I Had a Pot-belly and Looked Like Dylan Thomas

... now Mum's selling his family home; Rufus Sewell and his mother recall their life in the house that links them to the peerless Welsh poet

Mail on Sunday, 28 March 2010               see the original
By Fred Redwood
Thanks, Dianne, GreenEyesTwo

It is a question that would be guaranteed to keep a pub quiz team guessing for hours. What does Welsh poet Dylan Thomas have in common with actor Rufus Sewell? Answer: their parents lived in the same house.

In May 1949, Dylan Thomas moved to The Boathouse in Laugharne, the Carmarthenshire town that inspired his most famous work, Under Milk Wood. His elderly parents followed him, renting part of a large Georgian house called The Pelican. Thirty-one years later, Rufus Sewell's mother, Jo, bought the same house as a holiday cottage.

'I was at school and later a student in London at the time,' says Rufus, best known for his roles in 'The Legend Of Zorro' and 'A Knight's Tale'. 'I have vivid memories of writing CARMARTHEN on a piece of cardboard and hitching through the night to get down to Laugharne.

'I'd live a kind of feral existence there - going off with my mates to Pendine Sands with a few bottles of cider and a loaf of Mother's Pride for the day. I was a punk back then, with bright orange afro hair and, with my pot-belly, people always said I looked like Dylan Thomas.'

The uncanny, coincidental links with Dylan Thomas go back to the very day in 1980 when Jo Sewell first viewed The Pelican - a year after the death of her first husband Bill Sewell, an Australian animator who worked on the Beatles film 'Yellow Submarine'.

'I was still in shock from Bill's death when I first saw the house,' says Jo, 69. 'He had been absolutely obsessed with the work of Dylan Thomas. The main reason he came to Britain had been to learn more about his work and meet people who knew him.

'When I found this house, where Dylan's parents actually lived and which figured so strongly in his life, I simply had to have it.'

Jo paid 17,500 for The Pelican and used it as a holiday home when she was living in Richmond, Surrey, before moving down to Laugharne full-time in 1988. She soon immersed herself in the community, running a women's book club at The Pelican every week, where, she admits, members drank far more wine than they read books. During this period she came across Dylan Thomas's daughter, Aeronwy, who died last year. 'Aeronwy was keen on Rufus playing Dylan in a film,' says Jo. 'Nothing ever came of it but I persuaded her to come and talk to our club and she was fascinating. She could be quite spiky - she wasn't easy - but she was also a funny, warm person. We stayed in touch and became friends.' During Aeronwy's visits to see Jo she talked about her memories of the Fifties.

As you come into the hall, the sitting room to your left is where Dylan's father, Jack, a retired head of English at Swansea Grammar School, would spend most of his time. Dylan would call in every day, do The Times crossword with him and discuss his work in progress, including Under Milk Wood, before heading out to Brown's Hotel opposite for a lunchtime beer.

The room across the hall is where the women - Dylan's aunts and relatives from villages nearby - would sit and natter.

The kitchen still has a Fifties feel, with a big table in the middle and a clothes horse hanging from the ceiling. In a corner is a Welsh dresser that can be seen on pictures of Dylan's wake, which was held in the house in 1953.

On the first floor is the bedroom where Jack Thomas died a year earlier with Dylan at his bedside - the inspiration for one of his most popular poems, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night. The top storey is a flat and at the back of the house there is a one-bedroom studio in what was once a donkey's stable.

The Pelican is now in need of redecoration and updating, but has considerable potential. 'There is always demand for homes in coastal towns such as Laugharne. These were very little affected by the recession compared to the towns inland,' says Neil Evans, managing director of West Wales Properties, which is not involved with this sale.

More than 30,000 Dylan Thomas enthusiasts come to Laugharne every year. The Dylan link would guarantee bookings, particularly from Americans, if the stables and the top-storey flat were used as holiday lets.

So why doesn't Jo carry out a renovation project, then stay to reap the financial benefits? 'I have had a hip replacement, which means I cannot manage the stairs any more,' she says.

'Rufus has bought me a lovely flat nearby at Freshwater East, which I intend using. But I'll always return to visit - I have so many friends and memories here.'

Key Facts

Price: 350,000. Bedrooms: Five. Reception rooms: Three. Garden: 220ft plus patio. Other: Stable cottage with open-plan kitchen/diner. Agent: Terry Thomas, 01267 235865.

SANCTUARY: The poet's parents lived in The Pelican, now on the market for 350,000

MEMORIES: Rufus Sewell with mother Jo, who bought the house in the Eighties for 17,500

POET'S CORNER: The Boathouse, where Dylan Thomas, above, lived in Laugharne

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