Laugharne: The Tin Shed Experience & Dylan Thomas’s Writing Shed
The Town of Laugharne
The two famous sheds of Laugharne don't look terribly inspiring, do they? You need to look more closely to see their significance. First, here's a little introduction to the small town of Laugharne itself.
Originally called Abercorran, the name Laugharne, pronounced 'Larne', was bestowed on the town in the 1640s in honour of a local army officer, Major General Rowland Laugharne who fought against Cromwell. Major General Laugharne was later court-martialled for defecting to the rebel's cause. Incidentally, his nephew, John Langhorne (note how the name changed) travelled to America and settled in Warwick County, Virginia. One of his descendants was Lady Astor. The town's current Welsh name is Talacharn.
Laugharne is unusual in that it has one of the the last medieval corporations in existence. The corporation is similar to a local council or government, and was established in 1291. It is presided over by the 'portreeve', a responsible person of the town, who is voted for each year.
Laugharne has many unusual local customs, including the Common Walk, that takes place every three years - a 25 mile boundary walk that involves hanging 'victims' by their feet and beating them three times on the backside if they are unable to name certain places along the walk. Locals and tourists gather at the pub at 5am in the morning, down several pints of beer and then set off on the walk.
Dylan Thomas's Writing Shed
Dylan Thomas's writing shed is probably the most famous shed in Wales. Often mistakenly referred to as The Boat House, this shed was the former garage erected in the 1920s to house the owner's prized Wolsey car. It is rather precariously perched on the cliff edge above the The Boat House, that Thomas shared with his wife, Catlin and their children.
Declaring his appreciation for his sponsor, Margaret Taylor, he said, "All I write in this water and tree room on the cliff, every word will be a thanks to you."
The shed was almost falling apart when, after 80 years, a large restoration project was initiated to save the house and shed in 2003. The Boat House is now a thriving visitor center and café, and welcomes almost 25,000 visitors every year.
My family and I recently revisited Laugharne and we were fascinated by this glimpse into the poet's life. The shed has been beautifully restored and its interior recreated from old photographs. Every detail is there, from the jacket casually thrown over the back of the chair to the discarded paper on the floor. Although the shed is locked up – it is very small – visitors can get a good view of the interior through the window.
Dylan Thomas was born in Swansea on 27th October 1914 and died in New York 9th November 1953. He left behind a substantial body of work, including “Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night”, written for his dying father, and “Under Milk Wood”, set in the fictional town of Llareggub -- 'bugger all' backwards,-- thought to be based on Laugharne and some of its more colourful residents.
Richard Burton reads Under Milk Wood Pt 1
The Tin Shed Experience
I have to say when we walked into this little 1940s museum after handing over our entrance fee, we were slightly underwhelmed – it seemed so... well, small. However, that feeling was soon replaced by fascination and interest when one of the co-owners, Andrew joined us and gave us his undivided attention as he showed us round the labour of love that is The Tin Shed Experience.
Housed in what was once his dad's repair garage, Andrew and his partner, Seimon with the help of Matthew and Steve-the-Builder, have amassed a great collection of wartime memorabilia. Every item has a story behind it and Andrew knows them all. They have used models to create small displays and tableaux that bring the 'small moments' of WW2 to life. Where they were unable to acquire original clothing and artefacts, they used photographer, Seimon's connections with productions as Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers to get hold of impeccably copied replicas to fill the gaps.
While we were there, I asked if the museum was just a little bit spooky at night, with all the life-like figures standing around. Andrew told us that it wasn't, and that they often have gatherings there, with picnics and music. He did mention that the place is haunted by two benign ghosts, one unknown, and the other glimpsed by a child, who later pointed at a photograph of Andrew's father and proclaimed him the man he'd seen walking along the rear of the shed.
Across the yard, there is another shed, the one pictured above. This is the 1930s cottage, filled with domestic paraphernalia collected from all over the UK. Items have been brought to and donated by visitors to the museum. Many things have been discovered in forgotten corners of attics. I was treated to the whiff of the carbolic soap my grandmother used to use all the time.
A model of an American GI stands with British and German soldiers. His rifle is next to him, wrapped in plastic - a very rare material in those days, but essential to protect weapons from the damp conditions of landing craft.
Outside in the garden, is an Anderson shelter, a half buried galvanised corrugated steel structure – let's call it a tin shed - used by families all over Britain to protect themselves during air-raids. Not so common here in Wales though, Andrew told us. Our kids had to climb down into it to try it out for comfort. There wasn't much, but families would keep blankets and flashlights there for those long, often terrifying nights when whole streets collapsed under the bombardment of the blitz.
The Tin Shed Experience isn't just a museum, many events are held there throughout the year – performances by bands, singers and comedians are regularly scheduled. Another aspect of their plans is to hire out the Tin Shed to film companies. The next item on the agenda is to convert two stables into replicas of old shops. Steve-the-Builder will have his hands full for sure.
The team hope to attract more school parties and are gearing some of the exhibits to reflect parts of the National Curriculum. A real plus is that every visiting party gets a personal guided tour, complete with stories, anecdotes and perhaps even a ghost or two... and there isn't an automated touch-screen to be seen!
© 2012 Bev G