatest of Welsh poets, lived in our house with his family for about eighteen months between 1947/49. The Manor House had been lent to him by a doting, wealthy benefactor and, when he wasn't here writing, he was at the pub or travelling, mainly to the BBC in London for which he both wrote and read. At home, chaos seems to have reigned so, for peace and quiet, he worked in a gypsy caravan in the adjacent field.
In a letter of July 1948, Dylan Thomas describes their new digs: 'My house here, though with such a dignified address, is a pokey cottage full of old people, animals, and children. And everyone I want to meet, I have to meet outside somewhere, generally, and preferably, the pub'. He later writes of three cows having broken into the outside lavatory.
Under Milk Wood starts here
It is documented that while in South Leigh, Dylan wrote most of the first half of Under Milk Wood, his celebrated 'play for voices' for the BBC. Originally called, 'The Village of the Mad', its loony characters include Organ Morgan who dreams of playing to sea gulls; Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard, a nutter who won't take guests at her B&B because they might not be clean; and her husband who commits suicide by drinking her disinfectant.
It is suggested that some of his characters may have been based on folk he knew in South Leigh! And while reports of Dylan's personality vary widely, interviews with local residents at the time state that this 'extraordinary little man' was 'adored' here.
Picture: A copy of Under Milk Wood rests on the wall at The Manor House.
Dylan Thomas' published letters written from The Manor House start on 19th September 1947 and end on 27th February 1949. They reveal a shambolic, brilliant, tormented, infuriating yet captivating, hard drinking smoker whose charisma could be spell-binding. He loved conversation and beer, especially with ordinary people, and his Welsh voice was hypnotic (to me, more so than Richard Burton's), and he could perform magic with ink.
Chaos reigns at The Manor House
Dylan's wife, Caitlin McNamara, co-directed the domestic bedlam. She was beautiful and a writer, too. And a dancer. She lived beneath a rick of flaming red hair, a fag, with feral children attached to her apron, and animals everywhere. Their relationship was passionate and tumultuous. They loved, fought, drank and she would dance on the table in the pub, and on the bus. She'd been brought up with the family of Augustus John, the eminent Welsh painter. She sat for him as a very young woman, and became his lover.
Dylan would escape to London as often as he dared 'hunting bread and butter'. Caitlin would remain in charge of the children and Dylan's sick parents, whom he had brought to the village. Finally, they relocated to Laugharne in South Wales in May 1949. How, out of this maelstrom, could come words written with such naïve calm, joy and childish carelessness as in his Fern Hill, is bewildering. And his moving Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night villanelle, casts a spell.
Dylan Thomas was one of few poets who became celebrated in his or her own lifetime, but it seems that he was unable to assemble his life as he could his prose. When there was money, it popped with the Champagne corks. Then, while on a reading tour in the US for a decent fee, after a long night out in New York, he collapsed. He was resuscitated by a mysterious Dr. Feltenstein, who was known for his 'winking needle'. But, the second time, Dylan did not recover and died in Greenwich Village on 9th November 1953.
The life of Dylan Thomas, late of The Manor House, South Leigh, and buried in Laugharne, had been meteoric. One observer wrote that 'he was a poet and a performer, and that it was the performer that killed him.' He was just 39.
Martin Spurrier (14.08.2020)
Note the earth bank across the middle of the photo, with no ridge and furrow this side... this is the bank of the village pound, in which stray animals were collected; it has never been ploughed. There is still an ancient though decaying thorn tree on this bank, the only survivor of the former hedge on the bank which kept the animals out of the corn. The ridge and furrow field ('High Mountains') was taken out of arable cultivation at Inclosure in 1792, so the thorn tree must be a lot older than that.