Thursday, November 10, 2022

Dylan Thomas's writing shed in Rooms of Their Own

Dylan Thomas died yesterday in 1953. Several of you got in touch to ask if we could mark his life and work and shedlife in some way, so here's the chapter in my recent book Rooms of Their Own on this very subject, with illustrations above from it by James Oses.

Dylan Thomas – the appeal of small rooms in Wales

Explaining how he had selected the poems of his he was about to recite for a BBC broadcast in 1949, Welsh poet and playwright Dylan Thomas said: "I decided not to choose those that strike me still as pretty peculiar, but to stick to a few of the ones that do move a little way towards the state and destination I imagine I intended to be theirs when, in small rooms in Wales, arrogantly and devotedly, I began them."

Thomas (1914 – 1953) certainly found inspiration in compact spaces. He wrote in a caravan at the end of the garden while living in a flat in Delancey Street in London; produced most of his Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog in a summerhouse in the grounds of Laugharne Castle in Wales; enjoyed the use of a summerhouse at Magdalen College in Oxford provided by his patron Margaret Taylor; and was pleased to write in the 'Apple House' outbuilding at Llanina Mansion near New Quay, Wales, owned by Lord Howard de Walden.

The most famous of his writing rooms was his last, a former garage in Laugharne built in the 1920s to house the local doctor’s green Wolseley, the first car in the town. It stands on cast iron stilts, cantilevered off the road and jutting out beyond the cliff where it overlooks the Tâf estuary below. In 1949 it was converted into a writing shed for Thomas while he and his wife Caitlin moved into their nearby home known as The Boathouse, paid for again by Margaret Taylor. “All I shall write in this water and tree room on the cliff, every word will be my thanks to you,” Thomas wrote in a letter to her.

The shed was very much Thomas’s personal sanctuary. He had windows and a stove installed, and decorated it with pictures of his favourite writers (Louis MacNeice, Lord Byron, Walt Whitman, WH Auden, and DH Lawrence), lists of words, and reproductions of art including Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s The Peasant Wedding. As well as piles of paper on his desk (its legs painted red), he also liked to keep his favourite boiled sweets close at hand. There were also shelves of books although Caitlin is said to have taken out the Raymond Chandlers and other thrillers to encourage him to concentrate rather than settle in for a comfy read. Here, he wrote out everything by hand, simply throwing unwanted drafts onto the floor.

"My study, atelier, or bard's bothy, roasts on a cliff-top," wrote Dylan Thomas in a letter to his friend Hector MacIver. From this peark, it certainly afforded him fine views across Carmarthen Bay and to the Llansteffan peninslar. Through the windows he could also see St John’s Hill which features in his eponymous poem (“Over Sir John's hill/The hawk on fire hangs still”). The shed itself features most dramatically in his ‘Poem On His Birthday’ to mark his 35th which starts “In his house on stilts high among beaks/And palavers of birds” and goes on to describe the author as “the rhymer in the long tongued room”.

Thomas also wrote “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” and parts of Under Milk Wood here.

His normal writing routine was as simple as his shed. In the morning he would read, write letters, or complete crossword puzzles, go for for a drink around midday at the local Brown’s Hotel, return for lunch at 1pm, then work in the shed from 2pm until 7pm. And then return to Brown’s with Caitlin for the evening. To encourage him to work, Caitlin sometimes locked him in the shed.

The shed has remained popular long after Thomas’s death. It motivated Roald Dahl to build his own writing hut to exactly the same proportions following a family trip to Wales, a recreation featured in the 2011 Chelsea Flower Show, and a pop-up replica version of the writing shed went on the road in England and Wales to mark Thomas’s 100th birthday. After falling into disrepair, it was renovated in 2003 at a cost of £20,000 (it had cost £5 to build) and the interior is a recreation of his working environment, alongside empty beer bottles, his blue and white striped mug (copies of which are now on sale by an enterprising Welsh pottery company), and a jacket over the back of the chair.

Visiting information

The Boathouse ( now contains a museum dedicated to Thomas. Visitors can peek into the shed but it is closed to the public. The shed’s original doors were rescued from a council rubbish tip in the 1970s and are on display with other Thomas memorabilia in the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea (


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