The township of Laugharne is remarkable. Dylan noted on his first visit in 1934 aged 19 that it was, ‘… the strangest town in Wales’. He was surprised that people spoke with a broad English accent and that Laugharne had a cosmopolitan feel. Here was a man with a love for the seaside, for nature, for discussing literature, for pub-culture, for characters and stories and Laugharne provided it all and more. So much so that it became the inspiration for the fictional town of Llareggub in Under Milk Wood. Many of the stories he used in the play were recounted in the bar and kitchen of Browns Hotel, where he enjoyed the company of his great friends, Ebie & Ivy Williams.
Dylan was steeped in a sense of the past and would have recognised that Laugharne didn’t just satisfy his bohemian temperament, but was ancient too. There is evidence of pre-historic occupation in the area dating back to 50,000bc. Its situation on the mouth of the Taf estuary meant it had a strategic military importance and its pre-Norman castle forms a trio of great castles with Llanstephan and Kidwelly which guard the mouths of the Towy and Gwendraeth estuaries across Carmarthen Bay and Dylan famously described Laugharne castle as ‘…brown as owls.’
The township was granted the status of a Corporation by Royal Charter in 1297. It has a court made up of a Portreeve, the Aldermen and a body of Burgesses. The Laugharne ‘open field’ medieval farming system is one of only two still in use today in Britain. Customs associated with the Corporation include the Common Walk (also known as ‘beating the bounds’), which occurs on Whit Monday every three years where the able-bodied among the local population trek 20 miles around the boundaries of the Corporation lands. At significant historical landmarks a victim is selected to name the place. If they cannot answer, they are hoisted upside down and ceremonially beaten three times on the rear, before being told the placename. An effective aide memoire!
Each year, there is Big Court night, held on the first Monday after Michaelmas at which the Portreeve is "made", and a new jury is called from the Burgesses who are all expected to be present to answer their names at the rollcall. The following Sunday the Portreeve holds a civic Breakfast followed by a procession from the Town Hall to a service of Divine Worship at St.Martin's Church, to commemorate and ask a Blessing on the corporation, followed by more secular celebrations in the local pubs! Dylan was invited to go to this event in October 1953 but wrote to the Portreeve that due to the fact that he had to travel to the US regrettably he couldn't make it. It was the last letter he ever he wrote.
The cockling industry which was so vital to the town’s development has all but vanished but evidence of the town’s former prosperity still exists in the grand Georgian townhouses ‘upstreet’, many of which had ballrooms reflecting the high society of a bygone era. Laugharne is still a busy town and has a rugby team, a carnival, a regatta, a choir - The Corran Singers, and is also home to the Laugharne Players, an amateur theatre company who have been performing Under Milkwood since 1958.
It’s not just Dylan Thomas who was captivated by Laugharne either – Coleridge, Turner, Mary Shelley, Kingsley Amis, Richard Hughes and Edward Thomas, amongst any others, have all lived or stayed here; and latterly President Carter, Peter O’Toole, Mick Jagger and Patti Smith have all made the pilgrimage to Laugharne to see the Boathouse where Dylan lived, and the cemetery of St. Martin’s Church where he is buried.
Laugharne also has a variety of other attractions including cafes, pubs, restaurants, gift shops, Dylan’s Birthday Walk, the quirky Tin Shed WW2 museum and the newly re-furbished Browns Hotel, Dylan’s favorite drinking haunt. It is home to the annual Laugharne Weekend, a literary and music festival. Other interesting attractions locally are Y Gat Craft Centre in St. Clears, the Museum Of Speed in Pendine and the Hywel Dda centre in Whitland.
The last word on Laugharne has to go to the man himself. Dylan Thomas wonderfully described the place as:
‘…a black-magical bedlam by the sea… timeless, beautiful, barmy (both spellings)... there is nowhere like it anywhere at all.’