Wales, the Gregynog Press, Dylan Thomas and Baritones

Literary Tourist in Wales

Before heading off to Wales for a sneak preview of what that principality had in store for literary tourists the following year (2014), I took an inventory of what I knew about the place: Dylan Thomas of course: grew up in Swansea, lived in the coastal village of Laugharne, baritone, had a tempestuous marriage, died in New York, drank a lot. Tom Jones, baritone, drank a lot, tempestuous marriages, hairy chest. Richard Burton, baritone, movie idol, Taming of the Shrew, tempestuous marriages, drank a lot. Hay-on-Wye, leeks, and the Gregynog Press.

The team at Visit Wales did a superb job touring us around, rounding out my limited knowledge of the territory. Part of that rounding involved my interviewing people about Dylan Thomas for The Biblio File podcast. Annie Haden for instance.

She’s a tour guide who specializes in the poet. With over 20 years experience in the tourism sector, she uses an easy to listen to story-telling technique which keeps her charges both awake and informed.

I caught up with her at Morgans hotel in Swansea, Thomas’s home town, to talk about poet and place. Listen here:

I also interviewed George Tremlett an author, bookshop owner, and former politician. After leaving King Edward VI School in Stratford-upon-Avon he worked for the Coventry Evening Telegraph from 1957 onward as a TV columnist and pop music reviewer. In the 1960s he became a freelance rock journalist and in the 1970s wrote a series of paperbacks on pop stars, including The David Bowie Story, the first bio of the musician.

He’s also a biographer of Dylan Thomas and his wife Caitlin. In Caitlin: Life with Dylan Thomas he argues that the poet was the world’s “first rock star.” In 1997 he published a book with James Nashold, The Death of Dylan Thomas, which claimed that Thomas’s demise was not due to alcohol poisoning but to a mistake by his physician prescribing cortisone, morphine and benzedrine when it wasn’t called for, because Thomas was actually in a diabetic coma.

Tremlett runs the Corran Bookshop in Laugharne, Wales – has since 1982. The shop is located right across the street from Browns,

the pub that Thomas frequented (frequently). In addition to a selection of used books, his shop offers tourist information and it’s where I met George to have this conversation:

***

Unfortunately we couldn’t fit Gregynog Hall,

where the press’s books are printed, into our Welsh itinerary. So I decided Continue reading “Wales, the Gregynog Press, Dylan Thomas and Baritones”

Five must see places in Bath for Jane Austen fans

By Angela Youngman

For any fan of Jane Austen, Bath has to be the place to go. The elegant, genteel streets filled with buildings of pretty yellow stone still bear a distinct resemblance to the Bath that Jane knew so well.

The Assembly Rooms & Museum of Costume

Jane knew this building as the Upper Rooms and it was the venue of many of the dances and social events that she attended. She refers to it in Northanger Abbey and also in Persuasion when ‘Sir Walter, his two daughters, and Mrs Clay, were the the earliest of all their party at the rooms in the evening; and as Lady Dalrymple must be waited for, they took their station by one of the fires in the Octagon Room’.

Administered by the National Trust, visitors can explore the rooms, which still have many of the original features including the elaborate chandeliers. On display is an elegantly decorated sedan chair – typical of the type of chair Catherine Morland would have used in Northanger Abbey.

The Pump Room

This was another social venue frequently used by Jane and her characters. Visitors came to Bath to take the waters and enjoy the social round. Edward Austen, her brother, came to Bath suffering from gout. Jane wrote ‘he was better yesterday than he had been for two or three days before ….He drinks at the Hetling pump ….. is to bathe tomorrow’.

The Pump Room was also where the Subscription book was kept. New arrivals to Bath could insert their names, alerting others to their arrival. It enabled visitors to subscribe to Assemblies and concerts in the Pump Room and the Assembly Rooms. In Northanger Abbey, Catherine Moreland visits the Pump Room to ascertain if Henry Tilney was still in town: ‘His name was not in the pump-room book, and curiosity could do no more. He must be gone from Bath.’

The Sydney Gardens

This was one of Jane’s favourite places in Bath. She enjoyed walking in the gardens. In a letter to Cassandra dated 21st January 1801, she wrote, “my mother hankers after The Square dreadfully and it is but natural to suppose my Uncle will take her part. It would be very pleasant to be near Sydney Gardens – we might go into the Labyrinth every day….” Her wish was granted, and they took a house at Number 4, Sydney Place.

The Royal Crescent

In Jane Austen’s books, this is referred to as The Crescent. It was later renamed The Royal Crescent after a visit by Prince Frederick, second son of King George III. It features in Northanger Abbey when the Thorpe and Allen families discover that the place to be seen on Sundays is the Crescent, rather tha the Pump Room. Situated in the upper part of the town, it comprises a great half circle of thirty, linked houses all made out of the pretty yellowish Bath stone.

Trim Street

This was the site of Jane Austen’s final home in Bath. They had returned from a holiday with friends in Steventon in considerably reduced circumstances and took, what they hoped would be, temporary accommodation in Trim Street. Located in the very centre of Bath’ it was noisy, confined, narrow and bustling. They were very pleased to be able to leave it when the opportunity arose.

Angela Youngman is a writer and journalist with numerous books linking travel and literary/film sites. She is the author of Discovering Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables and Jane Austen: The Writer, the Story, and Places to go

Bath, the Pulteney Bridge, Jane Austen and Victor Hugo


By Angela Youngman

On a recent visit to Bath, I was strolling along the river towards Pulteney Bridge when something jogged my memory. It looked very familiar and yet different at the same time. Naturally curious, I did some research and found that this spot has some intriguing literary connections. Built in 1770, the bridge is unusual. Designed by Robert Adam during the town’s period of Georgian splendour, the bridge was designed to link the old town with the new suburb of Bathgate. Unlike most bridges – once on it you cannot see the river! It was deliberately designed to resemble the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, and has shops across the full span on both sides. Only by going behind the bridge or looking at from the river can you appreciate the architecture.

Walking along the little alley leading up to the supermarket, you get a good view of the back of the bridge and see the shops hanging out over the river flowing sedately below. It was this scene, which was recreated by writer and illustrator James Gurnley for his Dinotopia series. Jane Austen lived near here for several months when the family rented a house at No 4 Sydney Place. She had to cross the bridge each day on her way to the shops in Milsom street, or when visiting the Abbey, Pump Room and Assembly Rooms. The former Sydney Hotel located near the bridge was the site of numerous public breakfasts and dances that Jane attended regularly. Her life on this side of the river was her favourite time in Bath, as it gave her access to the open spaces that she loved so much.

Jane would instantly recognise the scene as you cross the bridge. It has not changed much since her day. The shops quickly give way to elegant residential, Georgian buildings leading down to the Holburne Museum and the Sydney Gardens. In a letter to Cassandra, Jane wrote ‘it would be very pleasant to be near Sydney Gardens – we might go into the Labyrinth every day’. Opened to the public in May 1795, the gardens were the place to walk and be seen. The building (now known as the Holburne Museum) had a long room suitable for country dancing and where visitors could stroll in bad weather. Firework displays were a speciality. In 1799, Jane wrote to Cassendra “we did not go till nine and then were in very good time for the Fire-Works which were really beautiful and surpassing my expectations – the illuminations too were very pretty’.

The weir just below the river has a very striking design. Rebuilt in the 1970’s, it has a three tier, stepped crescent design, which creates the appearance of a continuous series of waterfalls along the entire span of the weir. It is this scene which has become familiar to film goers worldwide – yet many will not immediately recognise it.

At the end of the film Les Miserables, Javert is shown perched on a parapet desperately trying to come to terms with conflicting images of justice. He eventually commits suicide by jumping into the River Seine. When the film was shot, the spectacular weir at Pulteney Bridge was used for the scene. Cinematic techniques were used to superimpose the skyline of nineteenth century Paris behind the bridge parapet. The actual filming shot was taken from the wall on the Abbey side of the river where there is a flat, broad parapet overlooking the weir.

Angela Youngman is a writer and journalist with numerous books linking travel and literary/film sites. She is the author of Discovering Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables and Jane Austen: The Writer, the Story, and Places to go

The Stones in Literary Oxford

Literary Tourist in Oxford

The first thing you notice about Oxford is the stones. They’re everywhere: under

foot,

in the surrounding walls,

covering the sides of churches and towers, on the roofs. It’s all rather beautiful. Oxford University has one of the best preserved groups of medieval buildings in the world. Back then, stones were obviously big. It brings to mind Shakespeare (what doesn’t?), and his use of stones to describe heartlessness: ‘flint-bosom,’ ‘harden’d hearts, harder than stone;’ ‘You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things;’ ‘thy stony heart;’ ‘No, my heart is turned to stone; I strike it, and it hurts my hand.’ Just one thing. It’s clear that Oxford has heart.

Since it was right around Christmas when we visited, the libraries and theatres were closed, so we had to settle for admiring their exteriors. Not all bad. The Radcliffe Camera (built between 1737-48) was the first round library in England.

Sheldonian Theatre (1664-7) is modelled on a U-shaped open-air theatre in ancient Rome, it’s Oxford’s first Classical building and the first large building designed by Christopher Wren.

It’s located across the street from Blackwell’s Bookstore, which it turns out, was open.

Here you’ll find an enormous selection of titles, an amazing basement containing the world’s largest single display of books, and a good second-hand/antiquarian department up on the Third floor. Plus the shop puts surprisingly recent stuff on sale

The tourist information office was open too. I knew literature was in the air when I saw these for sale

Next door to Blackwell’s you’ll find the Bodleian Weston Library, also in stone, new and sleek, Canada’s contribution to British education. The library was named in honour of the £25 million donation given in 2008 by the Garfield Weston Foundation.

The pubs too thankfully were open, so I strolled over to The Eagle and Child, ‘the bird and baby,’ as members of The Inklings literary discussion group who met here regularly during most of the 1930s and 1940s, called it. They included J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and Owen Barfield. The group was ‘informal, no rules, officers, agendas, or formal elections,’ and generally ‘praised
Continue reading “The Stones in Literary Oxford”